Neighbors

This is one of those awkward stories that makes you wonder about your surroundings, but mainly, well, your neighbors. I remember living with someone years ago, and I had this habit of leaving all the doors in the house open, which pissed off my roommate plenty. He used to always say that the bad neighborhood a ways up would one day steal from the house. I never believed that…because at one time I lived in one of those bad neighborhoods. People from those areas don’t rob from the rich and sell to the poor. They rob from each other and sell to each other. Usually it’s a crack head or some kind of addict or some young punks with really nothing else to do. All those elements are here in quite the satirical way. I hope you don’t know anybody like this. If you do, by all means comment on my blog.

The people most likely to rob your house are your neighbors. Not necessarily your immediate neighbors. It might be someone from down the block or across the street. In some cases, it's someone from around the corner. Before I moved to this place six months ago I lived in a small apartment with the rest of my pretty large family. There's my mother and father--still married--and my younger sister and brother. Both of my siblings are ten years younger than I am and fraternal twins. I'm 23 years old. It's a two bedroom apartment, so that place is too small. My family is still really close. For instance, they all have a key to my house. It's the least I can do. I could have stayed home and helped out, or I could have moved out and helped them a lot less. If they have a key it helps my conscience. I remember the first time we got robbed. I was real young, like 10 years old or something like that. Whoever stole from us took some dumb stuff: cake mix, eggs, my backpack--probably to put the cake mix and eggs in--some milk, is what I remember. They didn't take anything nice like the television or VCR or money or the radio. The next time we got robbed I was much older. I was fifteen so the twins were about five. I baby-sat a lot. If I wasn't watching them, my mother was. If my mother wasn't with them, my father was watching them. If nobody could watch them, Aunt Sara did. Whoever robbed us had to know when we weren't going to be home for a period of time. They'd have to know our patterns. All they had to do was pay attention. That's what I heard my dad saying. My mother was pissed. My dad thought it was bound to happen, sooner or later. When I was eighteen the same thing happened. I even think I know who it was the last time. Whoever it was, they didn't do it themselves; they got other people to do it. How can you prove it, though?

Never mind proving it. I moved out with my best friend Ralph. Ralph is my age and works delivering sandwiches during the day. At night he does security. He doesn't do either one five days a week. On the other hand, I work five days a week managing a movie theater. I work days and nights, including weekends. Ralph and I put our money together and started renting this two bedroom house over here on the other side of town. It's not the nicest place in the world, but it's, basically, affordable, and not too far from my family. On this street there are all kinds of families. Me and Ralph made a point to meet mostly everybody. We didn't want anyone thinking we would thieve them. We know how important trust is. They had to get to know us, quickly. Now keep in mind this isn't the most amiable neighborhood of people, merely one where people are acquainted. For instance, everybody knows about the tweakers in the house around the corner. The tweakers wander the neighborhood late at night and early in the morning, like lonely vampires with nothing to do. I don't know who pays rent or actually lives there. We, meaning the rest of the neighborhood, figure the people in the tweeker house will eventually burn themselves out and die. They're abnormally skinny, with their eyes bugging out of their heads, and for some reason, their tongues are always moving around in their mouths, like their chops are perpetually dry or something. If they don't die off, they'll get evicted. Our closest neighbors are the Roberts across the street. What I mean by close is we talk to them frequently. We consider each other friends. We watch each other’s back. I play with their dogs: Hercules and Venus. I play video games with their kid, Josh. I talk politics with their father, Jack. I don't say much to his wife, Jill, but we don't mind each other. I'm looking at the Roberts house from my living room window. I'm peeking through the curtains, not letting today have a good look at what little material possessions we have. We have no furniture, except for three fold-out chairs. Against the wall is a television that has no reception, which is horrible for someone like me who has nothing to do while not at work. Ralph pulls up outside and he doesn't seem too happy. I watch him drag himself up the walkway and to the porch. My eyes are on the front door when he steps inside. "What's wrong?" I ask. He closes the door behind him, kicks his shoes off and starts rubbing his hands through his shaggy hair. "They're saying they don't need me." "Really. What'd you do?" "Nothing. They just don't need me. It's fucked up." He lays down right there on the hardwood

