In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 23: Pressure to Perform

The movie was winding down, and Keith was feeling tired—not sleepy, just bored and irritable. He got up to get another beer. His fifth, maybe sixth of the night, but the first two were before Lisa came downstairs so they didn’t really count.

“You want me to pause it?” she asked.

“Nah.”

While he didn’t really care how the movie ended, Keith didn’t want to admit it was that bad. He took some pride in picking good movies at the video store, and who knew, this could have turned out to be a real gem. It was boring and slow, and for a comedy there weren’t many laughs, but that was hardly his fault.

The movie was about poker, which Keith had never played and which Lisa had absolutely no interest in. He was a little surprised that Lisa was so quick to agree to watching it, in fact. Just a shame that the movie was so bad.

He returned to the couch, where Lisa was still staring at the screen. “I miss anything?” he asked.

“This guy threatened to kill him in two days if he doesn’t pay back the money.” Lisa gestured at the fat gangster guy who was on the screen.

Keith watched for a little while, listened to dialogue going round and round but achieving nothing. The hero, if you could call him that, got into a red Corvette and drove off. A caricature of a preppy guy, pastel sweater tied around his neck and everything, ran after the car, shaking his fist.

“This is supposed to be funny,” Keith remarked.

“Do you want to turn it off?” she asked. It was hard to tell—was she annoyed with the movie, or with him?

“I dunno,” Keith said. “It’s just—” He wanted to explain why the movie wasn’t really his fault, but having to come up with the words to do so was a lot of effort. “I guess we should watch it till the end, now,” he said.

“It’s okay with me.”

They watched for a few more minutes, through a completely unnecessary car chase and a pointless conversation with a guy who Keith was pretty sure was a pro wrestler, or had been.

“Okay,” Lisa announced. “You’re right. This isn’t worth the trouble of watching.”

She got up and stopped the VCR, then started to rewind the tape. While the tape whirred, the cable came back on. The evening news was just starting.

“I’m Knowlton Nash,” the announcer said, “and here are tonight’s top news headlines.”

“Like there’s anything new in the world to report,” Keith complained as the lasers flashed on the screen and the familiar fanfare blared from the speaker. “Heat wave in Athens. Iran Contra hearings. The Russians still have nukes. Reagan is still old. They might as well do one show a week and just repeat it five times.”

“He does say the date every night, though,” Lisa pointed out.

“They know that in advance, too,” Keith answered. He was very pleased with himself when Lisa smiled in response.

“Well, there isn’t much on at ten on a Tuesday,” she said, picking up the remote control and flipping around a bit. News, Hill Street Blues rerun, the terrible Tuesday Night Movie, commercial.

“Sorry that movie was so bad,” he said. “It looked a lot better at the store.”

“Bad movies always has the best boxes.”

Was that a criticism? “You don’t really know. A good movie could sound good on the box too.”

“Of course,” she said. That’s not what you said before, Keith countered, but only in his mind.

Lisa kept on flipping. News, baseball, rerun of Sanford and Son, commercial, news, city hall meeting. Finally she sighed and dropped the remote in Keith’s lap. “Might as well go to bed,” she said.

“Want me to—” Keith’s throat was dry and he had to stop and swallow. “Get the camera?” he finished.

They hadn’t made a tape—hadn’t done anything to speak of, in that way—for about a week. It had seemed to start soon after the day Darrell came over, and Lisa had been acting all weird. He gave away all the tapes they had made—a pile of five or six tapes from eight days’ work—and after that, nothing.

Keith was careful not to suggest anything at first. Maybe Lisa had doubts about the whole thing again; if he forced her to admit that, then he would become the source of the problem, he knew. Best just to let it lie and let Lisa decide when she wanted to say something. Besides, he had been a little worn out by their marathon. There was some pressure to perform, to do new things, to innovate.

“Titfuck me,” Lisa ordered one evening, and he’d had to figure out where best to straddle her chest, how best to angle himself. how to keep himself buried nicely between her breasts.

“Spank me,” she ordered another night, while Keith was behind her. He slapped her gently on the right cheek, and she reached back and grabbed his wrist. “No. Hit me.” She pulled his hand to demonstrate, creating a loud crack that startled Keith. “Like that,” she said. Soon he was whaling away, using one hand till it was tired, then switching to the other, then back. He timed it with his thrusts, then between them.

Faster, slower, harder and harder all the time, fucking her, hearing her moan, “Yes! Yes! Harder!” Then she came, howling loudly and incoherently, and pulled herself off him before he had even finished, turned around and stroked him until he came too, in deep, aching shudders, splattering her neck and chest and arms. She lay back, heaving, slowly playing her fingers through the sticky mess, smiling slyly up at him as though she had a secret. This is my wife? Keith thought. When she got up to turn off the camera and go to the bathroom, he actually checked; yes, those were his pink handprints on her ass.

It all stopped suddenly, and Keith wasn’t concerned, only a little relieved. Then a few days passed, and he wondered if everything was okay. She was a bit withdrawn, sat further away from him on the couch, slept further over on her side of the bed. It was all a bit new and weird, though, and Keith gave her the space she seemed to want.

After a couple of days, he started to worry. The small distance between them got wider; the excitement he’d started to feel every evening when Lisa took his hand and led him into the bedroom turned to a chilly, lonely fear.

