“Neighbors” By Paul Bowman

The neighborhood started going to hell about two years ago.

Bryon was the first. His wife found him on his front lawn in the middle of the night on his hands and knees. Wearing nothing but his underwear.  He was looking for a quarter that fell out of his pocket he said. It took an hour to get him to come back in the house. Her pleading voice and her sobs and his shouting back at her was what woke me up. I found out later that he had been let go the day before. They thought he was too old to do the work anymore. Fifty-six ain’t that old, if you ask me. Marie had to start cutting hair again. One afternoon while she was at work he attempted suicide. The bullet tore off half his jaw. Now they got all kinds of medical bills.

Jamie was next. Walking down the street in the middle of the day, completely naked.  Fat. What a gut. Sixty-nine years old and he loses it. I called the police. Jamie never said a word when the officers chewed him out. He would just give them this I-don’t-understand-a-word-you’re-saying look. Me and the Ferguson kid stood by his bike and watched.

After that it was one neighbor after another. Fred burning a mattress and box springs in the middle of his driveway because the sanitation department refused to pick it up. Awful smelling smoke in the air. The fire department fined him. He tore up the citation and laughed in the fire chief’s face.

Mrs. Denty’s golden lab got poisoned. Antifreeze according to the vet. Who would do that to a widow lady?

Somebody stole my water hose. Sprinkler too.

Greg started pissing in his front yard. Night. Middle of the day. Didn’t matter. He’s the music minister in the Presbyterian Church. Stopped shaving.  Grew a mountain man beard.

Jim McCaster built himself a tree house in his backyard. He lives in it. Says he has to hide. The Zoroastrians are coming. His wife begged and begged him to come back into the house. She brings him food and water in one of those Styrofoam totes every day. She stopped begging. Where does he poop?

One day Mr. Stott kicked a soccer ball that rolled in his yard and yelled at Mrs. Gonzales to teach her kids to keep their junk out of his yard. Mrs. Gonzales apologized. Two days later it was a tricycle at the edge of his driveway. I saw him pick it up and throw it in their yard. She came out of the house and just looked at him. Didn’t say anything. He did, though. Why don’t you foreigners go back to where you came from? You don’t belong in this neighborhood!

Yes, I do!

Go back to Mexico!

I am a citizen!

No, you’re not!

Yes!

Leave! Go! Take your fifteen kids with you!

That was months ago.  Stott is still doing it. Some of the neighbors think the same way he does. They’re too polite to say it, though. But you can see it in their glances when the Gonzales kids ride their bikes down the sidewalk.

Mr. Gonzales is a roofer. Gone before sunup. Mrs. Gonzales keeps her yard looking real nice. All kinds of flowers.

One evening we had a black kid get tased. He drove his old Camry and parked in front of the Johnson house. Walked right up to the front door. Knocked.  Nobody was home. He sat on the glider and waited.

Somebody called the police. Wasn’t me.

A cop showed up in no time. Big, burly guy. Almost ran to the porch.  Asked him who he was. The teenage boy, I guess he was somewhat intimidated, said his name but not loud enough for the cop.  He pulled him out of the glider, threw him to the porch floor, and tased him right then and there.

While the kid was still screaming the Johnsons pull up in their Lexus. Their daughter opens the back door of the car and starts yelling. What did you do to Darnell? What did you do to Darnell?

It turns out that they’re both in the high school musical together. And she had invited him to come over so that they could practice their songs together. The Johnsons have a grand piano. That girl was furious. She hugged Darnell and ordered her dad to sue the cop. The cop got tired of hearing that and threatened to arrest her. She said go ahead, pig. Go ahead.

It was a mess. Her parents trying to smooth everything over and she on the porch yelling at the policeman. She wanted the policeman to give her the name of the jerk who had called. She saw me on my porch. I raised my hands to indicate it wasn’t me. I don’t know if she believed me or not.

The next day she put up a Black Lives Matter sign in their front yard. A week later someone kicked it over.

Someone spray painted a swastika on the stop sign at the corner of Daisy and Violet. The Rosensteins lives two houses down from the corner. They’re Jewish. Somebody trying to be funny?

 

This morning Bill got in his truck at four a.m. and floored it. He wasn’t going anywhere. He kept it in park. He just made sure everyone heard how loud his truck could get. I grabbed my tactical flashlight and walked over just to shine the beam in his face. Didn’t do any good. Behind the windshield he looked wild-man crazy.

I got tired of breathing the diesel fumes and went back into the house, made coffee, ate a bagel, and put on a CD. Mozart’s Symphony no. 40. No good. I could still hear the growl and rumble of Bill’s truck across the street.

My house is on the market.  Lowered the price ten grand. Houses in Harmony Acres used to sell in three months. Six months tops.

