When Lara and Laurence moved into our little cosy court location, they didn’t get all of our attention just because they were our new neighbours. Very soon they became our little community’s only interest.
At first, we thought they were a father and daughter. They looked alike. Both were slim and had the same shaped eagle nose.
The day they moved in, the big truck was parked in front of the house for more than three hours. Bedroom furniture would take a bit of time to get up the stairs but three hours? Hmm…
That evening, they were standing on the front lawn talking about the garden, giving me the chance to look at them. Usually I would take this kind of opportunity to go up to them and introduce myself. I didn’t this time though. I hesitated for some reason I guess.
The first impression I had was that she was an attractive lady with long blonde hair. He was not much to look at though. Gravity sometimes forces our faces into an unfriendly or unhappy expression.
After a while, women in the court started to talk about him, that he did set a high standard for the men living in our court. He always looked like he had just stepped out of the shower, clean shaven, well dressed, shoes polished like a mirror. Most of all, he didn’t have a beer gut hanging over his belt, like most men we saw every day.
We never saw him wear a baggy t-shirt or board shorts. Those clothes aren’t even attractive on male models. Some call it fashion but I think lack of taste killed the dignity in people.
Lara was the controversial one. I thought she was around my age. She had a good figure, flat and tight around her midriff section. In other words, she had a body that belonged to a teenager.
When I heard someone say, “She looks twenty something, if you ask me. I just assumed she was his daughter. I have never seen a twenty something year old kid stay with their parents though!”
I couldn’t help laughing out loud. You could say great minds think alike.
“Someone who can afford to have a house like that can definitely have a young wife.”
“Isn’t that what most beautiful women are after?”
“If a man could get a rich woman, he would too.”
Six weeks after they moved in, all the neighbours living in the court were invited to their place for a barbeque. Everyone was excited. This had never been done before. We were all nice to each other when we met in the small space that the court provided but we didn’t go into each other’s homes.
Maybe we were too shy? The invitation did make most of the neighbours happy, at least those I talked to.
When the property was for sale, I had been inside to have a look, like all the other neighbours, on the open for inspection day.
The house was bathed in fabulous northern light and positioned at the end of the court. The custom designed Gaggenau kitchen offered the chic refinement of oak, walnut, travertine and marble surfaces.
They had enhanced the house with their exquisite touch. I loved the way they had furnished the place – evoking the ambience and intimacy of a romantic style. It was a classic example of what money could do and they had done it well.
“Did you see the rugs? Laurence was telling me where he bought them. They’ve travelled all over the world.”
“Lara showed me her shoe collection. Humungous. She said Laurence bought some of them on the internet. Did you watch that current affairs story on TV? Shop owners are not happy with customers using them just to try on sizes and then buying them on the internet. No sales tax involved so it’s much cheaper.”
“Laurence is a bit of a computer wizard. Something to do with his business. He’s a clever man.”
“A few of us were sitting at the dining table talking when Lara walked into the dining room. Laurence stood up and pulled a chair for her to sit down, then put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her on the head. It was the most romantic scene I’ve ever seen.”
“I saw Laurence bring a glass of water to her a couple of times. He said to me that Lara’s very tense. She often forgets to drink and it’d make her sick later. What a good husband Laurence is.”
“I love her wardrobe. She has ten different winter coats, ten! Some people don’t even have one.”
“Lara is so feminine. She talks softly, walks gracefully; she’s like a character from a romance novel.”
That was it! I liked her because she reminded me of Kristen from my favourite novel ‘Eternally Yours’. She was a gentle and soft-spoken lady, had long blonde hair, with big blue eyes and a tall and slim figure. I thought she only existed in the novel.
Well, she existed in the real world, living two doors away from me. How about that?
The barbeque brought the neighbourhood closer. Everyone was there. There were no absentees. I guess we had all tried our best to be there. After all, we were living in a confined area. It was good to know everyone who lived in the same court as us. Good on Laurence and Lara for opening their house up for everyone to get to know each other.
