We are in our home ten years. The house to our right has changed hands three times in that decade, bringing us lovely young families with each sale. To our left we’ve had an elderly couple, their children have long since flown the coop. Grandchildren visit and once we had to retrieve a ball – small payback for the many trips poor Philip makes into his garden to return errant balls and frisbees to us.
It was from our senior neighbours that we learnt about Noel. How he moved into our house 70 years ago to join his new wife and her parents – the first owners of No 110, purchased over a hundred years ago. Noel cycled his bicycle well into his nineties. He was in the navy and brought a little of the sea back with him when he fashioned our clothesline from old boat masts using a pulley to hoist the wet laundry. It works a treat though I repress the urge to salute my washing. Philip’s neat garden lawn stood in contrast to Noel’s wilderness. A family of foxes made their home in the galvanised air raid shelter peeping in to view at the bottom of the verdant garden flanked by a bountiful walnut tree and blackberry briars. I’m guessing Philip and Margaret had high expectations when they saw a young family move in. And the foxes did scamper soon after our arrival. My dad pulled up the briars but we shamefully choked the walnut tree with our decking arrangement. Still our garden is far from groomed. However we don’t hear grumbles. Though they get excited when my father is about to visit as they anticipate the tidy-up he’ll do as well as the chat he’ll throw on them.
On Monday Margaret died. She was 76. They were married for 47 years. Cancer. Earlier this year she’d told me she hoped to die at home. Three weeks ago when I returned from the school run, I saw an ambulance parked outside and feared the worst. Later I learnt she’d been in pain so they took her to the hospice. I asked after her. She was comfortable. It felt odd that she was our neighbour one minute and then she was gone and wouldn’t be coming back. I asked Philip if I could visit. He said she’d like that. I popped to the hospice the day before school broke for the holidays. I took flowers. They smelt of vanilla. She was very weak. She smiled when I said myself and her other neighbour would look in on Philip. I didn’t stay long. I said I might be back. I didn’t get to make another visit. Philip rang our bell on Sunday morning. He’d been summoned – they didn’t expect she’d last the day.
He called yesterday to tell us about the funeral arrangements. Regrettably we’ll miss the service. We’ll be in Ireland. My parents were very sorry to hear of her passing too. They want to send a mass card and asked me for her name. Margaret. Despite living next door for ten years I didn’t know their surname. Or I couldn’t recall it at any rate. I racked my brain. They’d often taken possession of an Amazon delivery for us. Maybe once or twice we’d received their mail in error. I couldn’t remember clocking the name. Now it didn’t seem right to ask. We exchange gifts at Christmas after all. Home-bakes from me. Prosecco from them. I knew Philip’s father was a Scot and I seem to recall a Mac. Or was it Mc. Or maybe it was neither. I consulted google and brought up hundreds of Mac/Mc combinations. None stuck. A search on their address didn’t even net a Zoopla record. I knew the first names of their children and their occupations. Maybe I’d get lucky with LinkedIn. Nothing.
We’d shared a tradesman so I thought about contacting him. He might check old invoices for me. But then I heard our post drop. I opened the door to catch the postie going through our gate. It wasn’t our usual guy but a young Polish woman. She said she was sorry when I told her about Margaret. On a slip of paper she copied a name from the envelope on top of her bundle and handed it to me. It fit. We didn’t need a surname to appreciate her. We had a lovely neighbour in Margaret. R.I.P.