floor. "Is business slow?" I say, closing the blinds. "I don't think business is slow. Not really." "Listen," I say moving next to him. "They're firing you and just said they didn't need you. I do it at my work all the time. Someone's not performing, we stop putting them on the schedule. We tell them there aren't enough hours. Stuff like that." He gets off the floor. He's shorter than I am, but weighs more. "Fucked up." "It happens." "That's cash not in my pocket. Not this month, but next month..." He shook his head. "It's fucked up." "I don't think so." He starts for the kitchen. "Why not?" "Just find a day job." He goes to check the fridge like he usually does and finds out again that we have nothing to eat. "We have nothing to eat!" He comes back into the room with me, holding his belly. "They kicked me out before I ate." "They kicked you out?" "Actually, I left. They wanted me to leave, anyway. Fuckers. Let's get some light in here." He opens the curtains. I grab a fold-out chair from the corner, set it in the middle of the room and sit. "Want to see a movie tonight?" I ask him, knowing he isn't in the mood for a film. "I have to conserve gas," he says, gazing out the window. "I'll drive." "Hey, Donnie," he says all inquisitive. "How long are the Roberts out of town?" "The Roberts? I think they're gone for a solid week or so." "I'm going for a run," he says, facing me. "When did you start jogging?"

"Right now," he says, heading to his bedroom. "Now?" "Why not?" With that, he goes for a run and I sit there, reading this outdated business magazine. The phone rings. It's Aunt Sara. She wants to surprise us, have a dinner at my place. I say, sure, we could use the food, but who wants to eat with no table and no chairs or anything. She asks if Ralphy doesn't want to eat either. I tell her that he works at a sandwich place. He's never hungry. She asks me if I'm going toJamaica with her and my family in a few weeks. "No, I have to work." "That's too bad. Your birthday's while we're in Jamaica. It would be a great gift." Then she starts pretending she's Fozzy Bear from the Muppets. "Wokka wokka." "Yes, it would be great." "This is the only time of the year the whole family has time to do this. Your father saved all year for this trip. Wokka wokka." "Can't go. Have to work." It would be nice, though. I'd love to be in Jamaica for my birthday, instead of at work. We hang up. The truth about Aunt Sara is that I don't like her much; I don't want her over, if for no other reason, because she's wild-crazy. One time she told me that she thought it would be great if she were a horse. That way she could graze the grass and then gallop home. She's kind of a wacko, if you ask me. One time she explained to me how there is another race of people on the earth. They're taking over the world. They all wear suits and fake smiles. I said, you mean business people and TV news persons? She said, no. The race of people she spoke about never wore pants and walked down the street in high heels while holding a briefcase. She sees them all the time. "They're taking over! They're taking over!" she told me. I do more reading. Ralph walks in from his supposed jog, in his shorts and basketball shoes, not even huffing and puffing, not even breaking a sweat. "Did you run?" I ask, setting the magazine down. "I walked around the corner." "Took you long enough."

"Wasn't exercising." "Then what's around the corner?" "Bill and Chad and Scott." "The tweakers?" "You know how much we can cluck a TV for?" "Cluck a TV?" I say. "A TV," he points out the window, which is still open, "the Roberts'." I shake my head at him. "That's the dumbest... Are you serious?" I shuffle to the window and imagine what I could see in the Roberts' home if their curtains were open. A lot of cool stuff, that's for sure. "When did you become a master thief? Why would you want to steal from your neighbor? Are you serious?" "We could basically cover a few months rent with the money. That way we'd be ahead and I'd have another month to find a day job. It's only material crap. Shit that doesn't matter." "It might to them." "If they wanted it, they would have taken it on vacation with them." "You're seriously serious?" "I'm just saying..." How much can a TV have been worth in the first place? "The idea won't work anyway. We couldn't possibly get that much for one television, I don't care how top of the line it is." "Well, we'd have to get more than the television. We'd get...everything." "What? Hell no!" "That's what we'd do." "Hell no!" "It's just...stuff. We'd sell it. They'd get over it, buy new things. Everybody wins." "Hell no! Hell no!" "You didn't even think about it." I eye him for a moment. "And I don't think I need to and I won't."

