By H.R. Gibs
Eric Bob’s life is on fire, it’s all over the evening news. The stocks are down, or the Prime Minister has been abducted or a painting has been stolen from the National Gallery, it doesn’t matter. What matters is Eric Bob is not here to see it. No-one knows where he went; there is no scrap of him; not a footprint, not the crumb of a sandwich or the abandoned milk jug on a cafe table.
Of course, he isn’t missing. He’s just gone off-script.
The old woman down the road liked to watch the world outside her window. She would sit on her plush armchair, legs propped a little and let the choreographed dance of the street unfurl itself in all its glory before her. It was like a rough-cut street ballet, soundtracked by the mighty symphony of motherly bellows and tenor revs of departing fathers on their way to work. She knew all the faces and the footfalls, not by name but by sight. And they would tut at her supposed nosiness as if the spectacle of it all wasn’t made more meaningful by the mere act of her witness.
She knew Eric Bob better than most of her neighbours or at least she liked to think so. Sometimes she thought she knew him better than most of his friends even, although she wasn’t entirely sure if he had friends. His house was very dark and very neat and very quiet. She deemed him the kind of man who tiptoed, despite his sleek designer suits and polished loafers and briefcase. He had a car which would zip off earlier than the birdsong in the mornings and returned always after dark. Some days the old woman feared she might miss him but she never did. Eric Bob was the bookend to her day.
He worked one of those high-up-important-jobs in the government or in stocks or doing art dealerships. By any means, it was a job synonymous with words like “stress” or “ongoing” and “confidential” and “honey, I’ll be back late”. She had only spoken to him actually a handful of times, despite the fact he had lived opposite her living room window for over 2 years. Once, she remembered fondly, when she was gardening, he had helped her cart a hefty sack of soil all the way from the garden to the flowerbed.
“What a gentleman you are,” she had said.
“It’s easy to be a gentleman in the presence of such a lady” he had replied.
From then on whenever they caught each other’s eye from across the street they would give a little wave or a nod or a knowing look which often meant
That’s right, she liked Eric Bob. He was like having a visual penpal.
Eric Bob really liked his neighbour from across the street. She was an eccentric old woman who surveyed her surrounding inhabitants like some grand wise keeper of keys. She may very well have been designated that role officially for the glints of her rimmed glasses which more often than not hung on the golden chain around her neck did not miss a beat.
He worked in an accountancy firm in the centre of town. He had fallen into it after falling into a degree in mathematics which he’d hated and, not-so-much to his surprise, he did not enjoy accounting. But he was good at it and it was pleasant enough to sit each day by a big window and watch the city below; how the people morphed into brightly coloured dots when looked at from such great heights. He liked this office, he liked his colleagues and the coffee maker in the kitchenette, he liked the routine of it.
In fact, he quite liked his little life. He worked hard and lived alone in a neat little cul-de-sac and very much kept himself to himself. It was an easy thing to maintain. This life just bounced by through the momentum of rhythm; work, sleep, eat, repeat, 1, 2, 3, 4. Nothing odd could ever really happen when you lived in the suburbs could it? It was perpetually on the cusp of lovely.
On morning Eric Bob, having forgotten to put the bins out the night before, sank his feet into his slippers and his arms into his plaid dressing gown and trapsed downstairs. The morning air was cool as he dragged the dustbin to the roadside. Then something came over Eric Bob. He took a moment, stepped off the pavement and stood, just so, in the middle of the road. Once that was done the rest followed naturally. He breathed in the fresh air and looked at the lilac morning sky and, without a thought, decided to go for a little walk.
It didn’t even occur to him that he was in his pyjamas. It was so quiet and afterall, he was the only man in the world. And anyway, there was something captivating about those trees over yonder. The spindly silhouettes seemed to tug inwards. So, for the first time since moving in, Eric Bob set off to look at his surroundings. What he came to was a lake. He hadn’t even known it was there. It was like mirrored glass, the still morning holding it in place in servitude to the sky and her reflection. To his left he saw the burnt red sun on the lip of the horizon. He didn’t even stop to think. He tugged off his robe and pyjamas and folded them neatly on the bank.
The water was cold. It shocked like electricity and turned his wrists blue. The goosebumps on his shivering arms were like mountain ranges, but there was an exciting warmth in his chest. Something along the lines of possibility or perhaps just the recognition of awake-ness. He let the legs of his pyjama bottoms stick sodden to his shins on the walk home. He would have eggs for breakfast this morning he decided.
And then? who knew.
The old woman noticed immediately. Despite it being gone 11 am, the car across the street was decidedly still parked in the driveway. Eric Bob had not gone to work. Nor was he in the house for it was the postman with a delivery for number-6-across-the-way that had been the cause for her coming to the door. How odd, she thought as she took the package.
She made a habit of not getting stuck watching the street and set out about her day. She boiled the kettle and dusted her bookshelves. She went to the local market and to the bank. When she came back, the car was gone. She spent the rest of the day dithering and when it came to it turned on the lamps in the living room. Across the street, the driveway now empty, the house remained dark and everytime she glanced out she couldn’t help but wonder at the obvious – where was Eric Bob?
In the hallway, on the way upstairs, she took a glimpse at the package which had been delivered that morning. Something caught her eye and she picked it up.
‘How odd’ she thought, thumbing the sealed flap. It was her name above the address, not her neighbour’s. She paused before running her finger under the seal so it broke.
H.R. Gibs also provided readers with an accompanying playlist for this story, you can listen to it on spotify