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Talking Pictures

* Story contains bad language

A street, like many other streets. It could be almost anywhere. Though, of course, it's not. It's here. But it could be almost anywhere. It's dusk, so lights are coming on in the neat row of plush terraced houses.

A car crawls along, then speeds away: the exhaust rumbles low.

In number 19, the one with the pale blue door and burglar alarm, the lights downstairs give off an orange glow. At the far end of the room, an elderly man - bald and liver-spotted - pours lager from a can into a tumbler. He shakes his head. Number 21, with a skip outside, is dark. But 23 has nearly all its lights on already, though no one's seen. Next door to that, behind a lime green facade, a youngish wolf-faced man is in his kitchen. A stick-like woman stands in the lounge, watering a large rubber plant. She speaks. Her mouth is tight and creased. The Wolf throws a pan into the sink: plates smash. 27 and 29 are almost dark, apart from the phantom flicker of a television somewhere deep within, behind genteel net curtains. In number 31, which has a rosebush outside, a naked woman in her late twenties sits at an upstairs window. She's framed, as if in a theatre, by faded curtains. A blue towel is wrapped around her head. She carefully applies a cream to her face and body. Her breasts look inviting in the pinkish light. An older woman enters through the door and chats.

A cyclist glides past. There's gentle whirring. Gears click. He's gone.

41, with its black iron railings and plain white door, seems to demand attention. Perhaps it's the untidy patch of garden and its curious bird table. Or the fact the dustbin is already out, ready for the morning. Perhaps it's the TV aerials that are crudely attached to the brickwork. Or even the bright intense light at the downstairs' window, where - behind a laden desk - a woman sits: industrious with some pursuit.

The car without its silencer passes by again. There's a slow and steady throb, before the engine cuts out.

The woman, Clara's in her early thirties. She wears horn-rimmed spectacles and frowns. Her freckled face is angular and slightly gaunt. Framed by clipped back hair, it's not a particularly pretty face.

Clara concentrates, cutting up something (photos perhaps: polaroids?). She takes great care: peering closely at what she cuts. Occasionally, she cross-references with magazines and neatly tears out various brightly coloured sections. Taking her snippets, talking a little to herself, she applies some glue and sticks the bits and pieces into a largish book. She turns back a few pages to regard her earlier work. She browses with considerable interest.

Then, suddenly, she looks up and out: staring with some concern.

Inside her house, sitting at a desk in her front room, Clara has suddenly felt the cold. She wonders whether she should fetch a cardigan (and in May!).

Music plays on the dusty stereo. Above the lyrics, a sound can be heard outside. Rising, brows furrowed, she walks to her window. She's strangely lit. It's not flattering.

Outside the street is almost totally dark. Occasionally, the vague outline of ... something passes: a car, a cat, a person - all reduced to shapes and shadows by the dark.

Grabbing the curtains, she chews her lip, then flicks her wrists and - shuts out the street: extinguishing the scene.

*

The next morning, a day unwilling to decide whether it is going to be sunny or cloudy, Clara sits in her book-lined hall and chats on the 'phone. It's an antique design requiring the user, limited by the length of the cord and the horn like ear-pierce, to sit in one place. Clara speaks quite quickly. Her eyes occasionally roaming the length of the hall, she gazes through the open door of her front room. Her desk, neatly bordered by the polished doorframes, seems especially over-burdened with a clutter of books, papers and photographs.

'I went to that place, you know: that registry house: Somerset House. That's right; and I looked up he-of-the-smug-smile. Yes. And I was shocked, ecstatically happy too. Because you know what? (I'm telling you!) I found he didn't exist. HAD NEVER BEEN BORN! Yes. I could have danced on the spot.

But then: I remembered his correct date of birth. I'd got the year wrong, I think; and I realised my life with him - and his whole being - hadn't just just been a horrible dream after all, unfortunately'

Her voice carries throughout the house, proud and resonant. It can even be heard up in the cream tiled bathroom on the upper landing, where the remnants of a morning foam bath still lull in the plug-hole. Clara's recovering from a failed romance, so is feeling a little brittle.

