Chapter 1: In the Back
There was always more in there than you thought, in the optimistic, can-do spirit that led you to do something as stupid as move to a new house. The shed was fine when they bought the place, just needed—maybe—a coat of paint. Now that they owned the place, Keith could see how loose the frame was, how shakily constructed. He’d have to tear the whole thing down before too long—that was the only real solution.
Even worse was the dim, weed-choked area between the fence and the shed’s back wall. Keith couldn’t remember whether he’d even looked back there before they bought the house. It started when he gave a half-rotted piece of wood a pull; it was caught on another piece of something. He pulled them both out, and found yet more; old two-by-fours, rusted lengths of rebar, a fibreglass something-or-other—a snowboard, maybe? Keith had never seen one up close—and finally, a whole toboggan, cracked all along its four-foot length.
Idiots, Keith said to himself. The whole place was like this: a veneer of cleanliness and order, covering insidious pockets of grime and disrepair. They hadn’t met the previous owners but Keith already hated them, the inconsiderate pricks. He had talked to his new next-door neighbour, Darrell, for a few minutes the other day, and he had asked about them.
“They were okay,” Darrell said. “Kept their lawn pretty well.”
“There were fourteen burned-out light bulbs in the house,” Keith said. “Fourteen! How do you have half the bulbs in your house burn out?”
Darrell grinned. “That’s a lot.”
“I don’t even know if I’ve found them all,” Keith went on. “And the garburator in the sink won’t work, and it’s full of garbage. There are flies.”
Darrell’s non-committal responses were galling; Keith felt like he had to get Darrell as mad as he was himself, somehow. “And the laundry sink,” he said, feeling that surely this would provoke a reaction. “First time we ran the water, you know what happened?”
“What?” Darrell asked, in that same, genial, non-committal tone.
“The water pissed out all over the floor,” Keith said, his anger still running high as he remembered that moment. “They had unhooked the drain pipe, so the water ran out of the sink and just fell all over the floor.”
“Why’d they do that?”
“Because they’re assholes,” Keith told him. Darrell, wisely, didn’t argue.
Darrell could afford to be neutral, Keith though, pulling the last of the rotting lumber out from the back of the shed. He didn’t have to move in after these pigs. You don’t get close enough to your neighbours, not even your next-door neighbours, to really know them.
He peered around the other side of the shed, which was against the other length of fence in that corner of the yard. He was relieved to find they hadn’t stuffed any discarded lumber there; in fact, the shed was pretty clear on that side. Of course, not completely clear: there were a few pop cans there, bleached by weather and time. And just at the corner of the shed, there was a plastic shopping bag. Keith reached down and grabbed it.
Unlike the other garbage stuffed around the shed, the bag was a recent addition, still clean and dry. Keith’s first impulse was to throw it straight into the garbage. Who knew what these people might have thrown away?
But his curiosity won out, and he tipped the bag over. Another plastic bag, this one clear with a waterproof closing, fell out. Inside that was a video tape, without a label or case.
He checked his watch; Lisa had been gone an hour already, but would probably be out for another two. He had plenty of time for a beer, still, and he’d earned one, hadn’t he? He took the tape out of the bag and went inside.
As his VCR swallowed the tape, Keith mentally ran through the things it might be. A blank tape, or one that didn’t work—just more garbage thrown carelessly away by the previous owners. A porno movie, hidden by the husband, or one of their kids, maybe. Pretty poor hiding place, if that was the case.
The VCR clicked rapidly; the tape was all the way at the end. Keith hit rewind. It seemed to be working, at least. But then—what if it wasn’t? What if his VCR ate it? That had happened before, and the video tape had gotten so tightly wound in the inner workings of the machine, it couldn’t be saved. They’d ended up paying two hundred dollars for a new one.
He panicked and stabbed at the stop button, hit play instead. The movie started.
Keith recognized Stan right away, despite the poor quality of the tape. Stan lived in the house on the other side of Darrell. Keith hadn’t talked to Stan in the week since he’d moved in, just waved at him a couple of times, driving by. But there was no mistaking him. That was Stan.
The woman he was having sex with, Keith assumed, was his wife.
Because Stan was definitely fucking someone on Keith’s television screen, right now.
Keith found the stop button, and they were gone. He hadn’t even had time to get a hard-on.
How much had he seen? Maybe ten seconds?
They seemed to be enjoying it, too. Lots of thrusting. The sound was down pretty low, but there had been moans. She was having a good time.
There he was, thinking about what he had just seen, when he could be watching more.
Keith hit rewind and let it go right to the beginning of the tape, this time. It arrived there very quickly; the tape was a short one.
Another series of clicks, and the tape started to play again.
Stan’s face filled the screen for a couple of seconds. Then he turned and walked away. His wife was behind him, on the bed, wearing a light summer dress. Stan wasn’t wearing anything.
