Every day, in the window of the house with the red door, there are flowers.
Flowers sitting in pride of place. Flowers spilling their petals, their colour and leaves. Falling piece by piece, day by day, onto the deep wooden sill.
Every day there are flowers in that window.
Flowers that call and sing to the rest of the narrow grey street outside.
And each week the arrangement changes. Samantha has noticed that no two bunches are ever the same. Sometimes a round red vase holds simple daffodils; proud and golden, standing alone.
Next time there is a crystal vase, crammed with the exotic; vivid orchids, crashing and clashing with blousy roses. Or a blue jug, swirling with bright pink lilies, star-shaped chrysanthemum or indigo irises waving like flags.
As she walks past each Monday, making her way from two doors down, Samantha turns to the window, ready to gaze upon this week’s offering.
And she wonders how the woman who lives there chooses.
Does someone buy the flowers for her?
Or does she select them herself to reflect her life or alter her mood?
Are they delivered by the armful in a sleek white van? Or brought home from the supermarket, jammed between toilet rolls and food?
Does this woman choose these blooms for love, for laughter, for sorrow? In remembrance, in celebration, in defiance or in joy?
Occasionally Samantha catches sight of the woman moving within. She is tall, statuesque, with long dark hair, flowing like water past her shoulders, onto her back. As she strides from room to room her clothes move loosely around her; swatches and swathes of emerald, bronze, cerise and gold. Striking colours.
Sometimes there is music, escaping from the open window. Music that is high and urgent, that pushes through the drab English air, sending something foreign and forbidden up to the grey clouds and northerly winds.
And in the evenings other women come to the house. Samantha sees them park their cars and walk, laughing, up the path to the red door. Like the woman of the flowers they too are shrouded in colour. In their hands are bottles of wine and covered dishes from which spice and heat escape, pooling in the road.
Then one weekend Samantha hears shouting.
Shouting that turns to screaming in the black heart of the night. And the music is drowned out, by the sounds of glass smashing, the squeal of tyres and slamming doors.
Followed by the thin wail of sirens and blinking blue lights that wriggle under Samantha’s thin curtains and dance on her bed.
In the morning she asks her mother what happened. But her mother shrugs and clutching a mug turns away. And the silence in their kitchen is a little tighter and the air is a little more grey.
On Monday the red door has gone. Nailed over and hidden under a sheet of splintered plywood.
And in the window there are no flowers.
Just a single cactus instead.