Neighbour issues

Whilst Mick, her boyfriend of almost five years, was working away in Sheffield as a Graphic Design tutor, Veronica was left alone in the rented house they had shared for the past three years with a young, married couple, Pete and Angie, and their angelic six year-old daughter, Amy. When Amy was in bed, she continued occasionally visiting the unemployed pair upstairs to smoke dope and watch the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test,’ just as she had done when Mick had been studying graphics with her at Coventry Art college; there was no reason not to. She enjoyed the company of the gaunt, constantly dope smoking, Jesus look-alike Pete, his beautiful, blonde pre-Raphaelite, sweet natured wife. Their daughter was a carbon copy of Angie.
Over the past few months, Veronica had heard raised voices drifting down to her from their flat. Angie was looking haggard and stressed, her husband thin-lipped and brooding. One morning, with the smell from the adjoining abattoir particularly pungent, making the burning of joss sticks obligatory, Veronica was working on her college coursework from home when Angie came downstairs to use the communal kitchen. Her eyes looked bloodshot from lack of sleep and recent tears.
‘Are you okay Angie?’ Veronica asked, concerned for her friend. ‘I heard raised voices last night and I’m worried about you.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry if our fights kept you awake,’ Angie replied. ‘It’s bad enough with the noise from the bloody railway shunting yard keeping us all awake. You don’t need us disturbing you too. We’re having a few marital issues, one might say. He thinks I’ve been cheating on him. It’s total paranoia on his part of course. I love the bones of him.’
‘How can you have been cheating on him? You’re with him pretty much all the time,’ Veronica said, shaking her head.
‘I know. I reckon the dope’s driving him potty. Smoking dope is reknowned for making folk paranoid,’ Angie said, ‘He thinks I’ve been visiting one of his friends when I’ve been shopping. Nothing I say convinces him otherwise. There’s nothing worse than proving one’s innocence to a person who refuses to believe what you say.’
‘Oh, trying to gain sympathy are we?’ boomed a voice from the bottom of the stairs. It was Pete, who was holding their daughter’s hand on the way out to buy more rolling papers; he worked his way through packets of them every week, so heavy was his habit.
‘Leave it Pete. We don’t need to bring our drama downstairs,’ said Angie.
‘Just like you have? That’s just what you’ve done, wifey dear,’ retorted Pete, eyes shiny and hard with anger.
‘I was apologising for the recent nocturnal noise, that’s all,’ Angie lied, as she had understandably, unwittingly, brought the drama to Veronica’s door.
Joint in hand, Pete snorted with disdain and mercifully left the house to run his errand with Amy towed behind him.
‘You see what I mean? He’s turned evil on me. I’m so sorry you have to hear the fall out,’ Angie said, tears brimming over from her soulful, blue eyes.
Angie finished washing up her dishes and walked back upstairs looking like she was carrying the cares of the world on her frail, pale shoulders.
As she worked on her illustration, Veronica’s thoughts were with her neighbour’s problems and how they could impact on her world. Nothing further was said when the couple walked through her living room to use the kitchen to prepare their evening meal, but the tension was palpable. As she snuggled down in bed, she felt uneasy, sensing her slumber would be disturbed again that night. She was not wrong. She awoke with a jolt as the sounds of raised voices and, more disturbingly, thrown furniture, filled her bedroom. She jerked out of bed, grabbed her bathrobe and stood by her door, poised for action. The sudden realisation that a young child was being forced to witness her parents violently fighting hit home. The child might be scarred for life. She ran upstairs and hammered on their door.
‘Hand the child down to me right now! I’m not going away until you do,’ she shouted, seething with anger at what the couple were putting their innocent daughter through.
All fell momentarily quiet. The door opened and a tearful Angie handed the trembling child over to Veronica. As soon as the door closed, the noise of Pete’s bellowing rage again rang out.
‘Sit by me and I’ll read you a story?’ Veronica said to the shocked child; luckily she had a few children’s books in her flat as she was writing a thesis on ‘Sadism in Children’s Book Illustration’. She wisely found the least scary story in a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to read aloud, turning her music cassette up full blast in an attempt to drown out the shouting from above. Eventually the exhausted child dropped off to sleep next to her on the bed; Veronica took the opportunity to also sleep as she had a lecture to attend at college in the morning.
Next morning, she handed Amy over to a shame faced Angie, who looked like she had not slept.
‘Yet again, I can only apologise. I’ve had enough of Pete’s groundless accusations and we’ve decided to separate. He’s going to stay at his mother’s house for a while. I have to stay here as Amy’s school is near. You’ll hear no more rows after last night’s battle,’ Angie explained.
After that night, Veronica was relieved to only ever briefly catch sight of Pete when he visited his daughter. It was sadly not the last time that a person’s drug-induced paranoia would detrimentally affect Veronica’s life.

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