My wife is in jail. I don’t like people to know. What happened was we were in the grocery and she was ordering some potato salad from the deli—trying to order some potato salad. The girl behind the counter was Indian, I think. Not Native American, but India Indian. Judging by her skin color. She couldn’t understand what Mary was saying and asked to repeat herself. So Mary did. She still didn’t understand. Maybe it was her first day. The young lady was trying to be nice. She kept asking, what? What? Then she picked up the container of coleslaw thinking that was what Mary wanted. Mary started yelling at the girl, calling her stupid, telling her to learn English. The deli girl got a little offended and said she was sorry, her English was not too good. I don’t what got into Mary. She was somebody different. She said if you insist on being that stupid go back to where you came from. The deli girl said I am not stupid, I have a college degree. Her face was both angry and hurt. Mary said sure you do. I put my hand on Mary’s arm to shut her up. She reached in the cart, picked up a cucumber, and threw it at the girl. It missed. The deli girl laughed. I thought: ARE YOU CRAZY? Mary reached in the cart again, picked up a can of soup, and threw that. It hit her eye. The girl fell to the floor. Started crying. Holding her hand over her eye. People came around. The manager called the police. After they asked a million questions, they arrested Mary.  We had a court date. She did apologize to the judge, but not very convincingly. The deli girl was in the courtroom. A huge bandage over her eye. Her entire family was there.

I remember looking at Mary and thinking, what happened to you? What happened? You’re not the woman I married. You used to be nice. Polite to everybody.

The judge gave her thirty days in the county jail and said she was lucky, it could have been more. I think Mary was sorry she did it.  Before the bailiff took her away, I tried to hug her goodbye. She was stiff as a board.  Her face, sad, bitter.

She’s banned from the grocery. I go five miles out of my way to shop at another store.

She gets out in ten days.

The house is awful quiet.

 

Is everybody on this planet angry about something?

This used to be a good neighborhood. It was. People spoke to one other. Waved to one other. Every year Mrs. Stiglitz organized a block yard sale. First weekend in May. The Gibson girl sold bottled water, sodas, doughnuts. Plenty of cars showed up. Almost like a county fair. Everybody made some money. Last year the Elliots put up a big, I mean big, three-foot-square, sign in their yard. The sign said GOD HATES GAYS.  They’re real religious. Everybody knows Mrs. Stiglitz’s son is homosexual. I remember talking to her in front of her table. The sign was bothering her, I could tell. She kept glancing over to the sign which was just thirty yards away. Gary and Judy were standing behind their table handing out scripture brochures to anyone who would take them. Mrs. Stiglitz didn’t say anything. Didn’t even make eye contact at them. She was offended but she wasn’t going to confront them.

The next year there was no neighborhood yard sale.

What happened to everybody?

 

I watch the morning news. The president’s scowling face is on the screen. He’s saying the people of Denmark are bad, bad people.

I read yesterday that the super-rich are building underground bunkers that have everything. Bowling alleys. Lap pools. Movie theaters. Enough supplies to last for years.

A fire truck siren screams in the distance. I go to the porch and look. Mike Hansen’s house. Flames coming off the roof. His wife leans out of the second story window. Her face stares at the ground. Mike is behind her. I see him scowling through the window glass. He pulls her back in.

I wait for them to come out. I have this terrible feeling they’re not going to. Their fights have been worse lately.

Which one started the fire?

Finally they stumble out the front door. Both of them gasping, coughing. She gives him this super hateful look.

The fire truck comes down the street. I see Darrell on the sidewalk across the street. He was watching the Hansen house. Of course Darrell has his assault rifle strapped to his back. He always does. Wherever he goes he takes his weapon of choice. When he goes to the mailbox in the morning there is a pistol strapped to his belt. He is wearing his favorite shirt. Confederate flag on the front; US flag on the back. Make up your mind, Darrell.

The fire truck siren gets louder. Patriot Darrell turns, pulls his rifle off his back, points it at the truck. Is he going to shoot?

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM

He’s shooting! The idiot is shooting! God help us. The fire truck brakes hard.

I get inside fast. Lock the deadbolt. Run to the kitchen where the stairs are. Go down to the basement. It will be safer down there.

I listen for more rifle fire. Nothing. Silence.

The basement is where I keep the long-term necessities. Water, food, propane, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, radio, blankets, tarps, maps, books, flashlights, lanterns, batteries.

I plop down on the recliner. On the arm of the chair is the Thomas Merton book. It will help me relax. I close my eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in.

 

There is no one to talk to.

 

The doorbell rings.

 

***


Paul Bowman, a retired maintenance man, writes plays & fictions. He has had a dozen productions of his one-acts. His stories have been published in Conceit, The Storyteller, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Southern Fried Karma, and elsewhere. But not on bathroom walls.

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