“So, have you seen him from Number 8, lately?” The postman asked while Mrs Stevens at Number 11 signed for a parcel from her catalogue.
Mrs Stevens wrinkled her nose and gazed across the road to the house in question.
“Can’t say that I have,” she sniffed. “He’s always been a bit quiet. Don’t see much of him.”
She handed the postman his clipboard and accepted the parcel. She was keen to close the door and try on her new blouse, but the postman showed no sign of shifting from her doorstep.
“It’s just that I’m having trouble getting his post through the letterbox. It’s piling up in there.”
Mrs Stevens rolled her eyes. It wasn’t her bloody problem.
“Perhaps he’s gone away. People do, you know.”
But the postman stayed put.
“If he has, he’s left his telly on. You can hear it. Especially when I’m trying to ram something through his flaps.”
Mrs Stevens eyebrows leapt up at this remark.
“Well…” she said, and tried to close her door.
“And there’s the smell and all,” the postman added.
“Smell?” Mrs Stevens’s interest was piqued. Smell was interesting. Smell meant tragedy. Smell meant death.
She dropped her parcel on the hall table and put the door on the latch.
“Let’s have a look then,” she said. She padded across the road in her carpet slippers. The postman followed, hitching his bag on his shoulder.
Mrs Stevens bent at the letterbox trying to peer in. The postman was right: you could hear the television. One of those dismal daytime shows like Pets Under The Hammer or people in fleece jackets haggling over rubbish at a car boot sale. And – her nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply – there was a smell. But it wasn’t the smell she was expecting. She had anticipated – had hoped for – rotting meat and putrefaction, with the accompanying buzz of houseflies.
But the odour coming from inside Number 8 was nothing like that. This wasn’t a smell – it was an aroma. It was pleasant and inviting, like a kitchen on a winter’s day. Mrs Stevens frowned. She realised she was salivating. She wiped her lips before straightening and turning to the postman.
“We’ll have to get the police or somebody,” she told him. “Smells like he’s left something in the cooker.”
The postman nodded uncertainly. He was beginning to wish he’d never mentioned it.
Mrs Stevens waddled back to her house and phoned the police. While they waited, she spoke to other neighbours. By the time the patrol car pulled up, quite a group had gathered.
“You’re going to have to bust the door down,” Mrs Stevens told the fresh-faced young constable.
“Um,” the constable looked the house up and down.
“Has no one got a key?” said his older, more experienced counterpart.
The neighbours shook their heads. They wanted to see some action. Their ordinary morning was turning into something promising. They wanted the young copper to shoulder the door in. Like on the telly.
A car pulled up. Him from Number 10 got out with a worried expression.
“It’s Number 8,” Mrs Stevens told him. “They’re going to break in.”
“No need,” said Him from Number 10. “I have a key.”
He went into his own property and fetched the key from the vase in the kitchen. The other neighbours looked daggers at him for spoiling their excitement.
The young constable took the key and turned it in the lock. His partner nodded. The constable pushed the door open, meeting resistance from the heap of junk mail on the doormat.
A blast of warm air rushed out. The neighbours made appreciative noises. The smell was certainly delicious. Despite instructions to stay back, they shoved their way into the house to see what was making that appetising niff.
In the flickering light of the television, and the orange glow of a three bar fire, their neighbour Edward King was on his sofa. Everyone gasped to see the change in him. His legs and arms had disappeared. His skin was bloated and yellowy-brown. His head and shoulders were indistinguishable.
“He must have been there for ages!” gasped Him from Number 10.
“He’s cooked himself by that fire!” cried Mrs Stevens.
The young copper turned off the television and unplugged the electric fire.
“Fetch some butter!” said one of the neighbours. The police ushered the mob from the room.
Later, when he was writing his report, the young constable felt sick. He’d never be able to face a jacket potato again.
And he’d never forget that poor man’s eyes.