Half asleep, I hear my bedroom door open. With my eyes closed, I think I hear Ralph click on the light. I have the big closet, so we share it. Him being in here isn't anything new or odd. Then I hear a siren in the room with me. A screech in the middle of the night. Ralph is near the light switch standing next to Aunt Sara. "Wokka wokka!" Aunt Sara is in the doorway with one of those toy fireman helmets that has a siren on top. She has her eyes crossed, and she's flail as if she's trying to not fall backwards. Ralph exits the room, quickly. "Wokka wokka!" she says. She's overweight. She's got some gray hair in her long mane. "What the hell are you doing?" I ask her, lifting my voice above the siren. She starts switching the bedroom light on and off, on and off. I get out of bed, wearing my red sweatpants and no shirt, no shoes, no socks. "Who gave you the key?" "Your mom! It's time for dinner!" And she leaves the room, siren wailing and all that. I find her in the kitchen with Ralph. He grabs something out of a white paper bag: fries, a hamburger and some sauce in small plastic containers. "Eat up," she says, clicking off the siren. "God, I'm hungry," Ralph says while shoving fries in his face. "What kind of burgers we got here?" I say, heading for the white paper bags, salvation. "I'm starving." She points at the bags. "Double cheeseburgers and chili cheeseburgers." "Thanks, Sara," Ralph says with a full mouth. She starts stumbling around, holding a cheeseburger, saying, "A wokka wokka! A wokka wokka!" After stuffing the remaining cheeseburger in her face, she turns her siren on. Chewing and swallowing, I say, "A wokka wokka!" We might as well be saying, "Cheers! Cheers!" "I couldn't get the family down here," she says, chewing. "It's too late to go out. We always eat late. They had macaroni. William cooked." "He did?" I said above the siren. William doesn't do anything, not even have fun, but tonight he cooked, because his wife abandoned him to give us food. I give her a hug. "A wokka wokka!" I say, in celebration. "Wokka wokka!"

Aunt Sara leaves. Ralph and I stay awake for a while. We're in the living room about to go back to bed. "Your family really gives a damn," he says. "That's what family's for." "I'm off to bed. Need to do what I have to do, tomorrow." He starts off to his room. "You think my family is disappointed in me?" He stops and says, "Disappointed? Why?" "I'm not doing anything with myself. Not in college, no girlfriend, no food. I don't even have furniture." "We don't have furniture." "I feel like some friggin loser." "If you're a loser then I'm a loser, and I'm not a loser. So we're missing some things that other people have. So what. Who cares?" "I don't. But here my aunt is coming over late at night to feed us. She got the key from my mom, so my whole family knows that I can't even feed myself. It's kind of embarrassing." Ralph shrugs, crossing his arms. "Maybe." We stare at each other for a minute. I say, "Maybe it's time to look at some...options, I guess, or something." Ralph sneers. "If we had a couch or a second television it wouldn't be so embarrassing," I catch myself saying, "or better yet some food in the fridge." "That's not going to happen any time soon." Sighing, I say, "True." He nods his head. "We could sell something. What do you think we could sell?" "I don't know. What could we sell?" "Beats me."

"I'm out of ideas." "I hear that." He pretends to yawn. "Fine. Okay. I'm down for it." "Hey," he says, smiling, completely sure of himself, "people get robbed all the time. It's no big deal." He walks away from me and heads towards his bedroom, triumphant, with a full stomach.