'And she giggled a lot. I know: absolutely. What a replacement. To like her! The only American I can think of to audition for Death of a Salesman with an ENGLISH accent. Yes! And she got the part. (Of course). He wanted her to have it!'.

Scribbling something on a pad, not a doodle but a note, Clara's eyes wander along the shelves of her bookcases. She notes, approvingly, an eclectic range: row upon row of neatly preserved, clingfilm covered paperbacks; even a magazine or two slotted in.

'Yes. Absolutely! (Yes)..'

Her eyes flick to the kitchen, at the other end of the hall. A brief spasm of sunshine brightens the tapestry cloaked breakfast table and the half-eaten grapefruit that remains.

'No REALLY nice: an ex-boyfriend of an ex-friend of mine; and also, bizarrely, the ex-friend of an ex-boyfriend. Good-looking but shy and quiet (a bit wet) and ... Yes. I know: crucially not interested'.

A large envelope, bumff of some sort, shoots through the letterbox immediately to her left. It lands upon the mat, which is middle-eastern in its origin: sandcoloured with rich red threads looping in a pattern. Clara looks at the envelope with boredom. Then her eyes dart away, her eyebrows raised.

'Too old for that, I would have thought. You know. Yes. Morning after and their hangover to contend with. Absolutely: fearful classification: D.E.S.P'

The front room goes through a comic fluctuation: light then shadow, light, shadow.

The dustbin men can be heard outside.

Clara chews her pen, frowning slightly.

'What? No, no. You go. Get it.. Yes. Absolutely. And (yes got to work anyhow..). Yes - Good luck for later. In tonight - sure. Yes. Yes, Zoe. Bye. Goodbye'.

She puts the 'phone down and mutters something. Annoyed, she stretches, making a dramatic yawn.

'Bitch' she whispers. Though Zoe is Clara's only friend, the only one of worth, she is still an annoying cow; not always as devoted in her friendship as Clara wishes.

Clara rises and moves into the front room where, looped around her chair, is a compact polaroid camera. Picking it up, she looks momentarily in the mirror above her mock-Edwardian fireplace. She tuts. Why couldn't she be a beauty? Why?

She flicks through her large book on the desk, making a hurried note: some observation.

And then, she's out the door, up the little cracked path and - off.

She walks up the street with an even stride. She's carefully secured her camera in her bag.

A strange sound behind makes her turn - but it is only a young boy on a skateboard. He's not a threat, though old enough to cause discomfort. He stares. Clara stares back. He disappears across the tarmac and, through a gate, is home.

Rounding the corner and crossing a busy road, Clara enters a new street. A street much like her own, though here the houses - still terraces - are slightly bigger.

Checking over her shoulder, she sees that no one is around. With decision, she begins to make her way up the gravelled path of one of the large, Regency style homes. From inside the house, she hears the sound of children - playing. She now catches a glimpse of them through the window. They run into a shadowy lounge. It's a flickered image.

She falters, unsure how to proceed undetected. She pauses, then double-backs: pretending she's searching for a particular house number and that this one is quite obviously a mistake.

Back on the street, she clutches her bag tighter and hurries on, she mutters to herself, wondering if it's going to rain.

Across the road, in a neat old-brick house surrounded by cherry blossom, an ancient coiffeured woman leans against the windowpane and peers. She cranes her neck to watch where Clara goes.

Heard but not seen, the car with its exhaust low and throaty turns a corner and drives down a nearby street. It goes slowly, so slowly, providing an off-stage rumble.

Clara walks up the drive of another house. It has a bright green door and one of those small iron things on which guests are encouraged to wipe their feet. She glances through the window of the front room. Inside, a dining table and tartan wall-covering can be seen amidst many plants and piles of important looking documentation.

Rapping on the door's brass lion-knocker, Clara waits. She bites her lip just slightly and counts slowly up to thirty three. She knocks again; waits. Then she crouches down and lifts the flap of the letter box.

