milk

Looking from the bathroom window I could see their curtains, thick purple and blue stripes, in the back room, probably a bedroom. Dense bushes, wild ivy and a large pine tree covered the garden and my view to their kitchen and what I imagined would be a small patio. A tight black gate in the wall never opened, unlike ours, which was always in use with shopping and people and bicycles and wheelbarrows coming in and out. Their neighbours had parked a car in the garden which had sat for so long, a thick layer of copper dust had collected on the bonnet which the washing on the line above never quite touched. Their neighbours also had lots of timber and a large wooden door in the garden, and at weekends I could hear a drill going all day long. By Sunday evening, the bits of wood would have altered slightly, the shape of the pile, though the door remained horizontal and close to the car, untouched as it were. They (the neighbours’ neighbours) also had an obese black and white cat that sat on a plastic shed at the bottom of the other neighbours’ – that’s the third set of neighbours – garden. Those plastic sheds were becoming very popular in the area, this area where I first noticed the striped curtains that reminded me of the shirts and dungarees my brother wore as a small boy. The first time I noticed them, as I was pulling up the zip of my jeans and gazing through the window at the small fairy in another garden, my attention was caught by the curtains because they were flapping gently in the open window. I was quite overwhelmed by a feeling of what I can only insist was litost, a word I learned several years before I ever knew saudades. Anyway, a week or so later, I had woken up early, just after five, and heard a noise outside. I went to the bathroom, opened the window only a little, and looked through the narrow gap to the street and other houses. A figure stood beneath the bushes that groped over the wall of that house. He was smoking, and I stayed watching his arm moving up and down from his hip to his mouth, his hip to his mouth, until he flicked the cigarette into the gutter. Then I heard an engine, and a short white van appeared around the corner. It stopped infront of the smoker, who walked around to the back, threw his rucksack into the open-back of the vehicle followed by his own body. He buried down beneath a blanket, pulling his bag with him, then banged the wall of the van with a fist. The vehicle disappeared. A minute might have passed before I heard a milk-float approaching. I watched it park up on the corner, beside the house with the striped curtains. I didn’t see the milkman but I heard the clink of bottles.

Later that evening, I decided to visit the house. I walked out of my side gate, down the street, around the corner, in through his front gate, and knocked my knuckles on the front door. Several moments passed, then a curtain in the bay window was pulled to one side and a man stared at me. I noticed the whites of his eyes and the softness of his moustache. I raised my hand, and nodded. The curtain dropped, and shortly the front door opened. The same man nodded then said, simply, Yes? I could not see his body, he kept the door infront of it, but I noticed his hand and a foot holding the door in place.

I noticed the milkman delivers here, I said.

Yes?

I wondered, I hope you don’t mind, but I wondered if you could ask him to leave a pint for me too. I don’t know how to contact him otherwise.

One a day? Full-fat? Semi-skimmed?

Semi-skimmed. Three pints a week. If you wouldn’t mind . . . a little note . . . then I’ll take over from there?

He nodded then shut the door without saying another word. I stood, briefly staring ahead, then turned and walked back out of the gate. As I turned around the corner, into our street, the black and white cat slid from the wall and splayed itself across the pavement a few feet ahead of me. The pavement was narrow so I could not pass without either moving the cat or stepping into the street. As I drew closer to the cat, I stepped off the pavement. But I couldn’t have been looking at what I was doing because I was staring at the cat; I tripped on the kerb and fell into the road, where I lay for a few seconds trying to feel which parts of my body hurt. I looked to the cat, which had not moved. I remembered the figure smoking earlier that day and was sure the cat was sitting in exactly the same spot where he had stood. I looked up at the walls and the houses around me and slowly pulled myself up, then brushed the grit from my palms and my knees.

The next morning, I found a pint of semi-skimmed milk placed on the centre of my doorstep. Two days later, ther was another also positioned in the same spot. Two days after that, yet another. I left the milkman a note, asking for orange juice too and thanking him. Several weeks passed and we continued to receive milk. But we have never been left any orange juice. My husband says he wants to cancel the whole thing, and buy it from the local shop. He says he hates the fact he’s never heard the milk-float.

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