You can tell a family by their washing line. The shirts, the dresses, they all speak of who lives in the house that stands so close. Tight clothes hanging for the teenage girl, blue and trucks for the young boy. The mother will have loose-fitting clothes, but not baggy, black skirts if she works. For the father there will be straight shirts, plain colours elsewise. Each day these clothes will hang on the washing line, hidden behind the fence, only eyed by those that care for their colours and crinkles.
They'll be a "Mum, I need some clothes washed!"
Another, "Then bring them out."
A large grunt.
"And bring your brother's out too."
An even larger grunt will come.
It will all end up in the washing machine though, swirling around in a mix of materials. Soon the wind will be gently taking the water from its grasp.
It was the same in every family, not the same clothes, but you could always tell who lived within.
There was one man though, the oddest of oddities it could be said, who was seen as a mystery by his washing line. It began, with the fact that his washing line was in his front yard, there for any passer-by to see. Strung between two trees; shirts hung, the hues of pinks, blues and purples swaying in the wind. And that was all. Never more than the same shirts, never less each day either, always there. His neighbours wondered how many shirts one man could wear, and questioned that they had never seen him wearing a single of the washed clothes.
"He must be a little loony." They spoke over the fence.
"A widower most likely, probably grief-stricken, doesn't know how to do anything else."
"No one ever goes to see him."
"He'll die alone, the poor old man."
"Do you think we should go, just check on him?"
But no one ever did.
A new family moved into the neighbourhood, unaware of the man they were about to live next too. They soon saw his quirk and took to whispering over the fence as all the others had done.
Anyone looking at their washing line could tell there were two small boys and a teenage girl, plus the parents attached.
It was a windy day, when the ball was tipped over the fence. The parents promised a new one; they weren't going over there. The boys whined, the girl sighed.
There was a hush of the wind as the girl marched up the drive. Hands were paused over phones, in case a scream was heard. Eyes slipped past curtains. A knock came.
The door creaked open, not in a cautious way, just as if unexpected.
For the first time in many years, someone on the street heard his voice. "Hello?"
"I'm sorry, my ball went over the fence into your backyard, would I be able to get it?"
He opened the door wider and she entered. She found nothing surprising about his house, a typical one for anybody. There was not a single thing odd about it as she followed him down the hallway, through the kitchen and into the backyard.
"You have another washing line?" She saw the square structure hung with clothes, not many clothes, just things that would be typical for this man.
The man was walking over to where the ball sat nestled in the bushes.
"Well the one out the front is bloody useless."
She had only lived in the neighbourhood a few weeks but she had come to learn where surprise was necessary.
"But there are clothes on there."
"Of course there is, how am I meant to take them when I can't reach." He returned the ball to her.
She did not know what to say.
"You probably think I'm a little crazy like the rest of this darn street, but I'm no more foolish than bob's head."
"But you have a washing line in your front yard, with clothes on it. There's no point to it." She waved her hand wildly in any direction, confusion setting in.
"I can't take any of them down when I can't reach them. I put them up one day, had a fall, could never reach that high again." A pause settled for a moment. "I don't want to ask someone else to take them down."
If there had been a light bulb above the girl's head, it would have shone bright. A hand flicked the ball back into her yard. Defiantly she marched through the house, out the front door and stopped standing in the yard.
How many eyes were upon her now? Too many she knew.
She pulled her arms up, struggled for a moment with the old peg, and then finally plucked it off. Another peg and she had stolen the first shirt from the line's grasp.
As curiosity came, people emerged from their houses, no longer hiding their prying eyes. The old man stood and watched it all, a small smile on his face.
Then she was done, and only the line remained to spark the memory. She pulled it down too.
"Thank you my dear."
"Now no one has any reason to stare."
He invited her in for a drink and she went back inside willingly. Neighbours smiled as they closed their doors, knowing that the curtains would be used more to block out the sun instead of prying now.
As the girl and the old man shared a drink and talk with the other they both smiled at what had happened, and as any story would go, a long friendship ensued.