He walked straight over to her and, almost gently, placed a hand on the top of her head. Calmly, gently, he guided her onto the end of his penis.
He wasn’t an experienced judge, but she seemed to be a pretty good... what was the word? Cocksucker seemed right to Keith, but also very wrong.
There was no doubting her enthusiasm, though. She had her arms around him, grabbing at him, pulling him in, deeper, deeper.
She wasn’t bad-looking, either. A little on the skinny side, maybe, but who had a perfect wife? And enthusiasm made up for a lot. A lot. He could almost feel her getting down, wrapping herself around him...
Then they changed places. Stan lay down on the bed, his penis pointing straight up. Not too different from Keith’s, now, though he wasn’t about to divert his attention from the screen.
There was a short, muffled discussion between them; he gestured, she hesitated, then relented. She stole a quick glance at the camera—looked straight into Keith’s eyes—then turned to Stan.
She threw a leg over him, facing away from him, and lowered herself. Even with the graininess of the image, he could see her shut her eyes. She pitched her head back, froze in mid-air for a long, wonderful second—then fell on him.
From there they fell into a rhythm, she, bouncing more or less enthusiastically, he, lying back, half-lurching from time to time, taking an opportunity here and there to run his hands up and down the sides of her body.
They went on for a while, about six minutes if Keith remembered the time on the VCR’s tiny screen correctly. Then there was a short discussion, again too muffled to make out exactly what they were saying. But she clambered off, and Stan got up and approached the camera again. Keith almost turned away in embarrassment as Stan’s face filled the screen.
He waited, though, until after a few seconds of snow—Stan had stopped the camera, apparently fairly soon after, as his wife was still there, now lying face-down on the bed.
Stan retreated from the camera again and climbed up on the bed, kneeling over his wife. He leaned down to her, and said something in her ear, completely inaudible on the tape. He rocked back on his heels, his erection pointing out from between his thighs, and slapped her.
The whack was clearly audible on the tape. Her flesh jiggled slightly. Stan raised his arm even higher and as he hit her again, sweat began to soak Keith’s back.
He was violating them, he realized. This was an intimate moment between two people, in a part of their lives that was the only true privacy that anyone really possessed. He wouldn’t want anyone else to know what he liked or what Lisa liked in bed; or worse yet, what either of them looked like in bed. You did things and said things that no one else, ever, needed to know.
But he continued to watch as Stan roughly grabbed his wife’s hips and pulled them up off the bed, positioning them in front of him just so before he thrust himself against her. She made a brief, low groan as he began, then was silent as he went to work, slapping against her quickly and loudly. This is where Keith had come in before, with Stan vigorously thrusting, his wife’s breasts swaying hypnotically, both of them acting with grim determination, that boundless energy that came from good, honest, fast-paced fucking.
It was beautiful.
But how would he look them in the eye, now? He would undoubtedly run into Stan eventually, talk about the weather, lend him the hedge clippers or borrow his wet-dry vacuum cleaner. Or worse, he would see Stan’s wife, and see only her swinging breasts, hear only her low, unselfconscious groan.
He should stop the tape. Enough. He had seen enough. But his finger refused to approach the button on the VCR, his eyes refused to move from the screen. Stan thrust faster, harder.
And it was over. The image disappeared and turned to snow, and the series of clicks began again. That was it, then.
Keith let the machine rewind the tape all the way to the beginning, but stopped it before it started playing again. Eject.
Keith’s mouth, lips, throat were all dry. He lifted his bottle to his lips, found it empty. When had he drunk that?
He slid the tape out of the VCR’s mouth and carried it to the kitchen while he retrieved another beer. What should he do with this? Destroy it? Throw it away? Slip it onto Stan’s porch? Hide it behind the shed again as though he’d never found it?
Half of his next beer was gone already. He decided to put the tape somewhere it wouldn’t be noticed—among his other tapes, the soccer games, world cup goal collections, the tapes Lisa would never, ever look through.
As he returned from the living room, the tape safely hidden, Lisa appeared.
“You’re home early,” he remarked as casually as he could.
“She was asleep,” she said peevishly. “Why, you want me to leave again? Let you drink in peace?”
He looked at the bottle in his hand. “I was working in the yard,” he said. “I think I earned a beer.”
Here we go. “You should see all the stuff that was behind that shed,” he told her, trying to deflect her anger from him and onto the former owners. “Tons of rotten wood, and a toboggan. Oh, and some wooden skis.”
“They still make wooden skis?”
“I don’t know. They must be pretty old.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Those people.”
She leaned close to him and sniffed. “You smell terrible.”
“I should probably take a shower.”
“Let’s just reheat some of that lasagna for supper.” She picked up a cardboard box from a stack of them beside the couch. “This is supposed to be upstairs in my closet. You can take it up with you.”
He took it from her and went upstairs, pleased to have a reason to get away.