Matt didn’t take his keys from his pocket.
The wood closest the lock was split.
He heard no noises from inside.
He entered and met a new shade of darkness. He felt for a light switch. The panel was missing, replaced by a hole with loose, severed wires.
He took his time feeling through the house. Some fixtures were still in place, none of which he had fitted. He ignored the garden.
There was frayed carpet and torn wallpaper but nothing left of his.
Outside, Matt took out his phone. He dialled the numbers but didn’t connect the call.
The street was full of parked cars but he saw no lights on or anyone sitting inside. It stayed this way so he walked across the road.
He wasn’t kept waiting. Dawn embraced him before he could explain his appearance.
She took off his coat then showed him to a chair in the kitchen. The seat was warm. He could smell the oven had been on. She made him a cup of tea. Matt left it on its coaster to cool.
Then Dawn let him speak. He told her about the state of the house.
She stayed quiet until he reached for his drink. She grabbed the cup, tipped the contents down the sink and took away the coaster. She told him he needed something stronger. She went through a bottom cupboard and littered the linoleum with packets and tins.
From his position Matt couldn’t see the cup in the sink.
Dawn found the bottle. She took out a mug and half filled it.
Matt thanked her.
Then she asked him to describe his house again. So he did.
She asked who would go to the trouble to create such conditions.
Matt said he couldn’t picture the faces.
She asked how long it would have taken.
Matt said it had been planned, that the men knew they could spend the time. He said they had the expertise to strip a place without leaving a trace.
She asked for an estimate of the damage, the value of the theft.
He said he didn’t know, that only market forces could determine.
Dawn said that was what businesses were for. Then she pointed out the window. She told him there could never be people like that so close by.
She told him to wait on the drink; she wanted him to focus on his next move. So she left the room. Matt heard no lights come on.
Dawn returned with a newspaper. She showed him an article and told him to read it.
Matt followed her index finger as she moved along the lines. The story was of a retired man in his sixties. He had been terrorised in his house. It was in the early hours. He hadn’t long left the pub. Men had followed him, imagined he had amassed wealth during his life as a bachelor and a builder.
According to the ex-tradesman he was woken then knocked unconscious. The burglars used the tools in the house to break furniture and smash ornaments. They stole a watch and some cash. They were now being questioned by police, identified as being out of town.
Dawn said they should be thankful to the powers above that he was not in when the men arrived. She said otherwise he would now be packed in with all his things, heading who knows where.
Then she said he was starving, unable to eat since returning home.
Matt said he preferred that she not go to the trouble. Dawn began opening doors and drawers and pulling out crockery, cutlery and supplies. She knew what he liked.
She kept her back to him as she prepared the food. The fridge began to whir.
Matt scanned the room. The walls painted sky blue, the strip of ceramic tiles with floral print. The speckled marble counter tops and the steel plated appliances. The varnished oak cabinets with tinted glass. Everything was joined together.
Dawn set down a plate of salad sandwiches. The slices of bread were too thin and misshapen for the volume of filling. Matt smelt no accompanying sauces or dressings.
On inspection he turned the plate with one hand and found a spot of blood. It had no more than a millimetre diameter.
Dawn asked whether he could imagine owning a cat and seeing its reaction to the scene. She said it could have already been beaten and sold, or worse eaten. She said no animal should have to go through that.
Matt asked whether Dawn’s cat had come home yet.
She asked how it had been allowed to happen, why had no one seen and phoned it in.
Matt said he hadn’t told anyone else.
Dawn looked at him then. She asked what he was doing.
She retrieved the cordless phone and began pressing buttons. When she saw his face she hung up and gave it to him. She said it was not her place to relay events.
Matt didn’t move so she returned the phone to its station on the wall.
Dawn said people needed to know so they could come in and look over the place.She told him someone needed to measure the space and draw up a plan. She spoke now in a whisper.
From his view Dawn appeared taller, further away. Dawn had not sat down and he saw she was wearing shoes. He wondered what the strain was on the heels.
Dawn looked out the kitchen window. She had the blinds rolled up. Matt knew there was nothing left to see.
Soon Dawn agreed the operation must have been connected to someone he knew by name, because the crime had been committed while he was away for a night and day. She said he must have been targeted because of the work he did, the car he drove, the clothes he wore.
Dawn said he must have hope his things were being looked after, unharmed. She said he should look up the claims number for his insurance company to make them aware of the loss.
Dawn rummaged through her handbag on the table. She lit a cigarette then kept hold of the packet.
Matt watched her as he felt in his pockets. They were empty; his wallet and keys were in his coat, somewhere in the house.
Matt fidgeted in his chair.
Dawn opened the top window. Matt saw the smoke flee. He wondered if she was imagining birds out in the dark, ones perched on telephone wires that chirp and fight and hunt during daylight.
She said there were plenty of places to replace his possessions and began listing the shops she visited. She continued to shorten her cigarette.
He then knew the reason birds hid at night.
The kitchen phone rang. The tone was on the highest volume setting. Dawn did not make a move. She said it would be no one.
Matt noticed the light bulb was enclosed by a brass bowl pendant. He wondered how he knew the design and whether any other rooms had the same setup.
He soon dismissed the questions, he wasn’t going to get one.
Matt told her she was bleeding. She looked at him then at her outfit. She stubbed out her cigarette and felt her jacket, top, skirt then face. She ran water over her hands, drowning the cup in the sink.
The phone gave up ringing.The fridge was now silent.
Matt leaned forward in his chair and extended an arm. He reached for the stocking of her left thigh. Dawn flinched. Then she relaxed.
Matt asked her where she was heading for the night.
Dawn said nowhere that could not be missed.
Vibrations started against the table, inside Dawn’s handbag. An irregular beat.
She told him to leave it.
Matt kept his hand on the nylon.
She told him to breathe. Then she asked whether he had touched such material before.
He followed the diamond pattern of the stocking down Dawn’s leg, his thumb the left side, his fingers the right. He felt the strands over Dawn’s knee. She took his hand away. She did not consider his other hand.
She asked how he was going to function without the essentials. She said it was difficult to come to terms with it. Then she came out and said it: that there was nothing left for it, there was space in the house and he was welcome to it. She told him her belongings were available for loan too, assuming he could make use of anything.
Matt said that he was after some things. He asked whether she could start by closing the window, as she could stretch the furthest.
David is an Essex based writer. David works for Essex County Council on campaigns to encourage residents to repair, reuse and recycle their waste. David also competes regularly in half and full marathons across Essex. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex. You can follow David via his blog at www.utopiandave.wordpress.com.