This is the first in a new series by G.L. Aster. Starting next week, a new post will be made each week describing one of the houses on Birch Street. And as each of their stories unfold, so too will the secrets of Birch Street become clear…
Birch Street. Eight houses, four on each side. Four oak trees, before Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 8. No one knows why they planted oak trees if they planned to call it Birch Street.
Nos. 7 and 3 both have planter boxes hanging from their two front windows, No. 7 with tulips and No. 3 with lobelia, though No. 3 also has the addition of a small birdhouse hanging from its nearby oak tree.
The walk leading up to the door of No. 2 has chalk drawings all over the cement, while Nos. 6 and 8 each have a coating of oak leaves.
No. 1 is the most colorful of the bunch. The houses all started off identical when they were built, but the previous owner of No. 1 painted it a festive cherry red before promptly selling it off.
No. 4 has a small platform built on the roof, which bears a covered telescope.
They say the sun always shines on Birch Street, and it does as the street faces east and west, so never have the shadows of other houses blocked the light. Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 8, though, have all installed blinds to block out the sun when it gets too much. All the roofs have been bleached by sixty odd years of sunlight, fading the black shingles to a dark gray–except for No. 7, whose roof gleams with shiny new tiles; and No. 5, whose roof bears a thick carpet of moss.
These are the houses on Birch Street.
On any given morning at six o’clock a young man will exit No. 1, a guitar slung around his shoulders and a pair of cheap sunglasses perched on his nose. He’ll head east, past No. 8, before turning the corner and vanishing from sight.
Half an hour later a middle–aged woman will step out of No. 7, and get halfway down the sidewalk before remembering to bend down and tie her shoes. That done, she’ll begin a brisk walk before breaking into a jog just before reaching No. 2 and continuing on down the street. At 6:45 she’ll be seen coming back from the opposite direction, but instead of returning to her house she’ll keep running west down the street again.
At seven o’clock, a thin, balding man in his late 50s will step out of No. 3. His wife, still in her bathrobe, will hand him a briefcase as polished as his shoes, and straighten his tie if she feels it worth doing. He’ll head to the northwest corner and wait there until another man, this one with a full head of hair, leaves No. 6 and joins him. They’ll spend up to fifteen minutes talking idly, while the man from No. 6 smokes a cigarette or two. The thin man’s wife may watch from the window before yawning and returning to bed, or she might go straight there, vanishing from sight before her husband has even reached the street corner.
After the two men continue up the street, it will remain undisturbed for another hour, save for the woman from No. 7 returning from her run around 7:20. It won’t be until 8:15, when a slightly plump man emerges from No. 2 with a dog, that Birch Street will see signs of life once more. Sometimes he’ll be accompanied by a teenage boy in scuffed sneakers, and they’ll circle the block twice, the little dog pulling at the leash. Before they finish their walk, a brown-haired woman in her early twenties will exit from No. 4. She’ll be carrying a cloth grocery bag and have an oversized pair of headphones planted firmly over her ears. More often than not, she’ll pass the man from No. 2 and occasionally his son, and they’ll exchange a neighborly greeting before continuing on their separate ways.
At nine o’clock a light will appear in the windows of No. 5, but no one will come out, though an automatic sprinkler system will kick in a few moments later.
Somewhere between 9 and 9:15 the young woman from No. 4 will return, and she’ll drop off a carton of milk and an apple at the door of No. 5 before heading back to her own house.
Come eleven o’clock, the door of No. 8 will open, and an old woman will let her cat out before shutting the door again.
Two young children from No. 2 will burst out their front door and spend a happy couple of hours playing outside sometime during the day, while the woman from No. 7 will water her tulips and the one from No. 3 will carefully rake any stray leaves from her lawn and sidewalk.
If the sun is out, at 1:30, the young woman from No. 4 will bring out a folding chair and doze on her lawn, her oversized headphones replaced by a pair of equally oversized sunglasses. The cat from No. 8 will prowl around all the houses for some time, before inevitably padding back home and scratching the door before the old lady will let him in. After that she’ll leave her house at 4:30 sharp, and continue on west, towards the main city. She’ll come back at six o’clock, while the men from No.’s 3 and 6 will arrive back on Birch Street at 6:45 and go back to their respective houses.
The young man from No. 1 will appear closer to seven o’clock, still with his guitar and sunglasses. At 7:30, the woman from No. 7 and her husband will leave Birch Street, she with a paisley print scarf around her hair he wearing a felt hat.
From No. 2 the plump man and a slightly slimmer woman will surface, normally around 8:30 and spend an hour or so on their porch sipping beer and talking about idle nothings.
The young woman from No. 4 will sometimes head out to the city in the evenings, although most nights someone will deliver a box of take–out to her door.
The couple from No. 7 will wander back in close to nine o’clock, and shortly after the man will leave again, this time dressed in hospital scrubs, and walk around to the back of his house before getting in his car and driving away.
The sprinkler system at No. 5 will turn on again as the sun sets, and the young woman from No. 4 will remove the cloth covering her telescope and gaze at the stars, sometimes staying outside until three o’clock.
Every once in a while the young man from No. 1 will leave again, this time without his guitar, and set off west. He’ll usually return near 4:30 am, while the man from No. 7 will arrive back home around five. He’ll park his car and enter his house, and all will be quiet on Birch Street once more.