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Sometimes your neighbors can drive you mad…

By Caroline CravenPublished about a year ago 15 min read
Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

Charley freezes as she pulls the heavy fire door open just a couple of inches. An ear-popping squealing sound ricochets off the stairwell’s concrete walls. Hush, she whispers, as she peers round the door and scans the deserted hallway. Holding onto the frame for support, she hops from foot to foot as she kicks off her boots. She squeezes through the small gap and tiptoes along the corridor, her socks slipping on the polished tiles.

As she reaches her front door, she sneaks a look at apartment 5B on the other side of the hall. Good. All quiet. She slides her key into the lock and twists it ninety degrees to the right. She’s about to step inside when the door opposite whips open.

“I thought I heard you coming home” calls out the familiar voice. Charley stands quite still and closes her eyes. She thought she’d managed to avoid Mrs. Holyoak. She’d even taken the stairs to avoid the telltale beeping of the lift doors.

As she turns round, she watches the old woman shuffle across the hall, her chihuahua Satan snapping at her heels. She positions herself in the doorway of Charley’s apartment, blocking any possible means of escape. Charley winces as she feels the end of the woman’s walking cane stab into her foot.

Mrs. Holyoak reaches into the sagging pockets of her beige cardigan and pulls out a crumpled envelope. She tuts as she flattens out the cardboard package.

“The delivery driver buzzed me, and I asked if I could keep this safe for you. I’m not your personal holding service you know,” she said jabbing her finger in Charley’s face. As if mirroring her owner’s disapproval, Satan bares her teeth and snarls.

“And I thought you were called Charlotte. Who’s this Charley person?” she said.

“It’s me, Mrs. Holyoak. It’s just the name that I prefer to go by.”

The woman sniffs and digging her cane deeper into Charley’s foot, pushes herself off the doorframe and shambles back towards her apartment. She’s just about to step inside when she whirls round and glares at Charley.

“And another thing. Why are you carrying your boots?”

“I didn’t want to make a mess on the tiled floor?” said Charley, feeling her cheeks redden as she looked down at her socks.

“Hmm,” said Mrs. Holyoak slamming her front door shut behind her.

Charley leans against her hallway wall and breathes out slowly. When she’d first moved in, her neighbors had all warned her about Mrs. Holyoak. She was a serial complainer and only happy when she was snapping and snarling at her fellow apartment dwellers. Even the people who worked in the building’s housing office were terrified of her and Satan.

Hardly a day went by when she wasn’t banging on Charley’s door and berating her for putting her plastic bottles in the wrong bin or parking too close to the line that separated their adjacent spaces. Mrs. Holyoak doesn’t even have a car, thinks Charley shaking her head and sighing.

Walking through to the kitchen she decides she’s not going to waste any more of her Friday night thinking about her cantankerous neighbor. She leans across the counter and pours herself a glass of red wine. Just as she pulls out a stool, her phone beeps with a message – it’s from the delivery driver saying he’s waiting downstairs in the lobby with her Chinese takeout. Perfect timing.

Walking back into her apartment, she switches on the television. She’s desperate to catch up on the season finale of ‘Turf’. She’s become obsessed with this crime drama set in the violent world of rival drug cartels. As the action unfolds on the screen, Charley hardly touches her prawn Chow Mein. Her fork hangs by her mouth and she gasps when the undercover female cop is kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into the back of a van. Oh no! Not her! What’s going to happen?

Charley jumps and almost sends her glass of wine flying as the shrill ringing of the doorbell fills her apartment. Bugger. She thinks about ignoring it, but then the caller holds the button down.

Bloody hell mutters Charley putting her hands over her ears to block out the sound. Stomping along the hallway, she pauses to look through the spy hole. What the... She recoils when she realizes that Mrs. Holyoak is peering through the glass on the other side.

“You took your time,” sniffs Mrs. Holyoak as Charley opens the door, still clutching her Chinese takeaway. The older lady catches sight of the carton and narrows her eyes. “That’s the third takeout you’ve had this week. If you don’t start cooking properly, you’ll never find yourself a husband.”

“Well, that’s fine Mrs. Holyoak. I’m gay, so no worries on that front,” said Charley.

Mrs. Holyoak puffs out her cheeks: “You young people. Always having to be different.”

