One day last summer I was outside the house juggling my inordinately large bunch of keys, wondering why I still had the key to the shed door from a home by parents sold in 1983 on the key ring, when a large, old style Cadillac drew up.
An elderly the woman leaned out the window and said "Hi."
She informed me she lived in the house behind ours. She was called Jean or Shirley. Something like that. She had a reed like voice and a certain jauntiness.
"Have you live there long?"
I didn't know what to say so I made the obvious comment it was a while. It was a while since West Germany had eight million refugees, since Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill announced Britain had the atomic bomb. It was a while since TV made its first appearance in Canada and J Edgar Hoover revoked Charlie Chaplin's visa to the USA.
Jean or Shirley's home was a small white house, with a ramshackle looking conservatory. The glass looked thin and pale as if the cold seeped in. The paint seemed thin too, fraying at the edges. We resolved to call in but never did.
Later last year the street behind the house filled up with fire trucks. I went to investigate and a group of excitable kids told me Jean or Shirley had been carried out with blood gashing out of her head. It was the most exhilarating thing they had experienced in the street since the shooting. One of the kids mentioned glass.
She may have returned. I'm not sure. But recently I was informed Jean or Shirley had died. The grass has been growing long in the yard of the house with the thin conservatory. Some scrawny looking men were round there recently but I can't say if they were relatives or not. They were throwing objects around with little enthusiasm. Maybe they were from the council. Nobody seems to be in a hurry to claim the house.
Last night I took my daughter to the empty school. Sometimes it bothers me that she can use words like 'truncated' in context but has never learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. As she trundled along the path, kids half her age zipped past on their bikes.
The school of hard knocks had failed. I wasn't going to remove the training wheels again any time soon. Perhaps a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday.
We made a few circuits of the path and went to the park. The grass had grown long in the school holidays and vicious bugs descended on me in swarms. I took pictures of my feet and my daughter on my BlackBerry and posted them on Facebook. Not because I wanted people to "like" my feet, but because I was bored.
Still the bugs descended but I didn't want to leave too soon. The bug bites were penance for my bicycle failure but in the end we made our way back down the ragged streets, past the beat up store and the snarling dogs behind a high fence that sounded like lions but probably looked like poodles.
And on the side street by the white house I saw boxes on the street, mean and insignificant, left by someone who didn't care enough to open a trash can. I looked inside them and saw old papers and the soles of shoes - antique shoes that may once have danced to a long forgotten song.
They belonged to Jean or Shirley or whatever her name was. Something about them made me feel irredeemably sad.