There's a hallway. It's quite small really. It seems untidy. Dirty trainers are left by a sideboard on which newspapers and letters clutter. The door to the front room (white with a crystal handle) is closed. But the hall leads onto a back room. There, a football shirt lies on the golden shagpile carpet. A white leather sofa is visible. An empty bottle of whiskey, left discarded, nestles between two large, sun-shaped cushions. The curtains are closed.

Clara blinks through the letterbox: her greenish eyes darting rapidly - taking in the information. Removing the camera from her bag, she holds it up to the oblong opening and aligns the shot.

She takes the photo and the camera whirrs.

Another person's life caught forever.

She straightens and, carefully, she makes her way down the drive and off, moving onto another house.

There the ritual is repeated. On and on ...

And so this is Clara's day. More houses and different areas are visited. Of course there's the usual sights. The telephone tables and post-it notes, the refrigerators, the welcome doormats and the bikes chained up to banisters as a feeble kind of security device.

Some houses, however, take on a colourful and fantastic hue. There are weird, weird things to see. There's the house with the full-uddered cow (yes, a cow) strolling along a Laura Ashley hall: primly chewing wild flowers from a vase. There's the basement flat decorated with garage paraphernalia. Everywhere are bits and bobs of cars. A spanner doubles as modern art, a monkey wrench as a door handle. There's even the semi with a narrow, wafer thin slit as a letterbox. When opened it casts a crack of light that gives way to a vast waterworld of fountains and tinkling shutes, an indoor swimming pool stretching as far as the eye can see ... all conjured there as if by magic.

And all these Clara snaps. She files these photographic mementos in a pad where, between stops, she scribbles lengthy notes.

At one or two houses grumpy men in tracksuits or corduroyed women answer. Thinking on her feet, Clara asks for some obscure location. The library or dental surgery. Some reply gruffly, some politely. None are over-helpful. She nods and pretends to be interested. She acts as if she's very concerned about getting to her destination; stressing that yes she's sure, very sure, she's got the right road: absolutely! Then she moves off and on, with relief, to another house and its letterbox.

The day passes. She has a hurried lunch of service station sandwiches: plastic cheese, no butter. Later, she treats herself to a snack of cornershop apple, which unfortunately is bruised and furry.

Soon, several films completed and the clouds now settled in for good, Clara begins to think of returning to her own house with its sporadic middle-eastern theme and books and books and books. Yes, she longs to return to the wooden floors and polished doors. To return to the home where a lemonade and avocado coolly wait in the fridge for her arrival.

She scurries along her street. It's dusk. A taxi chugs by and deposits someone small and frail.

Clara readjusts her dustbin and wipes her dirtied hand on foliage. Then she unlocks her door and, switching on the lights, enters with a semi-satisfied mutter and a sigh.

Inside her sand-coloured office space, Clara empties her bag. She looks up momentarily as a car splutters noisily outside. Neatly she arranges a row of three biros to her left; a pot of easy stick-glue and scissors to her right; her notepad next to the scrapbooks in the middle of the table; and the polaroids directly in front of her. She spreads these photos out wide, like a large and exotic fan. Then she picks them up again. She shuffles them before dealing them out, as if involved in some kind of Tarot operation. She holds her hands above them: trying to divine which one to turn over.

A bulb in one of the lamps clicks, then fuses out. Clara looks up, annoyed as the room glooms a little.

A motorbike roars outside.

Gazing at the backs of the photos, drugged almost by their potential, she lurches forward and, selecting, flicks one over. She stares at it, mesmerised. The picture shows a tasteful water-coloured hall with sailing motif predominant. There's even a porthole in the door at the far end. Carefully (reverentially), Clara picks up her scissors and cuts out the miniaturised door. She screws up her eyes to focus properly. Taking one of the scrapbooks, she flicks through until she finds the page she wants. It's marked 'Boaty Zed'. She sticks in the little cutting next to a list of phrases, beginning 'Cool' and ending 'Quite!' She draws a circle round the door and connects it with an arrow to a picture of a catamaran-shaped rug, nestling beside a scribbled note: 'Dress sense - short skirts'.

