Two seventeen in the morning.
I lie awake and stare through the darkness at the slit of light on the ceiling that drifts with each passing car, listening to the screaming and shouting coming through the wall.
My wife whispers, “Are you awake, love?”
I say, “Yes. I think the whole street’s awake.”
She says, “What’s going on next door?”
I say, “Murder, or there fucking will be if she doesn’t shut up soon.”
I listen again to the other woman, the woman through the wall. Her voice is constant, without pause. A jabbering ululation in an unknown tongue, rising and falling but always loud, never ending. It’s been going on for well over an hour.
I roll over, press a pillow over my ear, but it doesn’t help.
I look at the clock, do the maths.
I have to get up for work at four fifty, which is bad enough in itself, but I’m still awake at two… eighteen.
I have to get up in two hours thirty two minutes.
My heart is hammering. I hate this shit. A couple of weeks ago the noise had gone on until nearly five. That time it was a child crying occasionally, a girl singing and clapping and laughing, intermittent bursts of music, the rumble of computer game warfare, the staccato rattle of the woman’s voice.
I can feel my nerves shredding, a twitch in my eye.
Is this what we have to expect now? Is this the new norm? We’ve only been in the house a few weeks and to start with it was bliss, silence. The honeymoon period after a traumatic house move.
Then there was the party.
A proper knees up heard through the wall, clapping and music, raised voices. Some sort of stringed instrument – a zither? A balalaika? I didn’t know but they sounded to be having fun. Fine by me.
But at two thirty I’d had enough.
I banged on the wall.
The noise dropped a bit.
Someone banged on the wall in reply.
I let it go and the party ended sometime around three.
But then the house was silent for days on end, blinds drawn, not a whisper.
I caught up on my sleep, forgot the party.
And then a door slammed at about ten thirty one evening.
Shouting, clattering, laughter. Noise until one. This was a pattern for a week or two. Silence all day, then the ten thirty door slam and off they went.
I was going to complain when the house fell silent again for days on end. There was no pattern.
I said nothing.
I should have nipped it in the bud.
You see, years ago I had a noisy neighbour, a proper cunt. At the time I lived in a little back to back terrace, the first house I’d bought. I was proud of it, rightly so. First step on the property ladder and all that. I loved that house.
Then someone new moved in at the back.
He used to like to go out and get shit faced. After midnight he’d roll home, stagger upstairs to his attic room, shoes thumping on uncarpeted stairs. There’d be a pause, then the music.
One song. Played over and over.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds.
He would play it at full volume and sing tunelessly along with it at the top of his voice. Then he’d play it again. And again.
When he’d had enough he would finish by trashing his room. Pulling over the wardrobe, kicking chairs, smashing things.
Then he would play Don’t You Forget About Me again.
It was like psychological warfare.
I swear to God, it nearly killed me. I’d go to bed every night and lay awake, waiting for his chaos to begin. Some nights he would, some nights he wouldn’t. No pattern.
I still can’t listen to that fucking song without getting cold sweats.
I went round to complain one time, but it meant walking right to the end of the street, turning left then left again, then counting the houses until I found the right one.
His housemate answered. He was apologetic, said his mate was alright, just got a bit loud when he’d had a few. He said he’d have a word.
That night Jim Kerr was as loud as ever, the room got a proper twatting. I could hear wood splintering, like my nerves.
I had a little fantasy. I wanted to get a hammer drill, one of those with a two foot long masonry bit. I wanted to start drilling through to his side as he was playing Don’t You Forget About Me, and keep drilling until it got through the wall and into his room. Naturally he would stop and listen, then look in drunk amazement as the drill emerged in a whirring cloud of brick dust.
I’d remove the drill, see the little tube of light and dust swirling in my dark room, then I’d wait.
Eventually he’d put his eye to the hole. He wouldn’t be able to resist.
And that’s when I’d ram a garden cane through the hole with all my strength, right into the cunt’s eye.
I’d hear a small scream, then the thump as he fell to the floor, twitching.
Then I’d slap a bit of filler in the hole and go to bed and sleep like a baby.
In reality, I ended up moving house.
But now I’m listening to the woman through the wall, babbling like a maniac.
I’m worried she might play Don’t You Forget About Me. If she does I know I’ll lose it. I’ll kick her fucking door in and drag her into the street and smash her brains out on the kerb.
I look at the clock.
Two forty two.
It’s no good.
I get out of bed and go downstairs.
I thought the woman through the wall had been on the phone in one of the bedrooms but now I realise she’s in the front room, shouting at the top of her voice.
That strange language, the way she doesn’t seem to pause to breathe or to listen to a reply from whoever she’s shouting at…
The mantle clock says two fifty.
My alarm will go off in two hours.
I hammer on the wall with my fist.
Without a pause she screams, “FUCK OFF!!” and continues to babble.
Frankly, I’m shocked. It wasn’t the reaction I’d expected. I don’t know what I’d expected but a FUCK OFF wasn’t on the list.
I think about going round there, but she sounds completely fucking mental and I don’t fancy getting a bread knife in the chest or being arrested by the rozzers for wrestling a mad screaming naked woman in the street at 3am.
