In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 14: Hot Meat

This, Zsolt felt, was more like it.

He hadn’t seen Lisa—in person—since the day he had gone over to their house and introduced himself. Now here she was, on his back patio, content as anything. And Keith, too, of course—he was a good guy. Only Stan had ever had a problem with him, and really, who cared what Stan thought any more?

“See, this is nice,” he said happily, unable to keep it to himself any longer.

“At least the heat’s broken a bit,” Keith said. “I don’t think our lawn would have survived much longer, in that drought.”

“The sun is nice, though,” Lisa added. Zsolt smiled at her in reply; she seemed much nicer this time. That was good, too.

“I love the sun,” Elena said. “If I could, I would lie in it all day.”

Zsolt was indulgent, like any good husband, but how would that sound? Like they were shiftless hippies, that’s how. “Go light the barbecue, so we can eat,” he told her.

“Tch,” she said in reply, but quietly, so Zsolt let it go. She got up from her chair and walked inside.

“So I was trying to tell Lisa what we were having,” Keith said, “but I couldn’t remember what it was. Some kind of sausage, you said?”

“Cevapcici,” Zsolt said.

“Cha-vap—” Keith started well, but faltered.

“Cevapcici,” Zsolt told him again. “For us, back home, they’re like hamburgers here. Any time you go for a picnic or for the beach, you bring them and a little charcoal. Here,” he called over to Elena, who was fussing around with the barbecue. How long did it take to start it? It was electric. You just had to push the button.

“It’s not lighting,” she whined.

“I’ll help,” Keith said, jumping up. He was gone before Zsolt could say a thing.

“So are they spicy?” Lisa asked him politely.

Zsolt suddenly realized his good fortune—left at the table, alone with the beautiful redhead. Well, let Keith figure out the barbecue, then.

“Sometimes they’re hot,” he said.”But mostly just really tasty. Garlic, pepper, paprika...” He couldn’t remember, offhand, what else was in them.

“And are they beef, or...”

“Oh! No. Pork, lamb, beef. Any meats. You chop up the different meats, mix them together with the spices. Here, I’ll show you.” He leapt to his feet without thinking. He stopped—what kind of host was he? “You like another drink, or—”

She lifted her glass to show him, and smiled. “I’m fine.”

“Just a second,” Zsolt said, and hurried to the patio door.

Inside, he threw the fridge open and scanned the shelves frantically. There were about a dozen plates and glass trays in there, all covered in aluminum foil. Ridiculous. He started pulling the foil open. Salad. Salad. Last night’s potatoes. Where were the cevapcici?

It was her dress, mostly. White with little flowers, little thin straps over the shoulders. He could imagine her putting it on, pulling it over her fresh, clean skin. The cloth bunched up here and there, so you couldn’t be sure—you could almost imagine that she had nothing on underneath.

At last. He had ignored the glass tray containing the meat, thinking it was too small to hold enough cevapcici for the four of them. How many were there? Thirty? He could eat six of the little sausages on a single bun. Well, if they were short, Elena could have only salad.

He slid the patio door aside with his foot, stepped back into the sun, and closed it most of the way with his elbow. Keith was back on the patio, now.

Zsolt moved between Keith and Lisa and held the tray out so they could see.

“Those look awesome,” Keith said.

“Oh, they do smell nice,” Lisa said.

“Yeah, here,” Zsolt said, holding the tray even closer to her. With this angle he could almost see, could just make out the skin of her breasts curving away under the neckline of her dress.

“Lots of garlic,” Keith remarked.

“You don’t like garlic?” Zsolt asked.

“Oh, I love it.”

“So that’s the cevapcici,” Zsolt said, and whipped them away to bring them over to Elena. He had a sudden, dreadful feeling that they would not like the food. Normally he wouldn’t have cared—look what the people here ate: tasteless beef patties smothered in ketchup, fried potatoes practically crusted in salt, tasteless slices of cheese wrapped in plastic. But these were nice people; ever since he met them, he felt they would be nice people to be with. He wouldn’t have invited them over for lunch otherwise.

“Here,” he said to Elena, thrusting the pan of cevapcici at her. “Why’d you make so few of these? We’re going to starve.”