Clara sniffs and smiles: thin-lipped but feeling happier.

The strident voice of some young man is heard as he walks along the street as part of a noisy crowd. He, in particular, arrests attention with his braying tones and scraggy beard.

Clara pulls the curtains to. As she does so, she feels a pang of hunger. She smiles - there's the avocado still to have.

Picking up the scrapbook, she walks through into the kitchen and switches on a lamp. The breakfast things on the table need washing. She'll deal with that later, not yet. Bending down, she opens a cupboard beneath the sink. She removes a box of light bulbs. She places it by her feet, then reaches further in: unhooking a little key from its hiding place at the very back of the cupboard.

She straightens and places the light bulbs on the fridge where she'll see them later (when she has her avocado).

With a nervous giggle and slight apprehensive gurgle of the stomach, she walks to a sprucely painted bright red pantry door. The little key slides in and she opens the door wide. She flicks a switch. A pinkish light comes on.

The pantry is full of photos and bric-a-brac. Everywhere are clothes and hats and idioysyncratic objects. It's a dressing up box of delights that reveals an expanse of hidden ongoing dimensions.

Clara smiles and then, she hiccups.

A little later, she's sitting down at the kitchen table.

'And "Well", he said, "if I have anything to do with it, you won't be coming back tomorrow!" Can you quite credit it? I mean!'

Her voice carries throughout the house. From the hall, her shadow can be seen cast against the kitchen wall. She has a teaspoon in hand. She's in the very act of mutilating an over-ripe avocado.

Lit only by the pink spill-over from the pantry, she leans back on her chair. She's transformed: wearing a blonde wig, fresh-make-up, short skirt and a navy t-shirt top. Her eyes are lensed over with a blueish hue. She's drunk.

She laughs uproarously and lights a cigarette.

'Shouldn't do this, gave up years ago, but that's cool. Quite cool. No worries. Besides, it helps me get my sea legs!'

She laughs again and is about to continue but a distant sound makes her freeze. The noise gets closer. It's a helicopter flying low overhead. She seems puzzled. She's worried and rises slowly. She extinguishes the cigarette in a near-to-hand glass of lemonade. Creeping to the window, she peers out, pulling off her wig.

The helicopter sounds as if it is hovering but Clara, craning, cannot see a thing. The noise increases. A search light darts across her garden. It picks out a startled cat then sweeps onward: to other gardens, other streets. The helicopter judders away.

Clara turns and sees herself caught in a half-lit mirror by the oven. It's a vision that speaks unpleasant volumes. Embarrassed, she looks away.

Her evening fantasy is now disrupted. Her time of interaction with her scrapbooked cast of players is over. It's a time, a tiny moment really, when she allows herself to relax and get closer to all these other people whose lives she's collected. Yes, all those strangers, not to mention her so called friends - or, to be more accurate, friend. It's how she seeks to understand them (everybody who's not her). Though she feels it's a mission doomed to failure.

Feeling low, she leaves the kitchen. Sighing operatically, she wearily climbs the stairs to bed.

*

Despite being tired, Clara's sleep is light and interrupted. To make matters worse, when she awakes next morning, the weather declares itself as dismal. It drizzles on and off. She is not pleased. She hates the rain, always has.

Leaving the house in a despondent mood, she trudges along the pavement in depression. She stumbles along during that morning lull just after commuters have rushed their way busily to work and when the rest of the world has not yet properly began to stir. Dragging her heels, she feels a little headachy and forlorn.

She crouches and lifts a letterbox flap here and there but her heart's not in it yet. The photos that she takes are badly framed and uninspired. They're blurred shots of boring scenes: mundane halls devoid of any 'objets d'interet' as he-of-the-smug-smile had once described the curios shown in her assorted photo-collection and scrap-book compilation, having staggered upon them drunkenly, very drunkenly, one night. Yes, that night! A few nights before he, forehead creased and ginger eyebrows as one, commented that 'Despite' (or perhaps 'in spite of') his 'love' for her, he'd 'found' another woman whom he 'really needed to spend some time with ... you know'.

