This is one of the Newcastle Herald Short Story Competition 2020 finalists. For a full list of the finalists revealed so far, head here.
"George must be away again", James said to his wife Lisa as he was peering over the side fence. Seeing the grass was overgrown again, the chair under the tree languishing from the overgrowth of uncut grass, barely visible from last Christmas where James had sat with George and shared a beer to celebrate another year of neighbourly friendship.
George often regaled James and Lisa about his travels. About when he was young and Enid and himself would pack up the car and go all around Australia.
They never went overseas; oh no, that was not allowed.
George's furrowed brow would tighten and he would look down on you and say, "you have to see the country, we live in a great country, get out and see it, the people are great and the places, the places are nicer than any of those overseas places you and Lisa would visit."
Listening intently, they enjoyed George's company. Feeling George always needed the company as he was ageing and being the good neighbours, they were, they would always be there to listen and be entertained by the journey.
Regularly, they joked back home later in the night about George not understanding how cheap it is to go overseas. They laughed and said "that's just George". But they would often see him up and readying the car for another trip the next day.
These trips continued after Enid passed, and the stories would still come back about his travels and George would explain that Enid was helping in the small hours of the morning and the dark part of the night.
James and Lisa would worry about their old friend on his travels and would habitually wait for him to give them a call detailing the spectre and wild adventures he got up to.
James mentioned to Lisa he was going to tidy up the yard while George was away and headed off towards the back shed to access the mower and brush cutter.
The task would be hefty and may take him all day.
Pushing through the side access they installed years ago, he spent the day mowing, weeding and pushing through the overgrown yard. The chair was becoming visible and the mannequin that George kept in the yard was standing out in the afternoon sun.
George always said it reminded him of Enid and loved how it was elegant and classy, dressed up for special occasions.
Many hours passed and James had finally completed the massive undertaking, dragging the last of the tree limbs back into his own yard.
It was only then he caught a glimpse of George's car sitting idly in the drive way.
James was concerned, as George always travelled in the car. Although they were good neighbours, George was self-sufficient so they didn't always live in each other's pocket.
Walking up to the car, James could see that it was not packed and was also not ready to travel. The vehicle had a layer of dust which must have been there for at least two months.
Doing the sums quickly in his head, James realised with their busy lives time had flown and he had not checked on George for months.
Now concerned, he was quickly knocking on the doors to no answer, quickly running back to Lisa to get the key to George's place.
Roaring back through the side gate, charging up to the door with Lisa trailing quickly behind, fumbling with the key in an effort to get inside as quick as they could.
The door opened, the white dishes clean and piled neatly on the kitchen sink in stark contrast to the bright orange laminate bench tops looked normal and arranged as if George didn't have time to put them away.
The yellow brown faded lounge still in place and with a few old papers sitting on the arm. Everything looked the same and like George always adored.
Rushing down the small hallway to the bedroom, sitting up were two pillows leaning against the bedhead, but there was no sign of George. Distraught and confused, they heard the sound of a large car pulling up out front.
Immediately James and Lisa looked at each other with concern, darting for the door.
They were greeted by a man wearing a flashy blue pinstriped suit looking confused, unsure why we were in the house.
We told him we were the neighbours and after clearing the yard we were concerned that George's car was in the drive and there was no sign of George.
We explained how we loved hearing of his travels and driving all over the country and when we found the yard overgrown and empty, we became disturbed and let ourselves in to help George if he had any trouble.
The man was George's son, Ryan. James and Lisa were incredulous. Ryan had never been mentioned. He invited them inside and thanked them for clearing the yard, asking if they had time to sit for a while.
Ryan explained that his Dad had never travelled around Australia, at least not in the last 20 years since the passing of Enid.
"Dad would drive over to the next suburb, not ten minutes away, and stay with us while he was treated for health issues," he said.
"He urged us to travel overseas and said he had the best neighbours who adventured regularly."
James and Lisa were stunned by the news. George had been fulfilling his life with the friendship they provided, making up travelling stories.
Ryan revealed George had passed about a week ago, and James and Lisa are devastated.
Years pass and James finds himself sitting looking out at his overgrowing yard reminiscing about George and all the anecdotes of travels around Australia.
James and Lisa thought why not, picked up the keys, wallet, phone and stride out to the car to see Australia?
They could hear the words in a distant voice saying "It's a great country, get out and see it".
As James turned the key in the ignition, they smile.