Dead or Alive

‘Let me know how it goes at work today,’ read the message from my husband, ‘but I just want a summary, not a blog post.’

I could not think what he meant by that. Could it possibly be that I occasionally embellish and embroider a short tale to enrich the narrative? It is possible, I suppose, considering what I just did with that previous sentence.

I have been away from work for a week and the last time I was there, we had a different state government. As I work in the public sector, it is likely going to have some sort of effect, it is just impossible to know just yet what, if any, that effect will be.

‘Never mind about that,’ I replied. ‘At the moment I am more concerned whether Sal is dead.’

I was walking the dogs at the time in the mild morning sun, trying as we women multi-taskers do, to walk one dog on a lead, keep an eye on the other one who was looking as if she might dive into the jets of water shooting from the reticulation heads and message my husband who was sitting in a hotel room 700 kms away.

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

It was quite simple really. I live on a block with three houses and the one at the top is occupied by our feisty neighbour, Sal. Sal is at least 70 and retired a couple of years ago but appears to have been working non-stop ever since. He comes from eastern Europe but the country where he was born probably goes by a different name now. I have spoken with him only briefly about his homeland but he has described military conflicts and relatives he has lost – but always with the stoic acceptance of someone who lives in the knowledge that he has been able to escape a fate that others he has known have not.

He starts work at 4 am – even earlier than my husband and most of the times I see him is on a rare day off as he is tending the verge outside the house. He installed a watering system which he asked us and the other neighbour to chip in for – only fifty dollars each. My other neighbour refused and he has never forgiven her. As we did not refuse, he insists on bringing my bins in when he gets home from work and always waves to me or stops for a chat when our paths do cross. I can tell by the way he stares at my mouth that he is going deaf and is lip reading what I am saying because he is too proud to go to the doctor. He lives alone and while friends visit from time to time, there is no one there to nag him to take care of his health.

Yesterday morning when I went out to walk the dogs I noticed that his front door was open – nothing unusual – the security screen was shut and he was probably just letting in the morning breeze. Except the door was still open later in the afternoon when I returned from the dogs’ second walk. I slowed down as I walked past his patio wall, but could not hear a TV (which, when it is on, is usually on loud) or sense any movement in the house.

I had forgotten about it until this morning when I drove the car out to the park to walk the dogs again. I checked the rear view mirror and thought, as I pulled away that the door looked as if it was still open. That gave me the two minutes it took me to get to the park to conjure up any number of scenarios, all of which featured Sal lying on the floor, either unconscious, incapacitated or deceased as I struggled to raise the alarm.

‘I am thinking of ringing Mike,’ I said to my husband. ‘He visits Sal and may be able to contact him to make sure he is OK.’

Mike was our ex-neighbour. The one who was in the house before the woman who would not pay for the water system. Mike and Sal have been mates for a while.

‘Why don’t you just ring him yourself?’ asked my husband.

‘Oh yeah,’ I thought. Truth is, I had been so busy running through scenarios with the emergency services that I had forgotten that I had his number. ‘I will double check the door when I get home, I told him and then make a decision from there.’

So I drove home and checked the front door as I drove past it.

The door was shut.

I sent a message to my husband, ‘Door open, Sal lives.’

‘Congratulations, Miss Marple,’ came the reply.

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