About two months ago, when I came in, I saw a newspaper and a paper bag – probably something from the bakery – on our neighbour's door mat. A few hours later it was still there. The next day, a police sticker appeared across the door opening. Our friendly, probably fifty-something neighbour, who spent too much time in the pub and probably ate too much sausage, was dead.
The day before yesterday, we heard repeated banging on our old lady neighbour's door. A name being shouted over and over again. Then a crash. We opened our door to see what had happened, but there was no-one there. I supposed the health workers, or whoever they were, had already managed to get inside. The next morning, there it was, another purple sticker.
The corner where we live was never pretty, but now, it's particularly sad. Of course, we don't 'know' she's dead. In fact, my eight year old daughter doubted the veracity of the first death on our landing. When we told her that the people upstairs had confirmed our neighbour's demise, she wanted to know whether or not they'd seen they body. If they hadn't how could they 'know'?
Both our neighbours lived alone. This, I think, is why they get the purple stickers. There is no-one to say what happened.
The old lady next door gave my daughter sweets at Halloween, but because they were chocolates she'd intended to eat herself - grown-ups' sweets - she felt she'd failed my child and turned up on the doorstep with a soft toy otter for her the following week. We had to air the otter because it smelt so strongly of smoke. The week before last, I helped her read the note the post man had put in her letter box, about a parcel he'd left with a neighbour for her. She thought it had been left with me, but it hadn't. She admitted she couldn't read much anymore.
The purple stickers remind me of when I lived alone in a Hackney council flat, and of the old ladies, all of whom had outlasted their men folk, who lived, alone, around me. The stickers make me feel quite clingy about my family. They also make me wonder about how my daughter will think of death in the future. A closed door, a message from the police saying, don't go in. They make me think I should, somehow, move her to a prettier part of town. But I guess there can be purple stickers in any street, on any landing.
The hallway has smelt even more strongly of smoke in the last couple of days than it did before. I go up to our neighbour's door and sniff, hoping for signs of life. There are none. Sometimes the smell of her cigarettes would seep through our living room wall. When she had a bath, we could hear her running the water. Now, if our landing is anything, other than ugly, sombre and smoky, it is deathly quiet.