“It’s not a case of being different,” snaps Charley. “It’s because…”

Mrs. Holyoak raises her hand and cuts her off: “I see you’re parked in my space again.”

“Yes, I’m sorry, there was a delivery van parked in mine. I was going to move my car after dinner. I am sorry.”

“What if I was having guests over, or I was expecting a delivery?”

“Are you?”

“That’s not the point, is it?”

As Charley falls silent and struggles to think of a reply, Mrs. Holyoak steps forward and leans round the door of her apartment.

“Oh, you’re watching Turf,” she said. “Such a shame when that blonde officer dies.”

Charley stares open mouthed as the older woman smiles and turns away. She can’t believe that she’s just ruined the ending of her favorite show. She watches as Mrs. Holyoak swings her cane back and forth in her right hand and hurries across the hallway. She’s not even limping.

“Good night, Charlotte”, her neighbor calls over her shoulder as she presses her front door closed.


Charley’s eyes snap open. Is that someone banging on her door? Groaning, she rolls over and reaches for her alarm clock. It’s not even eight o’clock yet. Pulling a hoodie over her head she stumbles out of bed and plods along the hallway. As she starts to open the door, she realizes that she’s forgotten to check the spy hole. Hopefully murderers don’t like to get up early either.

Her eyes widen when she sees Mrs. Holyoak standing on her doorstep dressed in a long, brown fur coat and matching hat.

“You’ll have to give me a lift,” she said. “The buses aren’t running, and I need to go and collect my prescription.”

“What now? I’ve only just woken up,” said Charley, covering her mouth with her hand as she yawns.

“I’ve been up for hours. I don’t know why you young people need so much sleep. I’ll see you in the lobby in 30 minutes. That should give you enough time to get ready.”

As Charley scrubs her teeth with one hand, she brushes her hair with the other. She rolls her eyes when she catches sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. She can’t believe she’s let herself be pushed around by a pensioner. She should have said no. Next time she will. And she’ll even… Oh god, I’m going to be late, curses Charley seeing the time on the clock in her bedroom. Throwing on her trainers, she runs down the stairs to the lobby.

Mrs. Holyoak taps her foot and points to her watch as she crashes through the lobby doors. “You had one minute left” she tells a breathless Charley.

She scampers behind Mrs. Holyoak as they walk out of the building and into the early morning sunshine.

“It’s like a spaceship,” said her wide-eyed neighbor as Charley’s car lights up and the doors move out and up towards the roof.

“A bit,” laughs Charley. “This is just a prototype. We’re still in the developmental stage right now. Do you need help adjusting your seat?”

“I’m fine thank you,” said Mrs. Holyoak tightly, lying almost horizontal in the passenger side.

Charley points to the door panel: “You just need to push that blue button next to you.”

Mrs. Holyoak grumbles under her breath before pressing the button. She rises up in the seat and appears next to Charley’s shoulder: “Well come on. What are you waiting for? Let’s get going. I haven’t got all day.”

As they pull out onto the main road, Charley asks for the address so she can use the car’s GPS.

“No thank you, Charlotte” said Mrs. Holyoak, clasping hold of the giant handbag on her lap.


“I don’t like being told by machines which way I should go. I’ll direct you,” she said. “Oh. Turn right here.” She winces and grabs the door handle as Charley wrenches the wheel to make the junction. “Steady! I thought you’d be a good driver if you worked for a car development company.”

Charley grits her teeth and presses her foot down hard on the accelerator, sending the car lurching forward.

“Not so fast young lady. You’re not Lewis Hamilton. Let’s get there in one piece thank you.”


"What does this button do?” said Mrs. Holyoak pointing to the orange switch on the dashboard.

“Oh careful. That’s the passenger ejector seat,” said Charley keeping her eyes fixed on the road as she pulls away from the pharmacy.

“Very funny,” mutters the old lady settling back in her seat and closing her eyes.

Charley jumps as her passenger sits bolt upright and peers out of the side window.

“Turn left in here,” she yells.


“Yes, yes!”

Charley brakes hard and the car screeches into the supermarket car park. She follows Mrs. Holyoak’s aggressive hand gestures and parks in front of the store.

