The last removal truck winds its way down the drive and peace settles once again over the avenue. The rooks, which have congregated in the elm trees throughout the day, occasionally rising into the air in dark clouds of agitation, begin their evensong.
I see cardboard and wrapping paper drifting idly around the bushes, and the odd toy flung unnoticed in some remote corner of the garden. A cool breeze stirs the raspberry bushes, laden with fruit that will remain unpicked this year, and daisies droop on the overgrown lawn.
They’ve gone, this family who have been the focus of my attention for the last twenty five years, moving on with scarcely a backward glance at me.
For days I look out, wondering if one of them might come back for some forgotten toy, or perhaps to say goodbye properly. They never said they were leaving, but then, who am I to figure in their plans? How could they know how central they were to my existence?
Sometimes, if I listen carefully, I think I hear the children at play in the garden, running along the drive with excited squeals and giggles. Dogs bark, stirring the leaves of the rhododendrons as they go in frantic pursuit of imaginary cats or rabbits.
With little else to occupy my time, I admit I’ve deliberately snooped on them, involved myself in the minutiae of their lives. I watched dubiously when the young couple first moved in, but my reservations turned to joy as they brought their first child home from the hospital. The baby cried all night that first week, and they shushed her repeatedly, no doubt worrying about the neighbours, but for me the sound heralded hope for the future.
Three more children were to follow over the years, together with a succession of noisy, enthusiastic dogs who dug up everybody’s gardens. It didn’t matter. There was such vitality in this family, you’d forgive them everything.
Everything except leaving.
I turn inward on myself. Months pass. The days are long without company of any kind, with nothing to observe. I sense I’m deteriorating and realise what a pathetic specimen I’m becoming.
The winter drags on for months. I cringe as the icy wind rattles my windows and finds it way under doors and through the gaps in the floorboards. Snow drifts along my driveway and there are no other neighbours who care enough to keep it clear.
Eventually, winter relaxes its icy grip and crocuses begin to push their heads above the frozen soil. The days lengthen; small comfort for me though.
Then one March morning, lost in thoughts of the past, I hear voices outside. I look down and see a young couple staring back at me.
“This old house?” says the man, incredulously.
“Oh yes,” she says, hugging her swollen stomach. “A perfect place to bring up children.”
They struggle with my rusty locks and I fling my front door wide to welcome them into my dusty embrace.
My rafters sigh with contentment, and my roof tiles quiver in anticipation.
The circle begins again.