Clara had not been understanding. Still is not.

In a double-glazed window, full of plastic flowers, an oldish, greying man bunches together the net curtains and gawps through binoculars. At the end of the street, perhaps the focus of his inspection, two teenage lads lean against a flashy car and chat up a pretty slip of a thing. She's all teeth and legs. Her hair's tied tightly back. Clara walks towards them. The binoculars train on her for a moment, then dart away.

She walks up the neatly bordered path of a largish terrace, which has a royal blue painted door. She knocks and waits; then bends to see angular interior and minimalist pine design. She takes the photo. It clicks and whirrs but - 'SOD!' The polaroid falls inside. With a plop, it lands on the trimmed footmat, tucked between the bureau and umbrella stand.

'Damn'. Perhaps such ill-luck could only have been expected. Right from the moment her one-true-would-be pal had inexplicably failed to 'phone for their routine morning chat, Clara had thought her day would be cursed. Her days often are. Yes, doomed for disappointment; she, the tragic heroine.

Rolling up her sleeve, she prepares to endeavour some sort of rescue. The car having problems with its exhaust rumbles past. She straightens, waits, then reapplies as the low engine roar recedes. She has her hand in deep. She roots about. Her fingers just miss the sharp edges of the frustratingly elusive photograph. She grunts and puffs. Her face is contorted and her body twists in ungainly fashion. She rams herself in tighter, further, further through the letterbox.

'Excuse me, can I help you?'

A man's voice is heard. He sounds a touch indignant rather than suggestive-helpful. Clara jumps. She removes herself. The polaroid is still marooned. An oily-haired, oily man stands at his gate in an oily double-breasted suit. His expression is perplexed (and oily).

Clara laughs nervously and launches into hyperdrive.

'Hi, I'm Zoe ... no Trish, Trish - Patricia' she says, 'And I'm in the areeya (lovely!) to do some mar-ket re-search and I was wondering -'

'You had your hand down my letterbox'.

'No.'

'I saw you!'

A flashy car drives by. The teenagers from before have their windows down and cruise. They nod in time to a throbbing beat. Assessing Clara with beady eyes, they are not impressed. One, a quasi-skinhead yells out:

'Rank. Your girlfriend's a dog, mate'

The lads laugh hysterically and speed along the street. They race too fast; missing every gear change.

A hiatus.

Clara blushes. Even the man in the suit looks embarrassed in that pause. Silently, Clara steps forward. She walks past the oily one. He is wordless too. She leaves, pushing the gate closed. She walks along the pavement and glances back. The man stands stock-still. He regards her, quizzically.

She hurries on, knowing (in time) he'll find the photograph and maybe, stirring his sedantry life, take action. She scurries away: regaling abuse upon herself, the lads, the besuited oil.

Feeling sick, she turns a corner at the postbox and enters another street.

The houses are packed tighter together here. They're red-brick semis. Many have netted curtains and terracotta nameplates. Most sport adages like 'OverCostLeigh' or 'Mi Casa'.

Clara slows her pace and then, hovers.

She feels the lure. It's a violent tug of temptation, an addiction almost. Too strong to resist, despite her recent mistakes and subsequent humiliation, she knows she has to satisfy it.

In a heady flurry, she launches herself at the nearest house and its misty glass door. She lowers herself reverentially to the chrome letterbox. Tiny as it is, her breath forms clouds on the metal. Springing nimbly forward, she sees a hand flick snatch of vision.

It's a quick flash.

Inside - a partially clad man and naked woman rut: going at it hammer and tongs.

Clara straightens and the flap flips shut.

She stands there. Her eyes are a little wide - darting back and forth. Her mouth is open in nervous surprise. She thinks a ream of thoughts. She's inclined to go. This level of voyeurism really is too much ... isn't it? Though she's not sure.

On an impulse, she decides to stay. Yes, look a little longer. She turns back to the flap and lifts it. Her camera's raised. What a picture for her collection this will make!

