The house was ordinary, the garden tidy but not meticulously kept, the car parked on the kerb outside, a saloon, green, average. It was a terraced house, on a terraced street across town from her own house. She didn’t feel happy, sad, angry, apprehensive, or in any way emotional. If anything she felt a little bit sleepy, as though she’d just woken from a deep sleep, but she hadn’t.
She felt no hesitation about ringing the bell; she didn’t have to think about it or psyche herself up for it. She just did it.
She saw somebody coming towards the door; they were distorted and hall-of-mirrored in the patterned glass.
‘Hello,’ he said.
‘Um, well, you’d better come in then.’
He showed her into the lounge. It was a medium-sized room with a bay window; he liked music and reading. He had lots of CD’s on the shelves of a book case. There was a Pink Floyd poster on the fireplace wall and a book, with a picture of a military air-craft on the cover, sitting on his coffee table. She didn’t think that he’d been reading it immediately before she’d arrived, but it was a read-in-progress, a bookmark stuck out of the end separating roughly one and two-thirds of the book. She’d never read a book about war in her life.
He indicated the sofa and she sat down, perching on the end cushion of the burgundy, leatherette two-seater.
‘Can I get you anything, tea? Coffee?’
She didn’t want a drink but felt that she really ought to have one, if only to be polite. ‘Coffee, please, no sugar.’
‘Yes, please, that’d be great.’
He picked up his used cup, she noticed that he was a tea-drinker, and went into what was presumably the kitchen. She heard him filling the kettle and settled herself more comfortably on the sofa.
He came back with two mugs in one hand and an unopened packet of digestive biscuits in a red packet- not on a plate- in the other. He kicked the door closed by bending his left leg behind him, and put the biscuits down on the table first, before getting two coasters from a little wooden dispenser and setting down their cups.
‘Dieting?’ He went bright red. ‘Oh God, not that you need to, I mean,’ he floundered and took another tack, ‘It’s just that Gill, my…’ he stopped, obviously at a loss.
She laughed, his awkwardness was funny, ‘It’s okay,’ she said, and then, as though it was the most natural add-on in the world, ‘I’m married.’
‘Girlfriend,’ he replied. ‘Gill… she’s lovely.’
‘Yes, Dave too, we’re happy.’
‘Good,’ it was his turn to laugh; it sounded natural, not forced. ‘Well, we’ve got that out of the way then.’
‘Yes. What now?’
‘Let’s start with the basics. What’s your name? I’m John.’ Thank God he hadn’t asked why she’d come.
‘Hiya John, pleased to meet you, I’m Laura.’
‘You too, er, age?’
‘Thirty-one. What is it they put in the newspaper ASL?’ he went red again,’ Oh Jesus. I’m so not good at this, whatever this is. I keep putting my foot in it, I wasn’t implying…’
‘I know. I’m thirty-four.’ They ran through a few more of the obvious, finding-common-ground, questions. Nothing became obvious, and they both admitted that they had no idea why she’d come to his house.
She wasn’t attracted to him, which was a relief, given the circumstances, he was just very average. He was the retail manager of a cash’n’carry. He had no children, had never been married, but had been with his current girlfriend for nearly three years. They flung names around, family, friends, but neither of them made any connections.
‘So you were expecting me?’
‘Me specifically: or just somebody? I mean did you recognise me?’
‘That’s a good question, now we might be getting somewhere. No, to answer your last question, I’ve never seen you before in my life, or at least, I don’t recognise you if we have met.’ He looked pensive for a moment. ‘As to, was I waiting for you, specifically. I don’t know. I felt a bit odd just before, kind of sleepy, but not tired. I knew that somebody was coming; I was waiting for the bell to ring. When I answered the door, I kind of knew it was you, but I don’t know if it was you that I was expecting, if that makes sense?’
‘Not really, but I know what you mean. I felt the same. I was walking along your street and it was as though I was only half awake.’
They sat with their respective thoughts for a moment and he was the first one to break the silence. ‘Well, let’s think about this logically. You came, and I knew you were coming. Other than that, neither of us knows what this is all about? Agreed?’
‘Tell me about your day. What happened on the lead up to your coming? Was there anything unusual about it? Did you know it was my day off? No, that’s not right; you didn’t know who I’d be, or if I work, right? Did you know for sure that I’d be in?’
‘I don’t think I thought about it. My day was just normal. I got the kids up, off to school. Dave left for work; I’m not in the chippy until tea-time. I washed up and tidied round a bit and then, I was standing on your doorstep about to ring the bell. I don’t mean that I was transported here by some supernatural force or anything, I mean, I suppose I walked, it’s not far, but I don’t really remember leaving the house or getting here.’
‘There has to be some reason for this. Right, my morning was much the same. I got up, showered, checked my email, messed about a bit on the computer, normal day-off kind of stuff, nothing at all out of the ordinary, and then, without warning, I knew that you, or somebody, was about to arrive. I knew you were coming and it felt normal, I was expecting you, but I have no idea who you are or why you came.
‘Nor me. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t make a habit of knocking on stranger’s doors. I do have a jar of Maxwell House of my own, you know.’
He laughed. ‘This is odd. We must be missing something. This could be important, I mean, it must be important, mustn’t it? I feel as though you’re here for a reason but I’m buggered if I know what it is. Were you sent? If somebody did send you then I was aware of it, because I knew you were coming and I knew exactly when you’d arrive. Though, I only became aware that you were coming a few seconds before you rang the bell. I was waiting. So I don’t suppose you were sent.’
‘No, at least, I don’t think so.’
‘Laura, I’m honestly flummoxed. If you just walk away, we might never know what this is all about.’
‘I shouldn’t come again.’
He looked relieved. ‘No. Obviously. Will you tell him?’
‘Yes, of course… no, I don’t know. We don’t have secrets, but what would I say?… You?’
‘Gill wouldn’t understand. Hell, I don’t understand. If you came with a message from somebody, or had some inkling…’
‘Nothing. Sorry. I shouldn’t have come.’
‘Did you think about walking away while you were on the doorstep?’
‘No, the thought never entered my head.’
‘Thought not, so you had no choice really, you were meant to ring my bell; you are meant to be here… but why?’
‘Where do we go from here?’
‘I don’t know, home for me, I suppose.’
‘Do we keep in touch?’
‘No, that would be wrong, we’d have to tell… and what would we tell them?’
He ran his fingers through his hair, ‘I agree.’
She stood up and held out her hand, ‘Well, um, nice to meet you John, I think,’ she gave an awkward laugh, ‘Thank you for the coffee.’
They shook hands and he walked her to the door. ‘You too Laura, take care.’
She left and closed the gate behind her. She felt odd, sleepy. She was walking along the road and wondered what the hell she was doing on Cavendish Street. She didn’t remember leaving her house. She looked behind her; a man was standing on the doorstep of number twenty-three. He looked confused.
John and Laura never met again. They forgot about each other the second that she left his property. Dave came home to shepherd’s pie, Gill had changed her hair colour, normal life, in their normal worlds.