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Mr Marks heard the shrill sound of children laughing as the estate agent pulled the car up to the kerb. The houses were large, old enough to have seen the last hundred years pass by, without touching them too much. Front gardens too, boiling over railings with a froth of greenery and selective dots and dashes of colour. Mr Marks gripped his wife's cool hand and smiled with a look in his eye that could only be appreciated by her. She gripped his hand back and copied his smile.
“The area looks lovely,” she said.
The estate agent turned the car off and cast a look over his shoulder, his tanned square of a face resting on his bright white short sleeved shirt.
“It's probably one of the best areas we have property in, great for a new family just starting out.” He unlocked his door and slid out, a large bunch of keys jangling out the side of his fist.” Great if your kids have left home, too,” he added, leaning his face in through the door.
Mr and Mrs Marks climbed out of the car and straightened their clothes as the agent locked the doors with his remote.
“There's very little crime in the area, this gives peace of mind.”
“Yes,” Mr Marks agreed. “That's what we want, above all.”
He looked along the length of the avenue, noting how either ends seemed to be beyond reach; a trick caused by thick gardens and a subtle bending of the road.
“It's very quiet. Is this normal for this time of day?”
“Good question. You've done this before. Well, this is around early noon and it is a week day, but it doesn't get much busier than this. The avenue doesn't really lead anywhere so you won't get too much traffic cutting through. As you can see most of the houses have no garages so the roadside is used for parking, but, well, there's no hourly parade.”
The agent laughed and busied himself with the bunch of keys. Each had a paper tag.
“Ah, here it is, number 179. We'll have a look around, shall we?”
Mr Marks inspected the neighbours' gardens as they waited for the agent to unlock the porch doors. They were mostly as tidy as he expected, and saw few signs of life; A boy's blue bicycle peeking from behind the side of number 183, and a large pink cardboard box with a picture of a doll's house printed on the side waiting by a swollen black bin bag at number 177.
The agent tugged the porch doors open and began to fiddle around for the key to the front door.
“The gardens are locally quite well known, Mr Marks. I believe they have small competitions and such. For the better ones. I have a cousin who lives in the next avenue.”
“The gardens are lovely,”Mrs Marks admitted, her high heeled shoes squeaking on the paving as she spun around to look.
The rooms were white and empty, Mr Marks saw. There was a smell of paint. Although none of the walls looked freshly decorated.
“The banister has been painted right up to the attic room,” the agent said, scratching his nose with the front door key, and jangling the bunch. His white shirt made the walls look grubby.
“This is of course the front room, never been knocked through into the back room. So far. Always an option.”
Mrs Marks' high heels echoed in another part of the house. As slow and thought-out as if attending a display at an art gallery.
“Double glazed, but you can have it removed without damaging the original frames...”
Mr Marks nodded and walked around the spacious room, allowing the agent's voice to blur at the back of his thoughts.
They found Mrs Marks in the kitchen, peering out of the window onto the green rectangle of the back garden. A small tool shed crouched in one corner like a guard's hut, left unattended.
“Ah, Mrs Marks, you'll be wanting to know about the plumbing for your appliances.”
She looked at him and smiled without opening her mouth.
“Can we go outside?”
“The fencing is not too high, but you can extend as far as ten feet if you choose. We can do that for you.”
“We do like our privacy,” Mr Marks said, walking to the end of the garden where the sound of children's laughter was loudest.
“Your neighbours are a great bunch. We have a few houses for let on the avenues. So any problems with noise or things like that it's best to contact us first, in case it's one of our tenants. But I don't think you'll have any complaints. The price bracket is pretty exclusive. You were lucky to have first offer on this place.”
Mrs Marks followed her husband, as he walked the entire perimeter of the garden.
“We love it.” He said.
* * *
Mr Marks pulled the car up outside the house and switched off the engine. He looked at his wife until she turned and gave him a broad smile.
“This won't take long,” he told her.” But let's both go.”
She nodded and they climbed out of the car and slammed the doors. Mr Marks went around the back of the car and unlocked the trunk. A large brown suitcase filled most of the space. He took it by the handle and pulled it upright.
“Can you unlock the doors for me?” he asked his wife, handing her the bunch of keys. She took them and walked ahead of him as he hoisted the suitcase out of the car and slammed the trunk shut.
By the time he had carried it to the house his wife had both the porch and the front door unlocked.
“Come in with me, won't you,” he said, when she stepped out of his way.
She nodded and followed him into the house.
Mr Marks laid the suitcase down on its side in the front room and stood up. He walked quickly to the bay windows and peered out, checking all the gardens and what he could see of the road. Things were quiet, being early noon.
“We can do it now,” he said.
His wife gave him a smile that said little, but he understood. He walked to her and put his hand on her arm.
“You go back to the car. I'll do it all.”
He listened to her high heels find their way outside and down the path. When he heard the slam of the car door he knelt down by the suitcase. He stroked the slightly raised flank of it, feeling the coolness.
Then he found the zip and worked it open, slowly parting the teeth. Once he had it completely undone, and could easily lift the flap with his finger, he let it flop back onto the contents of the suitcase and stood up.
“You'll soon find your way around,” he said, as a thin leg that ended at a small dirty red shoe slipped out of the opening in the suitcase.
The leg was dressed in tight fitting trousers, striped, and grimy like the footwear. A second leg slipped out, identical to the first. A sound like a high pitched whine escaped the case as the legs began to slowly stretch out to their full length.
“You'll soon remember what to do,” Mr Marks said, turning to leave. He undid the bolt on the back door and opened it a little.
“It won't take long to work it out,” he said, more to himself, than anyone. Then he left the house and climbed into the car and drove away, hearing the sound of children's laughter in a garden further up the avenue
Get used to it? No, you never get used to it.