They really knew how to host a neighbourhood barbeque. Their generosity was appreciated by all of us.
Finally, I had the chance to talk to the young Asian couple living in number eight. It turned out that they were both PhD doctors, really nice people behind their thick glasses. I couldn’t remember their unusual names but I remembered that they had three PhDs between them.
At number eleven lived two ladies. One drove a BMW, the other drove a Lexus. Someone asked if they were sisters. Yeah, do you really think they are two sisters or your brain couldn’t come up with a better question to feed your curiosity? What’s wrong with you? Would you live with your sister? I wouldn’t, unless I am single and not able to make ends meet.
Look at them, do they like they are poor? Yeah? They have good stuff at home. How would I know? If you noticed what they throw out on the front lawn on a hard waste collection day, you wouldn’t question their relationship anymore.
* * *
After the barbeque, a few men joined together and started a weekend morning run. Good for them. Many of them needed to do that desperately, that included my Adam. If Adam could get a body half as good like Laurence, I’d be very happy.
As for myself, there’s no way I could do what Lara did. She swam three times a week and played tennis and did line dancing twice a week. Plus, she had a treadmill, exercise bike, rower and dumbbells at home. It would kill me if I did what she did. Hmm…my children thought their mother was hot and I didn’t mind the way I looked either so why change it?
Adam and Laurence became good mates after all the others dropped off from the morning runs one by one.
“Tomorrow morning Laurence and I will go for an early run,” Adam told me one night.
“Great, you two really get on like a house on fire.”
“He’s cool, very nice to talk to.”
“What do you two talk about?”
“Stuff, you know. He told me today he’s been married six times.”
“Six? Wow, how long has he been married to Lara?”
“He said he met Lara when she was nineteen. Next year she will be thirty-five. He said the longest marriage he has had is with Lara, the shortest was his fifth marriage. That only lasted five months because he met Lara. Lara doesn’t have a degree or qualification to give her a big head like his other wives who thought that they were the centre of the universe.”
“Does he have any children?”
“Eight children from his wives and mistresses. He made sure there’d be no more children after he turned forty. Quite a responsible guy. He said when one gets older, the quality of the sperm is not as good as when one’s younger. He didn’t want to bring ‘not quite right’ people into the world.”
“I didn’t know he was such a playboy.”
“You see how he operates. Women like the attention so he gets what he wants.”
“Do you think he has a side line?”
“At sixty-two? I don’t think so.”
“Once a playboy, always a playboy.”
“He might wish for it but I don’t think he could handle it. Don’t forget he has a young wife at home.”
Indeed, Adam was right. Laurence was attentive towards his young wife, and all the other ladies too.
Soon this trim figured man became a few women’s dream come true. They talked about how polite and well-mannered he was. They loved his sophistication, his well-to-do stature, his intelligent mind, his respectful nature and how he never crossed the line into inappropriate behaviour.
Lara also won a few women’s admiration. They liked her warm personality, demure manner, smart dress sense, attractive hairstyle and choice of beautiful accessories.
We branded them “the perfect couple”.
* * *
One Sunday afternoon, Jane from number two told me that her best friend saw Lara in the mental hospital where she had been visiting her mother-in-law.
I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
“Ah, yes, last week Laurence did say that Lara was not well.”
“Did he say what was wrong with her?”
“I think he said Lara has a bipolar disorder.”
“It’s also known as manic depression.”
“Did he tell you what Lara does?”
“He said she has dramatic and unpredictable mood swings.”
“Poor thing. I’d never guess she has a mental illness.”
“Laurence said it might help if Lara has a child to look after. She would be focused on the child instead of herself so much.”
“How long has she suffered from this illness?”
“Don’t know. I feel for Laurence.”
“What? Laurence is not the one who’s ill. What about Lara?”
“Yeah! Poor Lara. Laurence suffers too though.”
“What did I do?”
“Next time when you see Laurence, ask when we can visit Lara.
I’ll bring some flowers to her.”
