She walked down this street every day.
Each day she wandered past the stream of houses, then turned at the corner and walked towards the shops. The day she stopped to stare at one of those houses took her off guard. It wasn’t part of her usual routine, given that it was improper to gawk. She always promised herself she wouldn’t, but on that day she stared anyway. The way everyone did, at this particular house.
It was Desmond’s. He’d lived there for about 15 years and always looked pleased with the arrangement. He could often be seen sitting in his armchair in the living room, staring at some vacant space on the wall with his signature look of smugness. Now, it would be easy to make fun of the man who did nothing but sit and smile for hours on end, but the earnestness of his expression disconcerted his emotionally repressed onlookers. It was difficult to ignore. That and his house. It’s fair to say that the whole scene was captivating in some strange way. Unlike Desmond, his house was completely transparent and almost empty, for that matter, apart from the armchair and the endless litres of water.
Why did this man live in such a stark fish tank? For all effects and purposes, it was a normal terrace house, yet it never occurred to anyone who marveled at this baffling sight that perhaps he might not be able to breathe in there. Trapped in a sanctuary of glass with windows that were barely open.
Did he boil in the summer and freeze in the winter? A few nosy neighbours would peer through their curtains on particularly bothersome days to see what had become of Desmond. Unsurprisingly, he was immune to it all and did next to nothing other than sit down in his chair and smile, unflinching.
Occasionally he wouldn’t be at home, but no one ever saw, or better yet heard, his door open. The small tsunami it would release could well have been enough to force the bins to overturn throughout the quiet suburban street. His more anxious neighbours had bought at home flood defenses, just in case, though he never seemed to notice.
Had the others spent this time getting to know Desmond instead, they may have unlocked the secret to his idiosyncratic lifestyle. In a past life, he had been a double-glazing salesman, and before that a conman. Some would say there was no difference, but he would of course insist otherwise. Although a private person at heart, Desmond was also a notorious showman among his small group of friends. He had always wanted a large, open-plan house with impressive windows and a minimalist colour scheme. Then one day he decided to hop on it. And so began the demolition.
After leveraging several old business connections (and several hundred panes of glass) he had knocked down the front half of his house and filled it with a ginormous conservatory spanning from one shared wall to the other. The remaining visible brick walls were buffed with mirror polish and had a thin layer of marine blue paint.
He had done it. Then, all that was left was to enjoy the sound of silence. And so, he spent his days sitting in his conservatory of a terrace house with a grin from ear to ear.
It was a large price to pay to avoid small talk with his neighbours, but one he was willing to make. It may have looked like a fish-tank, a lonely fish-tank at that, but it was his.