A day goes by and we don't even talk about how we're going to rob the Roberts' place. The day after that, we talk about it, but none of the conversation is positive. The Roberts' have dogs. We know they lock-up pretty good, and we're not going to break anything to get in. On top of that, we're not sure exactly when they'll be back, so therefore we have to act quick, probably before we're actually ready. To add to matters, it's official, they stopped putting him on the schedule and he's having a hard time finding a job. That and his night security job is burning him out, so it's hard for him to look for more work in the morning. For a minute it seems worthwhile getting him a position at my work, but that will only be a couple of hours a week, if he's lucky. We're not even hiring. Ralph has an epiphany. He says we don't have to worry about the dogs, because we know their names. The dogs won't give us any trouble. He decides we have to do something right when the sun goes down tomorrow night. That's the first chance we'll get, maybe the only chance. Tonight is too soon. We're not prepared. Tomorrow, if the Roberts come in the daytime, forget it. I have an epiphany of my own. "They keep a key under the flower pot, in the backyard. It's been there since they moved in. Jack told me. "You're kidding." "I shit you not. He says it's a nice place for a spare. It's so nice, he forgot about it for a long time." Ralph realizes, "The only problem is, the time we'd be going over there is relatively early. We'll be seen." "I'm sure we can get across the street without anyone seeing us." "But where are we taking the goods?" I say, "Through their back fence...where..." I improv, "where the tweakers will pick it up. That's it! The tweakers! Since you have that deal with them anyway."

"Brilliant. You're a natural crook." "Yes, a bonafide backstabber. Great." Since Ralph has made better acquaintance with the tweakers--Bill and Chad and Scott--than I have, he's the one who negotiates with them. They agree to be waiting out back at about nine o'clock at night, to take the stolen goods to their place, where the goods will be until sold to whomever. From there, they get a cut of the money, as do we. The tweakers have a backyard like we do, but we don't want to store our trusting neighbors' stolen appliances and what not in our backyard. The tweakers don't care. They need the money worse than we do, I suppose. At about eight, we, nervously, get across the street. "Maybe we should do this later," I think aloud. "But what if they're here by then?" "Right." We open the fence to the front yard and hear Hercules and Venus growling inside the one story, two bedroom house. We rush through the side yard and into the backyard where we have a smaller chance of being seen. The dogs bark once and then twice, bolting through a doggy hatch in the back door. We politely call their names. Once they recognize us they sniff and lick us and jump all over us. I go for the key under the flower pot. Ralph entertains the dogs. They pant but don't bark. I open the back door. The dogs go running in and Ralph follows. It's like visiting old friends and borrowing things they'll never get back. They have a 60 inch television and an entertainment system they'll miss without question. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff is in here. I suggest we take the television, the speakers, the coffee table, the whole lot, and while we're at it, anything that has our fingerprints on it, we have to steal that too. We should even take the back door. "They won't fingerprint the place," Ralph doubted the scenario. "Why not?" "That's cop show crap. They don't really dust, I'm sure. I'm not saying don't be careful, but don't worry about that." "I'm getting gloves." "From where?" I go into the kitchen and turn on the light. I find yellow dishwashing gloves near the sink.

I yell to him, "Don't touch anything!" The dogs have followed me into the kitchen. They feel like playing. "No, Hercules. No, Venus. No." I prop the backdoor open. We each get one dishwashing glove. I got one on my right hand. His is on his left. We lift the television, with not the greatest of ease, to the backyard. The dogs jump on us the whole time. We set the TV by the back fence and go back inside for the stereo and speakers. We do this for the speakers, the coffee table and the love seats. This goes on for a while, grabbing things and setting them by the back fence. Eventually, we have appliances from the kitchen, pretty much everything from the living room, and a frozen pizza that Hercules and Venus wind up using as a doggy bone. Anyway, they stop jumping on us. Wearing the yellow dishwashing gloves, at the back gate we wait for Chad, Scott and Bill, the tweakers.

The remainder of this story is published in “Guidelines for Rejects” a short story anthology published in the Nook store and on the Kindle as well as at Smashwords.com. Search U.L. Harper

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