Semi-Detached by Victoria Stewart

When they lived in a Victorian terrace, they used to joke that there was a body buried in the cellar, Dr Crippen-style. Now they’d moved to a 1930s semi, Paul said Emma would have to look out for confidence tricksters disguised as door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen.

They’d been there three days when a woman wearing a beige raincoat rang the bell, flashed an ID card, and asked for Michael John Stone.

‘We bought the house from Linda Stone,’ Emma said. ‘We never met her. Maybe it’s her husband. Or son.’ 

Linda Stone’s taste in wallpaper was terrible but at least she’d had double glazing fitted.

‘Do you have a forwarding address?’ the woman said.

‘No,’ said Emma.

She was about to offer the woman the solicitor’s number when Paul, who’d appeared at her elbow, put his hand on the door frame, as though to prevent the woman from coming any closer, and said, ‘Sorry, I didn’t catch – who are you?’

The woman flashed her card again.

‘Probation services. He’s not supposed to move without telling us.’

She squinted along the road, as though hoping to spot the elusive Michael John Stone, then started to move down the path.

‘If you hear from him, tell him he needs to get in touch,’ she said.

As she tried to close the gate behind her, Emma said, as she’d said to all the delivery people and workmen who’d tried to do that over the past few days, ‘Don’t bother, it needs fixing.’

It was on the list, fixing the gate, but quite a way down.

After Emma shut the front door, she and Paul stood in the hall next to the stack of flattened packing boxes and looked at each other, both wanting to make a joke about what had just happened but having trouble finding the funny side.

Paul got his phone out and said, ‘Can’t have been anything serious.’

Emma knew that he must be googling Michael John Stone to try and find out what he’d done. But whatever it was, it hadn’t troubled the internet. They could ask the neighbours, but they hadn’t introduced themselves yet, and agreed that quizzing them about Michael John Stone would make for an awkward opening gambit.

In bed later, Emma lay awake, listening. It made no sense, worrying that Michael John Stone might come back in the middle of the night. But what if his mother had gone without telling him? What if his friends, his “criminal associates” that was what the woman from probation would probably have called them, didn’t know he’d moved? The double glazing was more secure than the draughty sashes in their old place. But it meant that sounds from the street were oddly muffled. You couldn’t really tell what was going on outside.

Paul was thinking that tomorrow he’d have a look in the roof space. It was the best way to check the state of the tiles, and it’d be as well to make sure that nothing had been left behind up there. 

Biography: Victoria Stewart lives near Liverpool. She’s had flash fiction published in Restore to Factory Settings: Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 5 (2020), Life Safari: Ellipsis Zine 9 (2021), Everything Has a Price: Ellipsis Zine 10 (2021) and by Reflex, LISP, and Flashflood. @verbivorial