By Fran Clark
Libby Taylor wasn't beautiful, her figure was far from perfect. I would never dress like her or dye my hair that shade of red but she fascinated me all the same. I saw her almost daily from my window. I stopped writing to watch her pottering in the garden, setting out for a jog or jumping into her Spitfire.
Not long after they moved in next door, Libby and her husband, Jack, invited Paul and me for dinner. It was summer. We sat in the garden drinking sangria and eating salad. I was bothered by the flies but Libby, so poised and confident, had Paul infatuated.
A few mornings later I went to hang out the washing. I heard a radio playing in Libby's garden. She hummed to the music and then let her voice soar. It wasn't a special voice but I dropped Paul's shirt back into the basket and peered through the hedge. She was on a reclining chair, the radio beside her on the uncut grass. She wore a bold orange dress, long and flimsy. It clashed with her beetroot red hair. Her eyes were closed, her feet bare, a fine, gold chain around her ankle. She raised her arms and from the nape of her neck she flicked her hair so it fell like a silky red drape over the back of her chair. Her armpits were unshaven, her arms silky and white.
Suddenly she stopped singing and turned towards me. I crouched down. How stupid. She saw the top of my head, or at least the pink towel wrapped around it since my shower.
“Don't be shy,” she called. As she leant forward to turn off the radio, her dress gaped in the front. I caught a glimpse of her breasts. Smooth domes that collided as she leant forward and separated just slightly with a fluid movement as she stepped off the chair.
“Can I come through?” She asked. I couldn't answer at first. She laughed, only lightly. I shook my head so that I could focus again and my towel dropped onto the lawn. I bent to pick it up and saw Libby making her way through the gap in the hedge. She ran a hand over the bark of my eucalyptus tree, its branches overhung her side of the garden.
“I hope the leaves won't bother you.” What a ridiculous thing to say.
“I love eucalyptus,” she said. And that's how it began.
I hadn't intended to fall in love with Libby.
Jack and Paul usually worked late. Paul was a lawyer and Jack an architect. I didn't care what either husband did. All that concerned me was how Libby made me feel and what she taught me. After a few months my personality was transformed. I dressed more like Libby. I bought an ankle chain. I felt freer, more open with Paul but my most precious moments I spent with her.
We talked a lot about running away together. I imagined our husbands' faces as Libby and I jumped into her open-topped car and waved goodbye to them. Paul in a dirty shirt – I was becoming increasingly fed up with looking after him – and Jack, just as bemused.
But summer came round again and we were still with them.
On a hazy afternoon in July, Paul called to say he'd been delayed. Jack wouldn't be home for another two hours. The heat was overwhelming. All the windows in Libby's house were open but it was still stifling in the bedroom. I asked her to turn the music down because the neighbours might complain. Libby only laughed with that musical trill in her voice, a delightfully, audible exhale.
“Just relax,” she said.
I did just that, laying my head on her pillow. I looked down to see her red hair spread across my stomach and the gentle movement of her head. I thought she was humming to the music, slight vibrations passed through her lips. I arched my back, my head sank deeper into the pillow. I sighed in time to the music letting the sound swell and diminish to her rhythm until I called out her name like an anthem. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. There stood Jack. I wanted to scream but the sound got caught somewhere between the thought and my mouth. I tried to pull the sheets across my body. Libby just sat up and smoothed her hair.
“You're back early.” She turned to Jack then slipped off the bed to turn the music down.
“Decided I'd had enough.” Jack's tie was loose and he unfastened another button. He looked over at me and smiled. I lowered my eyes and watched his feet reluctantly leave the room.
“Sorry about that.” Libby stood by the open window and lit a cigarette. “Will you stay for dinner?”
In my rush to leave, my ankle chain broke but I refused to answer the door when Libby tried to return it.
The hedge between our gardens grew taller. I had the gardener fill the gap and cut back the branches of the eucalyptus. Libby and I never spoke again.