Then the visits started.
At odd times, when his mind was a thousand miles away, the doorbell would ring.
He could never get used to it.
She was a dark haired woman with glasses and a foreign accent. At first he thought she was German. 'No, no', she said. 'I am from Switzerland.' Would he like some bowls? They had too many and couldn't carry them all the way to Switzerland. Sure, he said.
The first bowls were white and made of thick clay and he couldn't look at them without thinking of plastic spoons and baby food. He had no idea what he was going to do with them.
They shared a porch. It was a sun trap that had an old-fashioned smell that he couldn't quite place. It was something to do with the warmth of the sun trapped in the glass room and the earth colour of the tiles with their lines and fractures.
Sometimes he felt tantalisingly close to remembering where this other place was.
His side of the porch was a mess of bags and boxes and three surf boards like dead sharks hung up to dry. The neighbour used the place to keep her boots and shoes. Black leather boots in a cut that might have belonged to a cowboy. She'd tied a clear crystal to a piece of string. The crystal caught the light as it shone on her front door.
First the crystal went. Then the boots. Now her side was clear as Zen.
Then he saw that the curtains were gone from the window in her front room.
The house started to feel like an empty house. He noticed it without thinking about it, in the same way that you might feel good when a patch of sun warms your skin.
The house was like a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle and someone was taking away a piece each day, the picture beginning to lose its shape.
After a while you start to see the blank spaces showing through.
The next bowls were blue and white bone china. They made him think of the little pieces of china that sometimes turned up like clichés in the gardens of the old country cottages.
Then there was a fine evening where he sat in a chair and heard laughter mixed in with the wind rustling the leaves of the willow tree. He saw a pink rose and heard the clink of wine glasses and the music of knives and forks chiming on plates. There was a lot of laughter coming through in regular intervals like the applause between strokes in a tennis match. There was a hint of rain approaching in the grainy air.
In the morning he stepped into the porch. Looked at his car that would soon take him to another day at work. The house next door was empty. He knew it because he could feel it: this particular puzzle undone and packed away forever.