“Tch,” she said, turning away to test the heat radiating from the grill with the palm of her hand.”There’s a bigger tray in the fridge, too. Just leave it there. And speak English, for god’s sake. They’ll think you’re a farmer.”

Had he not been speaking English? He almost never switched back, unless he was on the phone with someone back home.

“Where’s the other tray?” he demanded.

“I’ll get it,” she said. “You put these on the fire. Here.” She put a pair of tongs in his hand and walked into the house.

At least now, Zsolt was able to concentrate on cooking the cevapcici. He sometimes wondered if he should have stayed in Italy when he crossed the border—or moved on to France, even. He didn’t know much about cooking, but he felt like he could have become a great chef.

He tossed the little sausages on the grill, one by one, even putting a little English on them so they didn’t roll away on the bars of the grill. They had to stay pretty close together if he was going to get them all on the barbecue at once—Elena usually made too many to fit them all at once.

“Nice,” Keith said—how had he snuck up so fast?

“Yeah,” Zsolt said without turning around. He patted a couple of them with the tongs, just for something to do.

“So you just form them with your hands?”

“You make a bunch of meatballs, and then roll them out,” Zsolt told him.

“How long do they take to cook?”

“Not long. But you gotta cook them pretty good—outside’s got to get dark. Almost burnt. See?” He turned over one of the first ones he’d put on the grill. It was just starting to really cook. “This one needs more time. Way too light.”

“Right.”

“That’s why you need pork or lamb. Just beef, they dry out too quick.”

“They already smell great.”

Well, at least he knew good food when he smelled it. Elena returned with the other tray of meat, and Zsolt saw he was right: there was no way he’d get them all on at once.

“Where do you want me to put all these?” he said.

She said something under her breath, but she was smiling, so Zsolt ignored it. “Go see if Lisa needs anything,” he ordered. “You’ve left her alone, there.”

“Tch,” she said, and left.

“Here,” Zsolt said, handing the new tray to Keith. “You load them up.”

Keith dutifully began placing the sausages on the grill. He was too tentative, though. They ended up all over the place, at crazy angles, some coming close to dropping through the gaps between the grill rods. It was lucky they had extras.

Zsolt checked back on Lisa; she was helping Elena put the rest of the food on the table, unwrapping and setting out some salad and pickles and buns. Well, women need to keep busy, he supposed. He examined the first cevapcici; they were ready on one side. Maybe lunch would be okay after all.


Keith leaned back in his chair, breathing slightly heavily. He tried to belch surreptitiously, but failed, and Lisa looked at him, a pained expression on her face.

“’Scuse me,” Keith said sheepishly.

“So you liked it?” Elena asked sweetly. Zsolt looked at her for a second, tried to judge her expression. She never used that tone with him.

“Those were incredible,” Keith said. “So good—they’re like—my god. So tasty.”

Keith had wolfed down fifteen or twenty of the cevapcici, as far as Zsolt could tell. He’d eaten about a dozen himself, although they were a little smaller than usual.

“They were very nice,” Lisa added.

“Have some more,” Zsolt offered, picking up the serving fork. “You want some more? Two more. Just a couple.”

“Oh, my god, no,” Keith said. “I don’t think I’m gonna eat again for a week, at least.”

“Here,” Elena said, standing up to reach. “More wine. No, finish it, I’ll go open another bottle.”

“Let me help clear up,” Lisa said, picking up a couple of trays of salad. Zsolt was careful not to look right at her, but from the corner of his eye he could see the neckline of her dress falling open slightly as she leaned over. But he kept his eyes on Keith, just to be safe. And when Elena came back with another cold bottle of wine, Zsolt was sure—almost completely sure—that he saw Keith’s eyes flick over to Elena’s body as she stretched out to refill the wine glasses.

“Nice, eh?” he said, once Elena had gone back in the house.

“Really nice,” Keith said, finishing his sip of wine and returning his glass to the table.

“No, I mean—” Zsolt nodded towards the house.

Keith looked back blankly. “I don’t...”

“Elena,” Zsolt said. Typical Canadian; too embarrassed to acknowledge the slightest thing about women. One of his Serbian friends used to make a joke: the only reason a Canadian ever has sex is so that they can hide their hard-on where no one will see it.

