Our House Page 1

Author: Louise Candlish

Genres: Thriller , Fiction


Friday, 13 January 2017

London, 12.30 p.m.

She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.

The van is parked halfway down Trinity Avenue, its square mouth agape, a large piece of furniture sliding down the ribbed metal tongue. Fi watches, squinting into the buttery sunlight – rare for the time of year, a gift – as the object is borne shoulder-high by two men through the gate and down the path.

My gate. My path.

No, that’s illogical: of course it can’t be her house. It must be the Reeces’, two down from hers; they put their place on the market in the autumn and no one is quite sure if a sale has gone through. The houses on this side of Trinity Avenue are all built the same – red-brick double-fronted Edwardians in pairs, their owners united in a preference for front doors painted black – and everyone agrees it’s easy to miscount.

Once, when Bram came stumbling home from one of his ‘quick’ drinks at the Two Brewers, he went to the wrong door and she heard through the open bedroom window the scrambling and huffing as her inebriated husband failed to fit his key into the lock of number 87, Merle and Adrian’s place. His persistence was staggering, his dogged belief that if he only kept on trying the key would work.

‘But they all look the same,’ he’d protested in the morning.

‘The houses, yes, but even a drunk couldn’t miss the magnolia,’ Fi had told him, laughing. (This was back when she was still amused by his inebriety and not filled with sadness – or disdain, depending on her mood.)

Her step falters: the magnolia. It’s a landmark, their tree, a celebrated sight when in blossom and beautiful even when bare, as it is now, the outer twigs etched into the sky with an artist’s flair. And it is definitely in the front garden of the house with the van outside.

Think. It must be a delivery, something for Bram that he hasn’t mentioned to her. Not every detail gets communicated; they both accept that their new system isn’t flawless. Hurrying again, using her fingers as a sun visor, she’s near enough to be able to read the lettering on the side of the vehicle: PRESTIGE HOME REMOVALS. It is a house move, then. Friends of Bram must be dropping something off en route to somewhere. If she were able to choose, it would be an old piano for the boys (please, Lord, not a drum kit).

But wait, the deliverymen have reappeared and now more items are being transported from van to house: a dining chair; a large round metallic tray; a box labelled FRAGILE; a small, slim wardrobe the size of a coffin. Whose things are these? A rush of anger fires her blood as she reaches the only possible conclusion: Bram has invited someone to stay. Some dispossessed drinking pal, no doubt, with nowhere else to go. (‘Stay as long as you like, mate, we’ve got bags of room.’) When the hell was he going to tell her? Well, there’s no way a stranger is sharing their home, however temporarily, however charitable Bram’s intentions. The kids come first: isn’t that the point?

Lately, she worries they’ve forgotten the point.

She’s almost there. As she passes number 87, she’s aware of Merle at the first-floor window, face cast in a frown, arm raised for Fi’s attention. Fi makes only the briefest of acknowledgements as she strides through her own gate and onto the tiled path.

‘Excuse me? What’s going on here?’ But in the clamour no one seems to hear. Louder now, sharper: ‘What are you doing with all this stuff? Where’s Bram?’

A woman she doesn’t know comes out of the house and stands on the doorstep, smiling. ‘Hello, can I help?’

She gasps as if at an apparition. This is Bram’s friend in need? Familiar by type rather than feature, she is one of Fi’s own – though younger, in her thirties – blonde and brisk and cheerful, the sort to roll up her sleeves and take charge. The sort, as history testifies, to constrain a free spirit like Bram. ‘I hope so, yes. I’m Fi, Bram’s wife. What’s going on here? Are you . . . are you a friend of his?’

The woman steps closer, purposeful, polite. ‘Sorry, whose wife?’

‘Bram’s. I mean ex-wife, really.’ The correction earns a curious look, followed by the suggestion that the two of them move off the path and out of the way of ‘the guys’. As a huge bubble-wrapped canvas glides by, Fi allows herself to be steered under the ribs of the magnolia. ‘What on earth has he agreed to here?’ she demands. ‘Whatever it is, I know nothing about it.’

‘I’m not sure what you mean.’ There is a faint puckering of the woman’s forehead as she studies Fi. Her eyes are golden-brown and honest. ‘Are you a neighbour?’

‘No, of course not.’ Fi is becoming impatient. ‘I live here.’

The puckering deepens. ‘I don’t think so. We’re just moving in. My husband will be here soon with the second van. We’re the Vaughans?’ She says it as though Fi might have heard of them, even offers her hand for a formal shake. ‘I’m Lucy.’

Gaping, Fi struggles to trust her ears, the false messages they are transmitting to her brain. ‘Look, I’m the owner of this house and I think I would know if I’d arranged to rent it out.’

The rose-pink of confusion creeps over Lucy Vaughan’s face. She lowers her hand. ‘We’re not renting it. We’ve bought it.’