The longhaired man, his shirt still on but torn has his trousers round his ankles. He grinds his way into the naked girl. She's honey hued and her brown eyes pop wildly. Her nose is a little like a one Clara's seen somewhere else before ... on Zoe ... Yes, Zoe's nose. Clara tells herself to make a note of that and draw possible character connections in her scrapbook ...

Both are oblivious to the camera lens that peeks through the tiny opening in the door.

The man's right hand is hairy and multi-ringed. It covers the girl's pretty mouth. His left hand closes as a fist around her wrist.

A silver bracelet, his or hers, is broken on the linoleum floor.

Clara lowers the camera. She bites her lip in consternation. She wonders if there's danger here. She knows she must stay calm. How would Zoe act in such a situation? Yes, Ditsy Zoe who, curiously, has her head screwed on. Zoe who possessed a real, practical intelligence. Often, when fazed, Clara mentally calls on Zoe for assistance. So how would Zoe act?

Slowly, Clara reaches into her bag and, frowning (unsure), takes out a mobile 'phone. She dials the appropriate number but - 'Sod it!' A low battery signal flashes up. The 'phone cuts out - just as a stifled scream comes from behind the door.

Clara has to take decisive action. She knows she does ... plus there's the desire to know a little more. She doesn't have this type of man in her portfolio. Here's someone else to get to know.

She goes to the front window but the curtains are too closely drawn. Thinking quickly, she circles round the house. Hunched furtively, she moves through to the back garden. It's all neat lawn and wind-chimes. Every window is curtained over: plain, unfussy patterns.

Inside, deep inside, is the sound of running footsteps.

Clara's agitation increases. Must Think Zoe ...

Lying along the edge of the house, resting on the multi-coloured patio, is a large steel ladder. An idea forms. Clara knows what she's got to do. Puffing, panting, sweating, she lifts this ladder and - with a struggle - leans it up against the house.

Yes, there's a window open.

She climbs. She takes careful step after careful step. Her glasses slip on her freckled nose.

Reaching the sill of the window, Clara grabs hold and hauls herself upward to get a better view. The movement seems timed almost perfectly with the entrance of the screaming girl and her pursuer into the messy room inside. There are decorators' sheets and paintpots everywhere.

Clara's head pops up just as the door bursts open and a tangle of bodies career noisily through. The suddenness of the action is a shock and surprises Clara. Flinching with involuntary fear, she lets go of the sill and loses balance. She yips in horror and - farcically - the ladder slides sideways. Panic-stricken, with her hair on end, Clara glides along the wall at top speed. She reaches out blindly, blindly, and (with luck) catches hold of a passing balcony. The ladder slips on and down. It crashes onto the crazy-paving and smashes a tiny glass case full of tomato plants and potted seedlings.

Clara dangles. She has visions of being found withered and dehydrated: a dried prune still hanging to the tree.

Inside more stifled screams can be heard. Clara's own near-tragedy has been unobserved.

She hauls herself, with effort, over the balcony and swears. Perhaps she should just call out and get help? Isn't that what Zoe would do? Perhaps ... but Clara seems determined on another, more personal path of action. She has to satisfy her curiosity. Her thirst for peculiar private information sends her in search of data she hopes to assimilate and make hers (however brutal and degraded).

She squeezes herself through an open French window, which has been left ajar. She slips into the master bedroom. It's all mirrors and kinky black leather walls. Out of breath, she staggers amidst discarded clothes and duvet. She sees herself splayed oddly on the ceiling: reflected red-faced and distorted.

There's a sound. Clara inclines her head and listens. Behind the door comes a heavy animal panting. Thud-Thud-gasp-gasp-Thud-Thud-gasp. She reaches forward ... Whispering to herself some courage-mantra, she opens the door with a flick.

The man and girl (joined in coition) sail neatly through the air. They land in a mass of underwear.

Clara freezes: pressing herself back against a bright-white inbuilt wardrobe. Her face is a mask of (semi-comic) terror.

