‘They’re not like your usual anti-social neighbours. They know how to do it without getting caught. They come out at night. They do it at night, creeping around, squirting bug spray over the fence, soaking the fence with their disgusting chemicals, drilling holes so they can peek through. That’s why I had the CCTV installed, because otherwise you’d only imagine what they were doing and you’d go mad. But now I can catch them at it. They come round the front, lift the flap of the letterbox, and look through - spray through, they’re so vindictive. So spiteful. We’re terrified to go out or do anything. I’ve had rocks thrown into the garden. I daren’t let the cat out, and the dog I have to accompany out back when he needs the loo. We’re prisoners in our own house. They know it’s just me and my son. Thank god James spends half the week with his Dad. At least he gets some sort of break. They know what it’s doing to our health. We’ve been hospitalised with it. We’ve had the environmental health, the housing team, the police. Everyone knows about it but no-one seems willing or able to do anything and it’s absolutely destroying us.’
Mrs Enderby grasps the two hems of her dressing gown tightly together with both hands.
‘I’ve got a headache, shooting pains in the backs of my eyes, down my arms, my ears are ringing, my spine feels as if it’s on fire. I’m sick, dizzy, my chest is tight.’
She sits on the arm of the sofa. ‘But it’s James I’ve called you about.’
James Enderby is neatly arranged on the sofa, his long fair hair partially obscuring the sides of his face; he looks down at the scruffy little terrier lying with its head in his lap, and slowly strokes the fur between its ears.
‘And how are you feeling, James?’
He looks up.
‘I’ve got a headache and my breathing feels a bit tight.’
He holds his hands up; the dog opens its eyes, wondering why the stroking has stopped.
‘Pins and needles,’ he says, then lowers them back down, and carries on with the stroking.
‘We can’t go on like this,’ says Mrs Enderby, struggling not to cry. ‘It’s impossible. It’s a nightmare. I don’t know why no-one’s doing anything.’
The sitting room is so perfectly ordered, a tiny particle of wood I inadvertently walked onto the carpet from outside may as well have a police line around it; the fabric of the sofa has been hoovered to the ticking; a glass-fronted bookcase glints in a corner, each glass shelf with a central display of three figurines, precisely angled in, winged by dustless knick-knacks. A huge Swiss cheese plant rises up to the ceiling, holding a spread of dark, waxy leaves above our heads. There is an ancient cat asleep on a red and gold embroidered cushion beside the pot. It sneezes, then puts a paw over its face.
‘Everyone’s affected,’ says Mrs Enderby, getting up when she hears a car in the street outside and the motion detection lights snap on. The police.
‘They’re out in the front garden spraying all day and night,’ she says, dropping the curtain and moving to the hall. ‘They know what it’s doing to our health. We’ve had the windows shut all summer.’
She lets in two police officers. We hear her going through the latest developments in the hallway, her voice rising and falling in a monotonous sine wave of horror.
James carries on stroking the dog.
‘How’s your breathing now?’
‘A little better,’ he says.