Keith was bright red and sweating. Zsolt didn’t want to be a jerk or anything, but what could he say? Everything embarrassed this guy.

“You saw the tape, right?” Zsolt said. “Of us? She looked good, right?”

Keith cleared his throat. “Yes, yes—she—she looked great. She’s—ah—beautiful.”

Zsolt nodded. “Your wife, too. Very nice.”

“Oh—did—”A look—fear? Or just surprise?—passed over Keith’s face. “So you saw our...” He trailed off, unable, or unwilling, to say the next word.

“Tape? Yeah. Very nice.”

Keith looked down at the grass beside the patio, mumbled something that Zsolt couldn’t quite make out.

“No, it was really good,” Zsolt added quickly, to reassure him. “Your wife is a very sexy lady. You’re very lucky. Both of us—very lucky.”

Keith continued to look down at the grass. He grunted slightly in agreement.

“I mean, Elena, she loves fucking, but she didn’t look so good on tape at first. Kept hiding herself. Now she loves it, sure. But Lisa, she looked like she loved it right from the start.”

“Well—” Keith said with a shrug.

“And those tits,” Zsolt went on. He started to feel like he was going too far, but at the same time, these were all things he wanted to tell Keith, to some degree, he had invited them over so that he could tell Keith all this. “You’re lucky, having those nice big tits to play with. I could sleep there, between them, every night.”

He was about to go on when Elena sat down again beside him. “You’re sleepy?” she said.

“No, no,” Zsolt said, waving her away with one hand. “We’re just talking.”

“I’m sleepy too,” she said. “I’m going to lie in the sun.”

“Go,” Zsolt said. He sensed that Keith would be even more embarrassed talking with Elena right there.

She struggled to life one of the heavy wooden chairs, and of course, Keith took the bait and jumped up to help her. Zsolt watched with growing amusement as she directed Keith to where she wanted it on the lawn, then had him point the chair one way and another until it was the angle she wanted to the sun. She ended up about thirty feet away from where Zsolt sat, facing towards the patio. Zsolt couldn’t quite make out what she said to Keith next—probably just thanking him.

As Keith trudged back to join Zsolt on the patio, Elena pulled her blousy white top up over her head, revealing the tiny string bikini top underneath. Even from that distance, her tan looked good, a nice, even, healthy golden colour. This had been a good summer for tanning.

She reached behind her neck and pulled, and the bikini top fell away, too. Sometimes, in the past, Zsolt had lamented how much his wife’s body looked like a teenage boy’s; it didn’t look like that right now, though, as she arched her back and stretched out in the sunshine. Very sexy.

Keith coughed beside him, and Zsolt looked over. Wine was dribbling down Keith’s chin. He was straining mightily to keep from coughing even more as he wiped his mouth with his free hand.

“You okay?” Zsolt asked innocently.

Keith coughed a bit more before composing himself. “Fine,” he croaked.

These Canadians. Did they expect everyone in the world to go around in a winter coat all year? No doubt their babies blushed when they first fed at their mothers’ teats.

Just to add to the scene, Lisa chose that moment to come back out of the house. Zsolt stood up to pull her chair closer to Keith’s into the gap that Elena’s chair had left. She thanked him quietly; she must have seen Elena now, because she was studiously avoiding looking in her direction.

“More wine,” Zsolt said. Her glass was almost empty.

“Oh—I’m not—”

“Just a second,” Zsolt said with a smile and rushed over to the picnic table. The glass had a thick coating of sweat but the bottle still felt cold enough. He picked up an unopened bottle of red wine, too, and a corkscrew. He’d have another glass himself.

The air was frosty when he rejoined them. She murmured something he couldn’t catch when he refilled her glass; Keith gave him a terse “no thanks” when Zsolt offered him more; and then they lapsed into silence.

“Lot of sun today,” Keith commented.

“It’s nice,” Zsolt agreed.

Lisa reached over and picked up the wine bottle that Zsolt had left on the patio. Had she thrown back that glass already? Not that he cared—there was lots of wine—but Lisa didn’t seem like the drinking type.

Zsolt’s glass was almost dry, too. When no one was talking, it was too easy to sip wine faster than you realized. He poured himself another glass of the red.

