I’m really quite familiar with people’s homes. I’m sure they don’t mind. I take in their post, I flick through, just out of interest. I do read any postcards. But after all, anyone can read postcards. I like getting to know the other people in their lives. I leave the post on their kitchen tables – that’s where I’d like it. I don’t receive as much as these people though. In my flat it’s pizza flyers, Petsathome offers.
I love looking at everyone’s photos on their walls. I guess who all of the other people in the pictures are – family, friends. I name them based on all the other information around their homes. That must be Uncle Timmy. That’s Gemma, Stacey’s best friend from school. Postcards are a good starting place. Birthday and Christmas cards also give a good amount of detail. Significant people in their lives, you see. They’re left on display as well, these cards, so it’s not like I’m prying. Actually, I’m quite confident I could accurately name all the people in the photos in all these homes now. Fridge doors are an amazing source of info. People leave all sorts there. Little reminder notes; call John about weekend in Cotswolds. Wedding invitations, thank you cards. Also calendars. People write so much on calendars. All their plans – weekends visiting parents, friends’ birthday parties, work drinks, theatre trips, festivals, holidays.
The insides of fridges are fascinating too. So different. People are such creatures of habit in what food they buy. They are quite unoriginal really. So it’s always a nice surprise when you see something new in the fridge – something they don’t normally buy. I feel excited for them. Oh, I have such an addiction to fruit juice, I really do. But the nice stuff is so expensive. I confess I do have the odd tiny swig from the bottles or cartons of the really nice juices, when people have them in. And I do like to have just the littlest tiniest taste of any left-over meals they’ve cooked from the night before. Home cooking is such a treat. People cook such lovely things, you see.
After a long walk with one of my darlings when I drop them back to their homes I sometimes shut the dog away in another room and just have a cup of tea. I’m sure people don’t mind. They haven’t explicitly said I can, but I really don’t think they’d mind. I always wash and replace the cup. And pour the remaining boiling water away. I might just sit on their sofa, or at their kitchen table with a cuppa, maybe sneak a biscuit if they have any. And I might read a mag or a bit of the paper. Sometimes I pick up one of their books and have a read. I like to read from where they are in the book. You learn all sorts doing this. Just last week, in Hobbs’s house, I was reading a philosophy book, George Berkeley. Bizarre stuff. Fascinating really. It’s so lovely and calm and quiet in people’s homes in the middle of the day, everyone else at work. Sometimes I’m happy to just sit there quietly, listening, like I’m half waiting for the click of the key in the door – my partner arriving home from work.
You wouldn’t believe what people leave out in their homes, even though they know I’m coming in to walk their dogs. I’ve found all sorts, let me tell you. People leave bank statements out – you can see exactly what they’ve bought and where. They leave angry notes to each other, usually about housework, taking the bins out. They leave making-up notes – I didn’t mean what I said last night. And notes like, I loooove you soooo much! Hospital letters are left out, I’ve even found pregnancy tests before.
Most people don’t have passwords on their computers either, just leave them on sleep mode. And of course there’s a whole world of information there – recent documents they’ve been working on, emails received and sent. Well, it goes without saying, their internet browsing history too. I mean, you can see everything there. People’s plans, the things they’re worried about. Their hopes, desires. Fears. It’s like I’m looking back through their minds, seeing the chains of their thoughts forming.
Although I hardly ever see these people. We communicate through text or email when we need to. Or sometimes they just leave me a note. I suppose they don’t need to see me. Just know I walk their dogs. But I know them. Sometimes with a couple or a family, I feel I know them better than they know each other.
Some of these women, in these nicer houses – you should see these houses – have the most wonderful clothes. I try them on now and then, in their bedrooms. It’s the dresses and the jackets I like best. Things I’d never buy myself. I stand in front of their full-length mirrors in a real leather jacket – oh the smell! – or an evening summer dress with flower patterns. It’s like I’m translated somehow. I do this thing, it sounds silly, where I try and walk across the room past the mirror all completely natural. As if I’m just crossing the bedroom to get something I’ve forgotten from my wardrobe. And I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I pass.
I get sleepy so easily these days. Maybe it’s all the dog walking. Or too many takeaways and microwave dinners. But in these homes, in the middle of the day, I can come over all sort of heavy. It’s like the rooms are filled with warm thick water and I’m floating through. Perhaps it’s just the stillness of these homes. The clocks tick, the furniture creaks, ever so slightly. The teapot is still warm when I touch it. Plates with crumbs from breakfast. Cheerios left in the bowl. Like people have gone in a rush, their lives paused, waiting to resume. Or it’s as if some terrible warning has come and people have taken what they can and fled, never coming back. But I’m left. I’ve missed the announcement.
Lately though, this drowsiness – I’ve taken to getting a cup of tea, getting into their bed. I read a few pages of their book on the bedside table. Then, when I feel really sleepy, I edge down under the covers. I can smell them on the bedsheets, their living life. These people – they all have a different smell. It’s warm under the covers. Dark. The house breathes. I think, perhaps, I keep them going. I come to the borders of myself. It drops away, slow. Dissolves. Perhaps they need me. To be these people.
Jacob Parker lives in London and teaches in a sixth form college. He likes writing short stories in pencil. His work has also appeared in Ink, Sweat & Tears.