In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 22: Hiding Places

Darrell knew the fan was there, had seen it, could still see it, sitting on the shelf in the spare room closet. In his mind it was sitting sideways, facing away, pushed in between a couple of other things—boxes, folded-up blankets, stuff like that. Spare room stuff.

It wasn’t there now, though, whatever his memory was telling him. The top shelf was packed, stuffed from wall to wall with twenty years’ worth of marriage and family. Boxes and boxes of history—courses he’d taken when he was at the plan, tax papers, old school materials of Sherrie’s. Things they didn’t want or need, but held onto out of a weird, counter-productive sense that they might need these things someday. Same reason he had Philco radio tubes and expired naval flares and a hand-drill in the garage, probably.

Darrell stepped back and scanned the closet from a bit more distance. The fresh perspective didn’t help. If the fan was there, it wasn’t showing itself.

What was most annoying was that Darrell was in this closet all the time lately. His new hiding place for the tapes was here, in an open box but under a deep layer of paperback books.

Not such a new hiding place, maybe—he’d started using it last year, maybe the year before. Before Gerry and Doreen had left, definitely. He’d actually felt a little guilty a couple of weeks ago, talking to Keith about hiding places. He’d made himself sound pretty careful and responsible. That was true at first, certainly; he’d moved the tapes every week or two, worried that one of the boys would come across them somehow. Then he’d gotten complacent and left them in the garage for about six months. When Wayne started working on his racing bike out there all the time, Darrell had moved them to the spare room and added the camouflage, and there they’d stayed.

They were down in one corner, half-hidden by the door frame. He knew for sure that the fan wasn’t anywhere near—

Odd.

It wasn’t something obvious, and he might have done it himself. The box didn’t look right though.

One corner was sticking out, for starters. He always made sure it was pushed in all the way; now the corner was resting just slightly further out.

He tugged the box, gave it a push. It didn’t go all the way in. Heart racing, and senses on edge in case someone was coming upstairs, he pulled the box out.

Yes. Behind the box. A book. One of Sherrie’s romances, by the look of it. Probably fell out of the box at some point and he hadn’t noticed.

Still, best to be sure. Heart still thudding loudly, he took the stacks of books out, piling them around himself.

Yes, the tapes were there.

Relief. The images that were playing out in his head—his sons distributing the tapes around the neighbourhood teens; angry phone calls from people like the Lamberts, the crotchety old folks at the corner; the police at the door; Sherrie finally making good on her decades-old threat and leaving him for good.

No, they were all there, nothing to worry about. At least it looked like they were all there—it was hard to tell lately, with all the turnover. Keith’s tapes had been and gone so quickly, he could hardly tell how many he was supposed to have.

He thumbed through them quickly. The couple of tapes he knew were him and Sherrie were there. The one from Stan, from when they first started trading tapes, that one was there. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Stan, but he’d felt better, at first, keeping the tape. He was fairly sure Stan had one of his too, though it was impossible to tell. He had tried to keep up with that sort of thing at first, but just couldn’t be bothered after a while.

Darrell stared into the box for a bit. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen tapes. It already looked much emptier without the bag of tapes Keith had given him. They had almost filled the box, leaving little room for the protective camouflage of the paperbacks. Maybe that’s when the book had fallen behind the box.

Darrell regretted slightly not having even watched any of those tapes of Keith’s. That wife of his was really something, not just the body or the red hair but the sexiness, the pure sexiness that she exuded on the tapes he’d seen. The last tape of hers that had arrived, Darrell and Sherrie had gone at it like thirty-five-year-olds. Part of it was probably the novelty, this couple they barely knew rutting away on the screen in front of them. But there was also something different, something new and special, about this Lisa.

And that’s also why he hadn’t told Sherrie about the pile of new tapes—that little incident with Lisa, when he went by their house. There was no doubt she was throwing herself at him, and with her husband practically in the room, no less.