Dragging her feet, Charley trails behind Mrs. Holyoak into the shop. This was not how she’d planned on spending her Saturday morning.

“Well don’t just stand there, Charlotte. Grab a basket. You need to start eating some proper food,” said Mrs. Holyoak bossily. “If you’re good, I’ll teach you my world-famous lasagna recipe.”

Charley begins to explain she’s fine, when she catches the scowl on her neighbor’s face and bends down to pick up a basket. Mrs. Holyoak moves with surprising haste and Charley breaks out into a jog to keep up with her. Just a minute, where’s her walking cane? For a second, she thinks she’s lost sight of Mrs. Holyoak, but then she can hear her in the fresh produce section haranguing a store worker about the ‘disgraceful’ price increase on russet potatoes.

As they walk out of the shop, Mrs. Holyoak pushes her handbag at Charley: “You can carry this for a bit. It’s not good for me to be lugging heavy things at my age.”

“What on earth have you got in here? It feels like a ton of bricks.”

“No, just the one,” said Mrs. Holyoak reaching the car first and clambering into the passenger seat. “No, don’t put my handbag in the boot, I want it up in the front with me.”

After Charley finishes loading the shopping, she climbs into the driver’s seat and presses the start button on the car’s computer. She hears the car doors lock but the engine doesn’t start.

“That’s weird,” she said, pressing the button again and holding it down. “Oh no.”

“What do you mean oh no?” said Mrs. Holyoak, pursing her lips and scowling.

“The car won’t start, and the onboard computer is displaying this strange ‘reset your password’ instruction, but…”

“Well, just reset your password then, Charlotte,” interrupts Mrs. Holyoak, jabbing her finger at the dashboard.

“I can’t. I don’t have the authorization to change any passwords. I’ll have to ring my boss, Gavin.”

Mrs. Holyoak folds her arms across her chest and sighs: “Well hurry up. I’m 86 years old. I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit around in cars all day.”


“He’s on his way now, he shouldn’t be long,” said Charley as she hits the end call button on her mobile.

“Let’s go back into the shop and have a cup of tea and a fruit scone whilst we’re waiting for James to get here.”

“Gavin. His name’s Gavin.”

“Whatever. Gavin, James. Makes no difference,” said Mrs. Holyoak going red in the face as she pulls on the door handle. “Is your car holding me hostage?”

“That’s what I tried to tell you earlier. The car is locked and won’t open or start or do anything until the password’s been reset.”

Mrs. Holyoak hums to herself and rummages around in her handbag before pulling out a brick and waving it around triumphantly.

“Oh my god, you really do have a brick in your bag,” said Charley.

“I told you I did,” said Mrs. Holyoak, sounding quite indignant. “I’ll throw the brick through the window and then you’ll have to crawl out first…”

“I’m not sure you’re allowed to carry a brick round in your bag. I think it would be considered an offensive weapon,” begins Charley.

Her neighbor dismisses her advice with a brief wave of her hand: “What are they going to do? I’m 86 years old, Charlotte. It’s not like they’re going to waste taxpayers’ money sending me to prison.”

As she raises the brick up to the glass window, Charley grabs hold of her coat sleeve and wails: “Please don’t! This car is worth more than a quarter of a million pounds. Gavin will kill me!”

“What a waste of money,” tuts Mrs. Holyoak as she rams the brick back into her handbag. “Well, I hope he’s not going to be long. I dread to think what Sadie is getting up to back home.”

“Who’s Sadie?”

“What do you mean, who’s Sadie? Sadie, my chihuahua. You’ve met her loads of times.”

“Oh, I thought she was called Satan,” said Charley beginning to laugh.

Mrs. Holyoak chuckles: “That’s probably a more appropriate name. Her bite is most certainly worse than her bark!”

The pair sit in silence for a few minutes watching other shoppers walk back to their cars and leave the supermarket. Mrs. Holyoak drums her fingers on the seat before pointing at the dashboard.

“What does this button do?” she asks reaching across to turn the green dial. “Please don’t touch anything,” exclaims Charley, shaking her head. “We don’t need anything else going wrong.”

“Don’t roll your eyes at me young lady.”

“I didn’t!”

“My daughter Abigail used to do the exact same thing.”

“Where does your daughter live now? I don’t think I’ve heard you mention her before.”