“I don’t think so. Laurence said Lara is embarrassed about her illness. She doesn’t like people to know. So make sure there’s no gossip about her.”
I kept my mouth shut and didn’t pass on any of the information that I got from Adam.
The perfect couple became an unusual couple to me.
“Keep away from the window, they might see you.”
“She’s been standing in front of the peace lilies for a long time.”
“For Christ’s sake, move away from the window.”
“He’s coming out of the house. He’s walking towards her. He put his hand around her waist and is talking to her. She’s not moving. There’s no expression on her face. I love her outfit, it looks expensive.”
“Laurence said she spends a lot of money on her clothing.”
“They are walking back to the house.”
“The end of this episode of the soap opera.”
“It’s been a few months now. When will she snap out of it?”
“She can’t help the way she is.”
“Does she have any family in Melbourne?”
“No, she has no one here.”
“She looks so sad.”
“What can she expect? That’s the price you pay for marrying for money.”
“How do you know she married him for his money? She might have fallen in love with his charm.”
“Yeah, you’re right!”
“Laurence is a lovely man but he’s too old for her.”
“She should have thought about that when she agreed to marry him.”
“How I wish I could help her in some way.”
“No, you don’t. Don’t interfere, it’s not your business.”
“She’s a nice lady. I find her company soothing and pleasant. She is so compassionate that I find it easy to talk to her.”
“Just because she gave you her unwanted clothes.”
“If I hadn’t taken them, she’d have given them to charity anyway.”
“So you took them from the charity bag?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Did she know you took them?”
“Of course. I was talking to her while she threw the clothes into the bag. I said ‘don’t you want those beautiful clothes’? She said ‘take them if you like’. So I did.”
“Lucky they fit you.”
“They’re all designer clothes. Pity our shoes sizes are different.”
“Guess I am lucky that you are not a big spender.”
“We are normal people doing things that normal people do.”
“You are not wrong.”
Of course I am not wrong. I’m a woman aren’t I? How often do you see women’s intuition being wrong?
* * *
Two years went past. We all got used to living next to the perfect couple. They kept a low profile. We stopped talking about them.
Then out of the blue, the incident happened.
It was a cold and dark night. Lara had just come home from another long stay at the mental hospital.
Four of us were sitting around the dining table having our dinner when we heard five gun shots nearby. Adam quickly switched off the lights, took the children and I into the closet under the stairs. His army reserve background was finally put in good use. After settling us down, he went to investigate.
When we came out of the closet, the police were already in the courtyard. I had missed the ambulance scene.
“She killed him. Lara killed Laurence.”
“How do you know it was Lara who shot Laurence?”
“Police took Lara away in handcuffs. The ambulance took a body away covered with a white sheet. During the whole commotion, I never saw Laurence.”
“Right. Must be an accident. A gun is a dangerous thing.”
“Accident? Who makes five accidental shots?
Why had she wanted to kill him? Maybe she found out he was having an affair. He could have been having an affair, you know. A few women in this court loved him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was having a fling. Once a playboy, always a playboy.
“You don’t kill someone just because he’s having a fling.”
“Would you like to try?”
“Ha ha! Who wants to have a fling with me? I am only a poor fellow.”
“That’s what a lady down the road said. Money causes problem. No woman would look at her husband because he doesn’t have two pennies to rub in his pocket. They are slaves to the bank.”
“We don’t know he was having a fling. The poor guy is already dead. Don’t spread rumours we know nothing about.”
The excitement lasted for a long while. Many neighbours came to Adam and asked questions about Laurence. Adam was too smart to let anything out. That was if he knew anything.
“Our property value is going to go down. Who wants to live in a homicidal neighbourhood?”
Hmm, I don’t think you’ve repaid his hospitality yet. Poor Laurence lost his life tragically and you have the guts to stand in front of his house and worry about the value of your property? I know who I won’t waste my breath on. It would be good news if you moved away from here.
* * *
The media reports were cruel and heartless.
