Mother: I can't believe it. I actually went inside the man next door's house.
Older Daughter: What on earth for?
Mother: We were interested in seeing whether his house is in danger of collapsing. So when he invited me in to see what he's built to support his house, while he knocks out walls, I took the opportunity, and followed him inside.
Older Daughter: What did you find?
Mother: Walking into his house was harder than I had expected. All the floorboards in the hallway had been removed, leaving a very big hole the length and width of the hallway, and about one metre deep. I had to follow the man next door along three narrow, bouncy boards, placed side by side, the length of the hallway. It wasn't reassuring to see that the boards only just overlapped something solid at either end, and that they weren't secured in any way. Underneath the boards was just the big hole.
Older Daughter: I wonder if he's ever fallen into the hole, after returning home drunk from the pub.
Mother: I wouldn't be surprised. I've seen him recently walking along dragging one leg, and holding his back, as if he'd injured himself.
As we walked along the bouncy boards he said "See what I've built".
He was proudly pointing at a bookcase-like structure, in lightweight-looking timber, with "shelves" about 18" apart, and occasional vertical struts. It rose from floor to ceiling, next to the great gaping hole where he has been knocking out the dividing wall between the two main downstairs rooms, shaking our house with all the knocking and banging that has been going on.
He explained, "I've built that to support the weight that used to be taken by the wall I'm knocking out, until I can put in place a pillar on either side, and a suppoting beam across the top.
The structure looked too flimsy to reassure me that his house won't collapse. What do you think? Do you think it would be strong enough?
Older Daughter: It's hard to say, without actually seeing what he's built.
Mother: The wall between the front room and the hall had been taken out too, so I could see a great long line of boxes, and unidentifiable things, stacked high, filling the front room. He explained the assortment of drums spread out on top, with ...
"I'm a drummer, you know."
When I reached the other end of the hallway, and thought it was safe to step off the bouncing boards, the man next door said "Don't step there!" ....."Step here," and we moved into the second room, where it was safe to move around a bit and talk. We were surrounded by a forest of lengths of timber, with other building materials and scaffolding and ladders stacked around.
Everything I could see in the house seemed to be grey, or in colour greys.
Maybe to explain the grey dustiness, the man next door said ..."There's a lot of dust in my house. I think it accumulated over the years during the time when there were steam trains travelling on the railway line over there."
He added "I've told you how I managed to get rid of the termites, fleas and bedbugs in my house. I've also had to replace rotting and termite- affected timber. That's why I took out all the floorboards in the hall."
THE CONVERSATION CONTINUED.
The Man Next Door: Have you seen my lovely new girlfriend, who comes to help me work on the house?
She even brings her own toilet paper. She's only 25. I think she may be too young for me. I'm 44, but she thinks that's OK.
Mother: What happened to the lovely girlfriend you used to have, the one who used to laugh a lot?
The Man Next Door: I don't know which one you're talking about.
Mother: She seemed to disappear suddenly so we imagined that you had murdered her, and buried her under your kitchen floor!
The Man Next Door: There are various girls I've known on and off for a long time.
Mother: I may as well mention one thing that bothers my daughter, and Alpha.... the constantly running water in your toilet. They would like to offer to fix it for you. They know what to do and its simple.
The Man Next Door: That's kind of them, but I've fixed the problem. I've turned off all the water in my house. It was leaking in other places too. I get bottles of water from the pub.
Mother: What do you do when you need a shower?
The Man Next Door: My friend Phil across the road lets me use his shower. I've just had a shower there.
(Mother noticed that the man next door looked very clean, and soft-skinned. She didn't ask what he does when he needs to use the toilet.)
The Man Next Door: I really like your daughter, and Alpha. They are very kind to me. I need people to say nice things to me. Your daughter said some kind things to me the other day.
(Mother could remember Daughter reporting that she had been embarrassed by what she had said to the man next door....that if he hears us talking about him we are not criticising him. Mother knows that Daughter does feel compassion towards the man next door, knowing that he is an alcoholic, and also because he told her that he had been away recently, after things in his life fell apart.)
THEN SOMETHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENED.
Someone was calling out through the open front door ...."Can I come in too?"
The Man Next Door: Yes come on in.
Daughter (who appeared in the hallway): I was setting out for a walk, when I heard Mum laughing. I was curious about what was going on.
The Man Next Door: I invited your mother to come in to have a look and see how well I've propped up the house, while I'm taking out this wall. See what I've built.
And see my kitchen. It's going to look very different from that. I've got a photo here to show how I want it to look.
(He produced a photo from a magazine, showing a pleasant, spacious, peaceful-looking kitchen, full of light, in subtle shades of green and beige.)
(When he lowered the photo, and the existing kitchen was revealed again, Mother and Daughter both found it hard to believe that such a transformation was possible.)
The Man Next Door: I'm hoping to get permission from the owner of your house to extend the wall of my kitchen to the boundary between our houses.
Mother: I think it would be nice if that wall has lots of glass, or if there is a sloping glass roof.
The Man Next Door: Yes, that's what I'm planning.
And on the subject of glass ... I'm going to use lots of glass in my bathroom. I plan to build a big bathroom above the living room, where you'll walk between walls of glass, enclosing fish tanks on either side.
Daughter: That sounds lovely!
Mother: I hope you don't get drunk, and accidentally break the glass, and cause an avalanche of water, cascading downstairs.
The Man Next Door: That won't happen, because I've got lots of 3/4" thick glass for the fish tanks.
You know, one thing I really enjoy is hearing all the laughter that comes from your house.
Mother (thinks): It's just as well he doesn't know that a lot of our laughter is about him.
(At this stage the man next door's mate Phil, from across the road, arrives, and is introduced. Mother and Daughter then decide to leave.)
BACK AT HOME
Daughter: Its surprising, but in spite of all the drabness and chaos, you have to admit that the house next door has quite a pleasant feel about it.
(To be continued.)