Mrs. Holyoak turns and faces the other way and Charley wonders if she didn’t hear her question.

“She died,” whispers the older lady, continuing to stare through the window. “She was away at university studying engineering when she started to feel unwell. By the time the doctors realized it was meningitis, it was too late.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”

“I never even got chance to say goodbye,” said Mrs. Holyoak fumbling in her bag and pulling out a tissue. She dabs at her eyes and half smiles at Charley.

“My husband William and I divorced soon after. We couldn’t talk about her death, you see. And I’m sorry to say that our grief made us quite unkind to one another. I often wonder how different things would have been if Abigail had survived.”

Charley feels her eyes sting and she swallows the lump in her throat.

“Do you want to see a picture of her?” asks Mrs. Holyoak, opening her purse and removing a well-worn photograph. She smiles and holds the picture between both hands before passing it over.

Charley stares at the photograph. The girl grinning back at her could almost be mistaken for her twin. They both have wild curly hair and dimples, but unlike Charley’s eyes which are green, Abigail’s are the lightest shade of blue she’s ever seen.

She nods at Mrs. Holyoak as she hands the picture back: “She looks lovely. You must have been so proud of her.”

Mrs. Holyoak takes one last look at the photograph before sliding it back into the fabric compartment of her purse.

“What about your family? Have you got any brothers or sisters?” she asks.

“One brother called Alexander,” said Charley. “He’s married with a couple of kids. I don’t see him much, or my parents. My family don’t really approve of my lifestyle.”

“What driving delinquent cars and not cooking proper meals?”

“No! Being… being gay, Mrs. Holyoak!”

“Oof,” snorts her neighbor. “Being gay isn’t a big deal these days. It’s nobody else’s business! When you get to my age, you suddenly realize how much time you’ve wasted being worried about things that don’t matter.”

Charley stays quiet and looks sideways at her passenger. Surely, she can’t be serious? Mrs. Holyoak is very much that person who spends a great deal of time worrying about things that don’t matter. Or concern her. It was only last night that she’d called round to tell her off for parking in her spot.

“Life’s too short,” continues Mrs. Holyoak. “I think you should try talking to them again. Or write them a letter. I could help you with that if you like?”

Before Charley has chance to reply, a car pulls up next to them and a man in bright orange sunglasses waves hello.

“I take it that’s James,” said Mrs. Holyoak, nodding towards her boss and waving back.




“I can’t believe it took him less than 30 seconds to reset the password and get your car started,” said Mrs. Holyoak. “It was nice of him to explain what all the different buttons and dials do though, wasn’t it?”

Charley turns to glare at her neighbor as Mrs. Holyoak keeps pushing the blue button and reclining her seat back and forth. Giggling, she presses one of the apps on the screen. “Play 90s rap!” she instructs the computer.

Loud music fills the car, and Charley shakes her head in disbelief as Mrs. Holyoak sings along to all the lyrics. Nobody would ever believe what this weekend’s been like…

After she’s parked up at their apartment complex, the pair carry the bags of shopping up to their floor.

“Right, you can give me a hand putting all this stuff away and then we can have a glass of wine and watch the final episode of Turf,” said Mrs. Holyoak.

“There’s not much point is there?” snaps Charley. “You’ve already told me that the blonde cop dies and ruined the ending!”

Mrs. Holyoak shakes her head and laughs: “Oh Charley, I was just teasing you. I haven’t even watched it yet. Honestly, you young people have no sense of humor.”

Charley opens her mouth as if she’s about to argue, then trots behind Mrs. Holyoak into her apartment

Short Story

About the Creator

Caroline Craven

Scribbler. Dreamer. World class procrastinator.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (3)

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  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    I'm going to be the horrible neighbour when I grow up 😁

  • Donna Fox (HKB)10 months ago

    I love that you used Charley as a nickname for Charlotte! Charley is such a relatable and realistic character! Your word choices and descriptive language in this story are so on point! You also did a great job with character development and creation! This Mrs. Holyoak is a real piece of work but as the story progressed I found her growing on me, I almost like her. I definitely felt bad for her when she was talking about her daughter to Charley. Overall this was a beautiful and heart warming story! 💜 Nicely done Caroline!

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