The Diogenes Syndrome

(750 words)

Saunders – no one seemed to know his Christian name, or even if he had one – lived in our village, and was reasonably infamous. They said that when sober he was intelligent, well-spoken, and witty. He came from a very wealthy family, a household name indeed. When drunk, however, he didn’t wash or shave, was without principles of any kind and would shout vile insults at innocent passersby, whether he knew them or not.
Unfortunately, he was nearly always drunk.
Well, I’d heard stories about him – hurling abuse in the local pub (before being banned), somehow storing a large boat in his back garden which squeezed through his neighbour’s gates with just millimetres to spare, keeping rubbish in sacks in the garden, and barging into his neighbour’s house, dressed only in underpants, when the neighbour was entertaining guests. I’d heard other stories, even more outrageous, but had no way of knowing how true they were. I rather hoped they weren’t. Despite all this, I’d never clapped eyes on the man, even though he lived but a stone’s throw from my house!
“Saunders lives in the left-hand cottage of the two semi-detached cottages, to the right of the archway houses,” my neighbour had said, referring to an archway between two tiny houses, both of which extended above the archway.
“There aren’t any semi-detached cottages!” I’d exclaimed.
He explained, to my utter amazement, that a small house was, in fact, two very small, semi-detached residences, although not discernible from the front, as they were largely obscured by high, unkempt hedges. The right-hand cottage had a drive, a gate, and a rear extension, whereas Saunders’ half had no discernible place of ingress. Hence my bewilderment.
Well, it so happened that the house on the right of the archway was inhabited by a blind lady, Mary, and I’d promised to drop an audiobook on CD round for her. Knowing that she didn’t like to answer the door, I simply posted them through her letter box, assuming she would open the envelope, put a CD on and realise what it was and who it was from. But as I heard the CDs hit the floor I turned to my left and stared, then stared some more. Mary seemed to have no garden at all and the lady on the opposite side of the arch had a neat little patio garden with a gravel area and shrubs in pots.
But the garden that extended in front of my eyes, as far as I could see, I now realised belonged to Saunders’ tiny semi-detached cottage!
I took a few steps through the archway and past the patio garden. I could now see the back of Saunders’ house. The door was open and I didn’t have to go any nearer to realise it opened onto an extremely uninviting kitchen. I could see piles of washing up and a bucket of scraps propping open the door, where flies were busy buzzing around, laying eggs no doubt, for their broods of squirming white maggots.
Emboldened, I walked further. This man had the Diogenes Syndrome – a compulsion to hoard rubbish, no concern about personal appearance, and an anti-social attitude – in spades!
The garden was perhaps two hundred feet long, stretching down to the back of a neat lawn belonging to a brand-new six-bedroom house in a swanky cul-de-sac. Every square foot of it seemed to be covered in bags and yet more bags of rubbish, old plastic piping, broken garden chairs, metal poles, old car tyres, bits of car engine, exhaust pipes, a rainbow in a pool of oil. A sea of the most incredible junk, hidden, unsuspected, in our otherwise picturesque village.
I noticed some buildings amongst the rubbish. I had the urge to look inside them, but Saunders’ wrath wasn’t something I wanted to entertain. Not hard to imagine what they contained though!
As I headed back through the archway, a middle-aged man with jowl-length grey hair, a large grey moustache and matching stubble was coming the other way. He was swinging a Tesco bag. Judging from the clinking and shape of the contents they were of the drinkable and intoxicating kind. As we passed, he stopped and stared at me. “Good morning, do I know you?” he asked in a posh, BBC-announcer-type voice.
Reeling from the whisky on his breath, I kept walking. “No!” I called, without looking back. There was no response. Saunders was already on his second bottle of the day.

Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories

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