Maybe they were swingers. Maybe they wanted him to join in. Maybe she just thought he was—no. That couldn’t be it.

And even if it was—no matter what the explanation was, in fact—there was just no way. He wasn’t going to get together with someone else’s wife any more than he would let Sherrie go with another man. In this day and age, it seemed, you had to clearly state these kinds of things; the world was going crazy, so what else was new. He still had his standards, even if no one else did.

So he had let the tapes sit in the closet for a few days, and then split them up, giving half to Stan and half to Zsolt. He’d found that there were only five, though, and gave the odd one to Zsolt—Stan was cocky and annoying, and his tapes weren’t that great, so that was it. No one said they couldn’t trade back and forth between them when they were done anyway.

A sound below him made him jump—someone was home. He quickly piled the books back in the box and lifted himself off his knees, pushing the box back into place with his foot. One more glance at the shelves; the fan wasn’t there. He went downstairs.

Darrell hadn’t noticed that Sherrie was wearing a summer dress when she left; she had almost completely stopped wearing those years ago, sometime in the seventies. The look suited her.

She was putting a couple of gallon jugs of milk in the fridge. “The way that pair go through milk,” she said as he entered the kitchen. “It doesn’t cost sixty cents a gallon any more.”

Darrell had no idea what a gallon of milk cost today, or when it had cost sixty cents a gallon. “Growing boys,” he said.

“Here,” she gestured. “Take these into the garage.”

There were four big bottles of pop in the two shopping bags. Darrell hefted them; heavy but not too heavy. These big glass bottles, though—he didn’t trust them. Drop one and the explosion would kneecap you, he bet.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked.

“They were on sale.” She was stacking boxes and cans in the pantry. “Why?”

“Just seemed like a lot of pop.”

“Don’t put them out in the open. If those two see them, they’ll be gone in a second.”

“That reminds me,” he said, standing there in the doorway with the two plastic bag handles starting to dig into his fingers. “Have you seen the fan anywhere?”

“Which fan?”

“Little white desktop one.”

“Spare room closet,” she said with certainty.

“Just looked. Didn’t see it.”

“Garage, then. Or in the basement.”

“I’ll look.” She didn’t seem to hear him, too busy trying to shove a bag of carrots into the crisper drawer.

He returned with the fan clutched triumphantly in his hand. “Look what I found,” he said. “Bottom shelf of the old bookcase.”

“Ah.” She smiled slyly. “Look what I found. Back step, under the junipers.”

It was yet another video tape. “Who from?” Darrell asked.

“Probably Lisa and Keith. They make enough—I’m not sure when she gets the housework done.”

“No kids.”

“Won’t be long, the way they go at it.”

“I guess not,” Darrell said, though he didn’t catch at first what Sherrie was driving at. It had been a long time since he’d connected sex with babies, even though he and Sherrie hadn’t started having kids until they were in their thirties.

“Anyway, don’t get any ideas,” Sherrie said, turning back to the pantry she’d just closed. “I have too much to do today. I still have to go to the bank.”

Only a woman could make a trip to the bank into an afternoon-long affair. “I wasn’t getting any ideas,” he protested, though not too seriously—didn’t want her to suspect anything.

“Tomato okay?” she asked, holding up a can of soup. “Don’t tell me you’re not waiting to see that little minx again.”

Where did that come from? “No—I mean, I’m not—”

“Look at you blushing,” she said, that annoying smug smile of hers curling one lip. “Last time we watched a tape of hers, you were—” She passed him on her way to the stove and smacked him playfully.

Enough,” Darrell said, and her face fell. Good, Darrell though. I don’t have to stand here and be mocked in my own home. Then he felt bad for raising his voice.

She turned away. “I was only joking,” she muttered, then made all kinds of noise with pots and the can opener just to make it hard for him to say anything back.

“Call me when lunch is ready,” he said, not caring whether she’d heard him or not, and he returned upstairs.

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