Four years ago, on a Friday afternoon, I heard a cork pop and raucous laughter coming through the wall from next door. I had a new neighbour. Louise is my age, kind, funny and lovely. She quickly became Tom’s Auntie; she baked with him, she decorated his bedroom, she took him places in her car – all things I couldn’t do. Louise watched Tom grow from a two year old in a buggy to a six year old who couldn’t wait to show her his wobbly teeth and school reports.
Louise was my saviour, too; driving me out to the countryside for long walks and chats, lending me her step ladders (and steadying them) when I needed to change a light bulb, helping me shift furniture from one end of the room to the other (and back again.) Sometimes, if I had a stack of washing up to do or clothes to put away, she would come and sit and chat to me while I just got on with it. We had nights out, we had nights in, we went on holiday together. I listened to her, she listened to me, one day I want to return all the favours she did for me. When I lost all my confidence in my writing and myself, she talked me out of it and encouraged me to keep going. Whilst most of my friends live far across the other side of town, Louise was only ever a couple of slipper-clad footsteps away.
I often accidentally referred to Louise as my housemate, because that’s how it felt. I would hear her coming in from nights out when I was up writing late. That distinctive laugh through the walls became my reassurance that Tom and I had company, that we were never truly alone in our little corner of the city.
Last week, I was walking across a sun-drenched field in Oxfordshire when I heard that ever-so-slightly-dirty laugh come from inside a nearby tent. I’d won tickets to Wilderness festival (posh, sunny, wonderful) and one of the reasons why I’d entered the competition was because Louise and I had talked about going.
“Is that you, Louise?” I said, panicking for a second that it might be someone else.
Of course it was though, that laugh. I was four hours away from home, in the middle of a thousand tents and it had still managed to reach me.
Louise got a new job a few weeks ago, so she doesn’t live next door any more. I am really pleased for her, but God, we miss her. I keep half-going to call her and ask her what she’s up to, then remembering she’s not there. Tom keeps asking after her as well.
When I got back from Wilderness and the weather was reasonable, all I wanted was one of our ritual summer walks. The raspberries are out now and we would have let Tom pick them while we talked about the weekend.
Sometimes, people ask if it’s hard on your own. It doesn’t feel like it is most of the time, especially if it’s all you’ve ever known. But it’s definitely easier when you’ve got good people to support you. And unless you’ve got a housemate, people don’t get much closer than your next door neighbour. I often joke that Louise didn’t know what she was letting herself in for moving in next to us, but she always smiles and says she thinks it was meant to be.
Thankfully, Louise keeps coming back to visit. It’s not quite the same as it was when she was just through the wall (we often said we’d make a hatch so we could just climb through into each other’s houses) but I know she’ll always be around. When your family’s tiny, lovely people really make a difference. The last four years were definitely happier for Louise being there. Tom and I got so lucky with Louise – and that blummin’ laugh.
(Time to stop sniffling and readjust.)