When we was housed there by the council, me ’n’ the kids, we thought it was only vacant cos of the noise from the cars. It was an okay sorta house: basement flat, ground floor, another one above. We got the ground floor flat cos of the kids — they need a garden to run round in. Them and Max, our Alsatian.
The council told me the flat above ours was empty cos there was a problem with the roof. I told ’em if it leaked, then they was gonna have to re-house us cos Harry already needs his inhaler and Lola and me didn’t wanna get nuffink neither.
The flat below had this ol’ geezer called Mister Punjabi or summink. He was Pakistani, I think, and he always banged on his ceilin’ when the kids were runnin’ about or I had the washin’ machine on. He used a broom handle or summink.
I dunno what he was complainin’ about cos the cars going past outside kept the whole house shakin’ anyway. It weren’t enough to rattle cups’n’saucers, just make the whole buildin’ like it was shiverin’ or summink. All that traffic, day and night, made it like we was surrounded by washin’ machines and they was all on spin cycle. I thought it would drive me and the kids nuts, but actually we kinda got used to it like you do anyfink after a while.
Lola was at school when we moved in and so when Harry started too it was just me and Max.
I kept askin’ the council if they had anyfink better, but they never bothered gettin’ back to me. Then they went and built the bypass and so everyone on our street thought things would be all right after that.
They had this ceremony where the Lady Mayor cut a ribbon or summink and afterwards everyone began usin’ the bypass — even all the buses went that way now, so we had to walk for twenty bleedin’ minutes to get to the bus stop.
But it was dead quiet now at home. Too quiet. Like a grave or summink. And that was when we started hearin’ the noises. We wouldn’t have heard ’em if the traffic was still goin’ by outside, so I suppose they’d always been there really. Kinda murmurin’, burblin’, and a bit o’ whimperin’ like Max did when he dreamt summink he didn’t like.
At first, I told meself maybe someone had a radio on, or a TV — but I always knew it weren’t that. The kids asked me who was talkin’ in their rooms at night. Max wasn’t eatin’ his food. And Mr Wotsit from below kept shoutin’ for us to shut up cos he said he could hear us chattin’ and arguin’ at night.
It weren’t us though, just as it weren’t him, the neighbours, or any kinda radio or TV. It was comin’ from the walls. It was all the houses on our street mumblin’ and grumblin’ to each other about all they had to put up with, just like regular people did. Only, we hadn’t been able to hear ’em before, see? Them houses had got used to talkin’ to each other in really loud voices cos of the traffic — so they could hear each other above it — and now it’d become a habit.
If you kinda tuned in, you could hear some of what they was sayin’, and it was always about how they was feelin’. Words like ‘cold’, and ‘hot’, and ‘pain’, and ‘draughty.’
Then, one night, while I was lyin’ there listenin’ to ’em, I heard our house say, as clear as if it was whisperin’ it in me ear: “She’s listenin’ to us, that one. She can hear what we’re sayin’.”
They was quiet after that. But it weren’t a good quiet. It was the kinda quiet I hear when I know the kids are up to summink they shouldn’t be doin’. That really spooked me.
So then I really had a go at the council to move us. They thought I was mad after the bypass had made the street quiet and safer and I’d made such a fuss before. But I knew that silence wouldn’t last long. That soon my house would wanna shut me up too, before I said summink about what I’d heard.
Mr Punjabi wasn’t knockin’ his broom handle on the ceilin’ no more and I could hear stuff happenin’ above us. Scrapin’ about. Clickin’ and clunkin’. And I knew our house was gettin’ things ready.
I wasn’t gonna wait to find out what it was preparin’ for us, so I grabbed the kids, called a taxi, and all of us booked into this youth hostel. We had to leave Max with my sister.
It’s noisy here, but that means we can’t hear the hostel speakin’, which is good.
But you know what worries me? It’s that people gossip, and so maybe houses do too. Cos if they pass it on, down the line, along one street and round a corner and then down another, tellin’ each other that their secret’s out… Then eventually they’ll find out where we’re hidin’.
Social services won’t listen to what I’m sayin’. Everyone’s makin’ too much noise to hear what their houses are up to. If everyone shut up for just one minute they’d hear it too. I don’t know what we’d do then though. I mean: where can you run and hide which isn’t just another house? I just don’t want us to be the only ones who know. The only ones they’re after. That’s why I’m tellin’ you. So you can hear them too. Just shut up and listen.
Jez Patterson is a British teacher and writer, currently based in Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at jezpatterson.wordpress.com.