“So you’re all settled in? At your house?” Zsolt asked, grasping for a thread of conversation.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be unpacked,” Keith said. “Basement’s still full of boxes, and my books...”

“You read a lot?”

“They’re mostly computer books.”

“Ah.” Darrell had mentioned something about Keith being a computer programmer, Zsolt recalled.

“They’re still in the living room,” Keith said, sounding apologetic for some reason.

“Yes,” Lisa added pointedly. “They still are.”

“They’re heavy,” Keith said.

Zsolt’s wine had almost completely disappeared again. The sun, the wine... he was starting to feel a little bit light and floaty, now. But at least the two of them were talking a little bit.

“It’s nice you unpacked your camera,” Zsolt said. He knew it might be dangerous to say so, but they were all friends, weren’t they? Why not say so?

But they didn’t say anything. Zsolt hoped he hadn’t offended them—they were just shy about their tape, surely. And why? They had nothing to be ashamed of.

Best to tackle it head-on, not let their embarrassment even become an issue. “I mean,” Zsolt went on, as though they hadn’t suddenly gone silent, “your tape was really great. It’s nice to have neighbours who fit right in like you guys. And good to look at, too.”

Still nothing. “You saw our tapes, right? Seriously, I think yours was best. Really good.”

Finally, Keith made a noise, a slight cough or gurgle or something. “Thanks,” he said at last.

Zsolt felt he had to let Lisa know it was okay, too—whatever it was he said that offended her; he couldn’t remember what it had been, exactly, but obviously something was bothering them. He looked over at Lisa, and was surprised to find her looking at him, mouth open, eyes wide. She turned her head right away, though, and stared coldly straight ahead, her chest rising and falling quickly. Was she looking at Elena, now?

“Really,” Zsolt said to her, kindly. “The part where you were alone? On the couch? That was beautiful. Very sexy.” That should do the trick, he decided. No woman could resist being told she was sexy.

He glanced at Keith, to let him know he wasn’t trying to flirt with his wife or anything—just making conversation. Keith was ignoring him, though, trying to tell Lisa something.”I don’t—I don’t—” he stammered.

“You should see our first tapes,” Zsolt reassured them. “Bad lights, camera was all over the place. You’re already—hey, did you see our last tape? I think Stan dripped it off back to us the other day. The one where we’re in the bathroom.” He snapped his fingers at Elena, whistled sharply to get her attention. “Here, Elena knows where it is,” he told Keith and Lisa. “She’ll get it for you.”

As Elena strolled towards them, Lisa stood up. “I don’t—I’m not—” she said. Were those—was she crying? What now?

“Dear, what’s wrong?” Elena said, holding out her arms to embrace her. She shot Zsolt a look, but he shrugged. He hadn’t done anything.

“No—I just—” Lisa put her arms between herself and Elena, but Elena wouldn’t be denied, and put her arms around Lisa’s waist. “Sh, sh, come in the sun with me. You’ll feel better. Don’t let these stupid boys upset you. Come on.”

“I have to—” Lisa gave up trying to talk and just began to sob. She broke free of Elena and left, almost running away.

The three stood, stunned, watching her leave. “I think she’s—” Keith started. “She’s not feeling well, I guess.”

“Poor thing—go get her. Tell her to come back.” Elena’s hand was on Keith’s arm.

“I don’t think—I don’t know. I’ll go see how she’s doing.” Keith seemed to be talking to Elena, but he was looking straight at Zsolt.

“You want to take some food?” Zsolt said. “Here—hang on. I’ll get—”

“No, thank you, really—it was great—I better go—”

“Tell her we hope—” Elena started, but Keith was already gone.

She put her hands on her hips. “What did you say?” she demanded, in Serbian.

“Nothing!” Zsolt protested. “I just said we liked their tape. Then—” he gestured at the two empty chairs. “I don’t know. Look. They just...”

Elena sighed, exaggerating, of course. Naturally, this was all his fault.

“Well,” she said. “I’m going to get a little more sun.” She had switched back to English.

Zsolt grunted and dropped back into his deck chair. There was still some white wine left in the bottle. He refilled his glass and stretched his legs out.

These people.

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