I didn’t know his name so I called him Charlie.
Charlie was about 30 years old, around 5’ 8” tall, and of slim build. His thin legs were visibly bowed, and this, together with the tight-fitting yellow trousers with the crotch hanging down to his knees that he always wore, gave him the appearance when he walked of a duck waddling along. If he had suddenly started to flap his arms and go Quack quack! I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
Charlie lived in the flat below me with his girlfriend who I named Mrs Charlie. Mrs Charlie was about the same age as Charlie, was about 5’ 4” tall, slim, and liked to dress in smart trouser suits. I guessed that she had a job as a financial adviser or a family solicitor.
The final member of the Charlie household was a small dog that I called Dog Charlie. I have very little knowledge of dog breeds and so am unable to say to which one it belonged. It had a shaggy coat, light brown in texture, and big floppy ears. In the mornings I saw Charlie taking it for a walk, throwing a ball for it to fetch. They say that all dogs end up resembling their owners, and this was certainly the case with Charlie and Dog Charlie. If Dog Charlie had thrown the ball for Charlie to fetch I yet again wouldn’t have batted an eye.
These, then, were my downstairs neighbours: Charlie, Mrs Charlie and Dog Charlie, collectively known as the Charlies.
Charlie worked in a men‘s fashion boutique, and each morning he would waddle off to work at nine-thirty, his left hand clutching his mobile phone welded onto his left ear. Mrs Charlie, however, had a white sports car, which enhanced my belief that she had a good job, possibly managerial. Dog Charlie, so far I knew, had no occupation other than to yap and run around the flat for about 2 hours after Charlie and Mrs Charlie had left for the day.
After Dog Charlie had finally settled down the flat would be quiet until Charlie and Mrs Charlie got back in the evening, when we would be serenaded with the sound of banging doors, creaking floorboards, and Charlie occasionally screaming at the top of his voice. But the loudest noises were usually heard at about 2 a.m. when Charlie and Mrs Charlie would compete to see who could shout the loudest.
On one occasion at 2.30 a.m. (I was awoken by the yelling and checked my clock), I heard Charlie screaming: ‘But WHY? Just tell me WHY?’ I couldn’t make out what Mrs Charlie was screaming in reply, but wondered if perhaps she had been asked by Charlie to buy a particular flavour of potato crisps on the way home, and for some reason she had brought him a different flavour to the one he wanted.
‘But WHY? Just tell me WHY?’
Then Dog Charlie joined in.
This was followed by the sound of four pairs of running feet (Charlie x 1; Mrs Charlie x 1; Dog Charlie x 2) as Charlie chased Mrs Charlie around the flat (or possibly Mrs Charlie chasing Charlie), with Dog Charlie yapping in the rear. There was then a loud crashing sound, and I guessed that it may have been Charlie’s low-crotch trousers becoming entangled around his ankles causing him to take a tumble.
But it was followed by an eerie silence. I turned over in my bed and lay on my back, my eyes open, and listened for any sound of noise from below. But there was none. Even Dog Charlie was silent. I began to grow restless. 'What has happened?' I asked myself. 'Why have they stopped yelling? It usually lasts for an hour or more.' Then it suddenly dawned on me that the crashing sound may not have been Charlie taking a tumble. Maybe it was Mrs Charlie that Charlie had.......
I suddenly sat bolt upright in my bed.
'My God, he's killed her! Charlie has done in Mrs Charlie!'
I listened some more, thought of getting out of bed and calling the police. Finally, after 15 minutes on the qui-vive, I lay back down in my bed, turned over onto my side, and drifted into a sleep.
I had completely forgotten the incident the following morning until I looked out of my kitchen window and saw Charlie walking Dog Charlie in the usual way. Then it all came back to me. I paused, almost choking on my hot porridge. 'You bastard, Charlie,' I said aloud. 'Look at you! Playing with Dog Charlie and chatting on your phone with Mrs Charlie in a pool of blood on your living room floor!' I tried to take stock, to decide what I should do. Talk to the neighbours? Call the police? I had decided on the latter, when I suddenly saw Mrs Charlie come out of the building in her smart suit, get into her car, and drive off.
My heart registered my great relief. I went back to my porridge and tried to put it out of my mind. I smiled to myself, shook my head at my overactive imagination. I poured myself a cup of coffee. Then I heard the raucous sound of a loud and intermittent buzzer.
I awoke with a start and turned off my alarm clock. It was 7.45 a.m. I yawned and stretched my arms and got out of bed. I rinsed my face and then went into the kitchen. Just as I was reaching for the porridge packet I heard a sound of commotion from the street outside. I looked out of the window. An ambulance and a police car were parked with their lights flashing. Then two uniformed men emerged from the building carrying a stretcher with a body covered with a blanket. I watched in stunned silence. A moment later the incident of the night before came back to me ..... the shouting ..... the screaming ..... the loud crash of a body falling to the ground ..... the silence. 'He's done Mrs Charlie in after all!' I screamed aloud.
I walked up and down the living room, convinced that the police would ring the door bell any minute to interview me. I glanced from time to time at the digital clock on the wall. The minutes passed and soon it was eight-thirty. Where are the police? What's keeping them? I finally went back to the window and looked outside.
I could hardly believe my eyes! The police car was gone. There was no ambulance. Then I saw Charlie walking towards the block with Dog Charlie on his lead. Then Mrs Charlie walked out of the building, got into her sports car, and quickly drove off to her place of employment.
I sat down on the sofa and tried to compose myself. I had completely forgotten about breakfast. I picked up my book. The Poems of John Keats. Moments later I had lost myself in my reading. When I looked up at my clock it was 9.35 a.m. I was about to get back to my book when I suddenly realised that Dog Charlie was not barking. Neither had I heard Charlie's front door slam as it always did when he left his flat. My fears emerged once more. I jumped to my feet and looked out of the window. All was normal. But why isn't Dog Charlie barking? Why isn't Dog Charlie barking? Why isn't Dog Charlie barking?
I sat down on the sofa once more and remained still for several minutes. Then I picked up my book. It was open on Ode to a Nightingale. My eyes fell on the final words of the poem:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music. - Do I wake or sleep?
Fled is that music. - Do I wake or sleep?