In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 2: In and Out

The carton wasn’t really well-hidden—what would be the point? In Stan’s experience, the more you tried to hide something, the more obvious it was that you had something to hide.

So he kept the carton of tapes in the little storage cubbyhole in the living room, the same place he kept the carton of tapes for the kids (that one was on the lower shelf, of course), and the board games that he and his wife used to play, back when they played board games together.

Marie and the kids were out, gone to the park or something, and Stan had an hour or so before he had to go out to meet his next client. It was a wedding client, which made the appointment doubly annoying. Someday he’d be able to get rid of the weddings altogether, become purely a commercial photographer. Truth be told, he despised weddings. The money was good, though, and the brides seemed to like him.

He pushed the thought out of his head. He had an hour, a precious free hour, to do with as he pleased. And he hadn’t dipped into the box of tapes in a while.

Most of the tapes were his. He had started marking them at first, with masking tape, so that he could at least tell his apart. He used a kind of code, with the initials of the people on the tape; soon he needed further codes to denote the actual content of the tapes, M for Missionary, F for From Behind. Then he had marked some F for Fellatio, and before long the labels were causing more confusion than they relieved.

But even if he couldn’t keep the tapes straight, he loved his collection, was even a little proud of it, although it wasn’t like he could brag about it. He was pretty sure he had the biggest collection, too. For a while, there, he and Marie were making a tape every week or two. Stan didn’t send them out right away—he didn’t want everyone to know how much he and Marie were making love, for some reason.

He recognized some of the tapes as he flipped through the box. He still had the one of Zsolt and Elena doing it standing up, recognizable from the white label on the side even though nothing was written on it. And that first one from Gerry and Doreen, which someone—he didn’t know who—had left at his back step, even though he’d already seen that one and passed it on.

That was the way it worked; you never really knew where your next tape was coming from. It made the whole thing at least a little bit anonymous—despite there being absolutely no anonymity on the tapes themselves, of course. It all came down to trust. You had to trust everyone else to take care of your tapes, and they had to trust you to do the same.

That was why Gerry and Doreen’s sudden departure had been so distressing. Who knew how many tapes they had when they left, or whose? He was happy that he still had one of theirs—a little bit of insurance, just in case.

The thought nagged at him, though—did he know where all his tapes were? The three newest ones were right there in the box, of course. No one had been swapping tapes lately and Stan wasn’t about to get the ball rolling if no one else was. That didn’t mean, though, that he couldn’t continue making tapes. He enjoyed the process, and enjoyed the results.

His best tape was the one where Marie had had a couple of bottles of wine with him, and really got into it, even going down on him, something she never did voluntarily any more. And she was enthusiastic, not bored or grimly determined; he could feel it in the way she revolved her hips, in the way she gripped his shoulders when she was on top of him. Stan had watched the tape himself, several times, before leaving it behind Gerry’s shed. He considered it his finest performance. He was sorry to see, soon after, the FOR SALE sign go up on Gerry’s lawn; he wanted to ask Gerry what he thought of the tape.

Suddenly his hands seemed very cold and far away, and the tape he was holding clattered back into the box.

He turned the possibilities over and over in his head. One, Gerry had the tape and hadn’t returned it. Two, it was still where he left it, tucked between the fence and the wall of the shed. Three...

Stan hadn’t met the new neighbours, had only seen them once, as far as he could remember, since they moved in. He hadn’t seen the wife, really, though he had the impression she might be a redhead. The husband was totally unremarkable; Stan couldn’t think of a single distinguishing feature on the guy.

He must have it, Stan decided. He’d probably had it for weeks, was watching it with his wife, mocking Marie and her too-small breasts and her too-noticeable paunch. They had his tape and had never even said a thing, the cowards. Bastards.

Only one way to be sure, Stan decided: he’d have to go check, see if the tape was still there. He’d go tonight.

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