I go back to bed.
As I pull up the covers around my ears my wife says, “Did she just tell you to fuck off?”
I say, “Yes. Yes she did.”
“What are you going to do?”
I look at the clock. It reads five past three. I’m up in one hour and forty five minutes. The woman through the wall is quietening off.
I say, “I’m going to get some sleep, then I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
I get about fifty minutes sleep.
At work I’m a wreck. That woman is on my mind every minute of the day. I have no idea what to expect when I confront her on her doorstep but I can’t see it being any improvement on the FUCK OFF she gave me last night.
I’m in a lose lose situation. Any time a big bloke has a go someone, people immediately think he’s the cunt. Well I’m not. Not in this particular case, at least.
Adrenalin has my nerves jangling like five cups of coffee.
I’ll tell her this… I’ll say that… I’ll threaten her with the police… I’ll drill a hole in her wall and blind her with a garden cane…
The day drags on.
At home, I see her car is gone. I’m kind of relieved, kind of disappointed. I want to get the confrontation out of the way but I dread it nonetheless.
I take a shower. Calm my nerves.
Afterwards I go downstairs and see her car on the drive.
I say to my wife, “I’m going next door.”
She says, “Don’t kill her or anything, will you.”
I say, “I won’t.”
I walk down the path. I look at the windows of her house. The blinds are drawn. I’m so keyed up that my teeth are grinding. Fists clenching.
Tell me to FUCK OFF at three in the fucking morning, will you?
I’ll give you some FUCK OFF of your own.
I walk down the driveway.
I suddenly wonder if there’s a giant, silent bloke in the house.
What if she’s howling and screaming at Mungo, sitting in the corner, chewing a fucking bone?
I’m so revved up I could take the cunt on.
Whoever’s inside that house, I’ll make the fuckers rue the day they disturbed my sleep.
White door. UPVC.
I give it a right knocking. A power knock.
A small figure passes behind the frosted glass.
Bring it on.
The door is opened by a small, tired, sad looking woman. Dark hair, dark skin. She is wearing office clothes but the kind of office clothes you buy in Asda. She has a resigned expression on her face. She could be anything from thirty five to fifty years old, it’s hard to tell.
I glance behind her. Her house is tired, like her. A whiff of cigarette smoke.
I say, “Look, I’m from next door and I wanted to…”
She says, “I am very, very sorry.”
I say, “Oh. Well, the thing is I have to get up at five and… well… I need my sleep. You’ve been really noisy… sometimes… I mean… not all the time, a lot of the time you’re very quiet, not that I have my ear to the wall, Ha ha! No, sorry, what I mean is that the other day there was a baby…”
She says, “Yes, my cousin, she came to stay, with her baby. The baby, it does not sleep. She sing to the baby, play with the baby. My family, we did not sleep either. I am so sorry.”
She smiles a sad smile.
I’m properly on the back foot. My mouth opens and closes.
I say, “Well, ok. But last night…”
She bows her head, says, “I must apologise. I am so sorry for last night. I am from Iraq and you know, there are many troubles in my country…”
I have a bad feeling. This isn’t going well. I just want to leave.
She continues, “…I had a phone call from my family last night, the line was very poor, on Fibre. There is much trouble in my country, with ISIS, and they tell me one of my relatives has been killed.”
Her eyes start to fill up.
A signal in my brain is saying, ‘Abort Mission. Abort. Abort.”
I say, “Oh God, I’m so sorry. That’s awful. So bloody awful. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
She says, “I so sad, last night, I hurt myself, hurt my face.”
She shows me the scratches. I want the ground to swallow me up.
I feel helpless. I start to babble. “Look, really, if there’s anything I can do to help, anything at all, just say. We’re only next door. Well obviously! Ha ha! Hmm. But don’t worry about the noise, noise is ok. At least I know what’s happening, it’s not knowing that makes it difficult, you know? But like I say, if there’s anything you need, just say. Anything at all…”
And that’s when I say it. That’s when hear myself saying to her, “If you need anything doing, like putting up shelves, then just ask.”
Putting up shelves.
I actually offer to put up shelves for her.
Because that’s how you fight Islamic State, isn’t it? By constructing handy storage solutions in our homes.
What a cunt.
We chat a bit more. She is really quite a nice woman. She has two children, a similar age to mine.
I don’t offer to put up any shelves again.
I say goodbye and go back home.
I go to the kitchen, open the fridge and grab a beer.
My wife says, “How did it go? Did you kill her?”
I say, “No. I offered to put up some shelves.”
“What? Why the hell did you say that?”
I open the beer and take a big slug. “I offered to put up shelves because Isis has killed one of her relatives.”
My wife says, “Well that’s stupid.”
I say, “Stupid? In what way?”
She says, “Because you’re shit at putting up shelves. What would you have done if she accepted your offer? Ring your dad?”
Later, much later, I lie in bed and look at the clock.
Two seventeen in the morning.
I lie awake and stare through the darkness at the slit of light on the ceiling that drifts with each passing car, listening to the silence coming through the wall.