A woman called into a radio station and said she recognised Lara from television. She said she had seen Lara with a young man with a Fu Manchu style of moustache many times. She thought Lara wanted to get rid of her old husband so she could be with her young lover.
I switched off the radio. I could not bear to listen to people talk rubbish.
On the daily newspaper, there was a cartoon which made Lara look like Medusa with snakes on her head. She was holding a gun in one hand, cash in the other. There was lots of money and jewellery on the floor. Laurence was kneeling in front of her with blood all over him.
Awful, simply awful. It was already a tragedy. Why did the media want to make it seem so evil? Why was no one on her side?
It was easy to point the finger at Lara because she was so much younger than Laurence. If she was old, grey, with a spare tyre around her, the media may have made her a victim.
With her blond hair, trim figure and designer clothing, she didn’t have a chance, did she?
I hoped she had a good lawyer.
The court hearing was a heart breaking event. Learning how Laurence had been treating Lara was a horrifying experience.
It turned out that Laurence was a monster. He wouldn’t let Lara have any opinions or ideas of her own. She had to do or say everything that he wanted her to do or say. If she showed she was unhappy, he’d send her to the psychiatrist and say she had depression. She had to put on a happy face when she was with him.
Lara was not allowed to have any friends. Once when she went out shopping with his business associate’s wife, he hit her so badly that she was not able to show her face in public for many weeks.
Sometimes he would tie her up in bed or on a chair with her stockings and wouldn’t let her eat or drink. He didn’t even allow her to go to the toilet until she agreed with him totally.
She had been his office cleaner when he had a business in Italy. He had given her parents a handsome lump sum of money and gifts so her parents married her off to him.
He changed her name from Maria to Lara without her consent, just because he didn’t like the name Maria.
He sent her to a cosmetic surgeon to reshape her nose to his own shape.
We never really know what’s in a person’s mind or what their private life is like. For years, we thought they were the “perfect couple”.
That very day, when the incident occurred, Lara said a storm of negative influences had been whirling around her, highlighting the precariousness of her situation.
She knew that it was going to be a difficult day to negotiate her way around and it may be difficult to avoid conflict. She was overwhelmed by the aggression in the atmosphere and could not suppress the feelings of destruction that came floating to the surface.
She simply lost the strength or the willpower to obey him just to survive, or even to make herself heard, and she knew this kind of lethargy was going to be working against her.
She had to do something about it! That’s why when he walked towards her while calling her names, she reached out for the gun, held it up and shot him.
After using up so many tissues, although I was against killing, I didn’t feel sorry about Laurence’s death anymore.
I kind of liked the idea of women standing up for themselves, refusing to be the victim.
Good on you Lara!
My wishes had come true. Lara was free to walk away from prison.
* * *
She never came back to the neighbourhood. The house was sold a few weeks later to a new migrant family for a good price. The crime scene did not reduce the property value after all.
One night Adam and I were watching a movie in the cinema. While Adam was parking the car, I saw Lara standing in front of a restaurant.
I was excited, impatiently waiting to get out of the car so I could catch up with her. That’s when I saw a young man with a Fu Manchu style of moustache come out of the restaurant. He put his arm around her shoulder. She put her arm around his waist.
They looked intimate. Both Adam and I were speechless.
I had a good look at her. She was dressed like trash, matching her companion’s style.
How could she? I was no longer sure that I was glad she was found “not guilty”.
“Can’t she pretend to wait for a while? After she killed her husband, the media already suspected she had a young lover. What is she thinking?”
“I thought Laurence was quite wonderful and definitely full of delightful qualities. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I imagined. Where did I go wrong in my thinking?”
“We all got it wrong. Not just about Laurence but about Lara too.”
“Stop guessing. We were both so wrong for years. Face it, we don’t know because we have no way of knowing. Leave it as an unknown. Take it at its face value, that’s good enough for me.”
We watched Lara and the young man with a Fu Manchu style moustache walk away. Adam saw the tears in my eyes and he held my hand tight.