The house was dark, which made Helen worry all the more. As long as she could remember, her neighbours kept at least one light on in the house.
“You never know when someone will show up for a visit,” Jackie would explain. “Would hate for them to think they’re not welcome.”
The funny thing was, Helen never saw any visitors at the Jarrols. Maybe that’s why the house always seemed to drip in melancholy.
Helen took the first step on to the porch, making sure not to lean on the railing that more than once abandoned poor Ned to the garden below. Jackie finally planted decorative cabbage just to cushion the blow.
Each step felt spongier than the next as Helen ascended. She wasn’t sure if it was the wood or her trepidation, the silence of the house growing more oppressive the closer she got.
Helen didn’t bother with the doorbell, it never worked, but instead rapped heavily on the door before turning the handle.
“It’s just Helen,” she called into the darkness, the weak light of blinded windows helping her make out the living room. “Jackie? Ned?”
Her words hung in the air, the warmth of her breath buoyant in a house unnaturally cold.
Helen hesitated at the door, afraid to proceed but worried about her neighbours. She really wished Sarah was with her right now, but she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. Helen was on her own.
“Hello,” Jackie’s voice called from the kitchen.
“We’re not home right now, but if you leave a message, Neddy and I will get right back to you.”
Ned had long ago turned off the phone ringer because it always startled Jackie, who had a weak heart. Helen actually thought it was because Ned hated talking on the phone.
Helen searched the main floor, but the Jarrols were nowhere to be found. Upstairs it was.
As though pulling off a bandage, Helen vaulted the stairs to the second floor, but her hand froze as it came to rest on the bedroom door handle.
Knocking would have been respectful, but Helen just turned the knob and pushed. The door showed no resistance.
Jackie and Ned lay next to each other on the bed, eyes closed. Jackie was under the covers, hair bound in that all-too-familiar brown kerchief, while Ned was atop the covers.
Helen didn’t call out. She didn’t even check them. It was just like Ned to turn the heat off first. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt the potential resale value of the house.