The girl springs up and is out the door. The man rises and gives chase.

Clara knows she has to keep up. She enters into the darkened hall. She's burning with a sordid longing to see this scene played out, whatever violence or further crimes are to ensue.

There's the frenetic sound of scurrying. Pitter-patter on linoleum. Doors open and close ... But it's all too dark inside here. There isn't a window, so nothing can be seen.

Clara fumbles. A light switch clicks. A red bulb burns. From his hiding place (an airing cupboard perhaps) the man pokes out his head. It's an action simultaneous with the reappearance of the girl at another door. Clara squeals and ducks to avoid detection. In doing so, she loses her footing and tumbles, bouncing down the stairs. She cartwheels head over heels, all flailing arms and legs: a rag bag doll in freefall. She tries her best not to scream, hysterically. As she careers down the stairs, she catches a flurried glimpse of the scantily clad pair running along the upper landing. It's a vision seen through the banisters as if in diorama.

She lands in a heap and, dazed - bones clicking - lies bruised and bewildered.

But she hasn't got time for this! No time to relax or muse. She hears the man and his quarry pound down the stairs.

Dragging herself with effort, she's up, sort of standing, and then - heads through the nearest door (with a limp).

She stands like a bewildered rabbit in the shadowy half-light of a square box-room. The curtains are closed. All around's a powerful array of photographic and would-be sadomasochistic paraphernalia. There are leather belts, whips, studded high heels, that type of thing.

The door begins to open. The man and naked girl enter in a bundle. Clara dives behind a curtain, banging her head on the skirting board. The girl's thrown down onto a black leather sofa and the man launches himself on top of her.

A camera flashes. A polaroid photo plops onto the brown and furry carpet with a loud raspberry fart of noise. Clara's eyes peek out from behind the curtain. The man and girl both look up and stare at the offending camera.

A moment of stillness reigns.

Then, the girl smiles. She kisses the man affectionately.

Clara is taken aback. What she witnessed wasn't a crime but a hobby!! (She itches to take a photo of her own ...).

The man licks the girl's face. She struggles free and runs screaming from the room. He charges after her, slamming the door behind him.

There's silence, punctuated - intermittently - by the distant sound of cavorting.

Clara emerges. She moves towards the door. She must get further information; get pictures of these playful people to add to her cast of characters. She has a craving hunger.

She turns the handle. The door's locked.

'Sod and damn'.

Clara begins to breathe too fast, hyperventilating. Alarm bells ring in her head. What did Zoe tell her to do in such situations? Blink and count to ten, then start again? ... Oh, sod-sod Sodding Zoe and all her little wisdoms!

Clara turns in a panic, she trips over something leathery. Cameras flash and click madly and spew out an unstinting flow of snaps: little snippets of a startled Clara. See the wide staring eyes, awkward knees, blushing neck and uncoordinated arms. That's her.

Amidst the flashing and the noise, a very personal kind of hell, Clara screams and screams. She charges towards the curtains, head down and bellowing. She rips at them in a frenzy. She bangs on the double-glazing. Her thumps are syncopated in musical disharmony with the heavy hammering of love-making in a room just above.

Cameras still go epileptic. They shower down cascade upon cascade upon cascade of picture.

From outside, the scene is intriguing but not too disturbing.

It would illicit a second glance and a little speculation, perhaps, but not much else.

A youngish woman, standing at the window, cries. Her head is slumped against the pane. She's red and blotchy. The curtains are closed behind her. In the hidden room beyond, camera bulbs flash, as if a photo session is taking place, which is a little curious...

Next door, at number 26, a middle-aged man, with a thick beard, sits and makes paper aeroplanes. The neighbouring house is empty but, after that, at 22 (with its purple door) a crowd of people can be seen in the front room, which is painted pink. They are dancing and laughing: a cramped, motley mass of merry-making, squeezed in and framed by the window sills like a modish canvas.

A car, with its exhaust almost absent, can be heard in the near distance. It mumbles to itself, low and ugly, passing on and, then, away.