Keith wished he’d kept the tapes, now, to see if there was something in that last recording that had led to her turning away from him. He recalled her spending most of her time on her back; he remembered gripping her thighs to give himself a bit more leverage, a bit more force. Had she seemed upset or disappointed afterwards? He hadn’t noticed anything at the time, but now he wasn’t sure.

He started to suspect—well, something, he wasn’t sure what. But in the last couple of days he’d put his hand on her hip and pulled her close for a kiss when he got home from work. He’d snuggled up close to her in bed, and run his hand up her t-shirt, wedging it in the warm, slightly clammy spot under her breast. And she hadn’t moved away, hadn’t rejected him.

So it seemed like it was worth a try tonight. He hadn’t drunk too much, sticking to beer, no hard liquor. He’d waited until they’d spent time together, quality time, where there was no suggestion of sex, no ulterior motives. And he’d asked.

“Want me to get the camera?” he’d said.

He was right: he should have been worried.

She stiffened slightly, straightened her back, turned her head so that she was facing neither towards him nor away.

“Not tonight,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he said quickly, not wanting to put pressure on her. “I was just asking. We—”

Tears were running down her cheeks. She wasn’t crying, not really; her mouth was closed tight and her face was firmly set. But tears were running down her cheeks.

“It was just a suggestion,” he added quickly. “Really, I don’t... I’m fine.”

His mind shot back to that last time, him thrusting hard and fast, her with her hands clasped behind her neck, that angry look on her face that he loved to see because it appeared right before she had an orgasm. Had he missed something? Had he done something that hurt her, scared her, upset her?

Now she was crying. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, her voice muffled as she buried her face in her palms.

“It’s okay.”

“No—I’m—” Her sobs choked her off. He reached an arm out to pull her close, embrace her, make it stop.

And suddenly, like a summer rainstorm, the tears were gone. She shrugged his arm off, wiped her eyes, sniffled a bit.

“I was just worried—” he started, after a pause.

“Something happened,” she interrupted, eyes fixed on her own lap.

Here it is, Keith thought. Here’s where we find out what’s wrong with me. Why I’m no good.

“It’s probably nothing,” she said.

“Obviously it’s not nothing.” Did that make sense? Keith didn’t know or care. She’d know what he meant.

“It was a few days ago,” she said, her face still turned down, her voice quivering. “I took a shower the other... Sunday. Sunday night. And I think...”

She trailed off and Keith tried to remember. Sunday. He’d been home, of course... she had gone to bed before him. Was it right after her shower? The night’s events were a bit blurry. He couldn’t remember her being upset though.

“There was someone there,” she said.

It didn’t make sense right away. Where—in the bathroom with her? Surely that couldn’t be it. Did she mean a ghost or something? She’d never talked about that kind of thing before.

“I don’t understand,” he confessed. “You mean... someone there how?”

“At the window,” she said, irritated. Well, that was normal, at least. “Someone was watching me.”

“Who?” Keith wasn’t sure what he was supposed to ask, but she turned to glare at him, so he knew that wasn’t the right question.

“How should I know?” she said. “A man. He was only there for a second. When I looked right at him, he saw me looking and then he was gone.”

Stan, Keith thought immediately, and then wondered what made him think that. Surely Stan didn’t need to be peeping through bathroom windows. Then again, he was kind of the pervert type...

“I think it was a younger man,” she went on. “I didn’t get a good look, but...” Her brow furrowed as she concentrated. “It’s just an impression. But I’m pretty sure.”

“But it wasn’t anyone you recognized.”

“I don’t know,” she said angrily.

“Okay. Sorry.” She was crying again. Great.

“It’s just...” She was talking through huge, heavy sobs. “I feel—so—humiliated—”

“Violated,” Keith added helpfully.

“Yes—so—so—” She collapsed into Keith’s chest, arms draped on his shoulders, tears quickly soaking through his shirt.

“Shh, shh,” he said, hoping it would calm her. He gently stroked her hair. Soon the shaking and crying slowed down.


He was up early the next day, well before Lisa. He let himself out the back door as quietly as he could and stepped into the morning air. It was damp and dewy, warm but not hot, just quiet. I should get up early more often, he thought.

He’d gone to bed early the night before, hoping it would make Lisa feel better. He hadn’t had any more to drink, either, just brushed his teeth and got into bed with her, holding her till she fell asleep.

He went around to the side of the house and looked up at the bathroom window. Sure, someone could stand on the little ledge at the side, there, and see in, but who would get up there?

Stan, Darrell, and Zsolt; none of them were likely culprits. They could see Lisa any time they wanted, and doing a hell of a lot more than showering. It didn’t make sense. Plus, he doubted that Darrell or Zsolt would be tall enough or fit enough to climb up there.

Who else? The guy who lived on the other side of his house was pretty old; the guy next to Zsolt, right across from Keith, was older too. Keith had never met the neighbours behind his house; they’d never appeared in their backyard all summer, as far as Keith knew. Darrell had a couple of sons, but they weren’t that old—just kids.

The gate was shut tight. Better get a lock on there, Keith decided.

He peered into the garden that lay directly beneath the window. He hadn’t kept up with the weeding very well lately, so it was hard to tell if anything had been disturbed. The weeds were in pretty good shape, at least. But—

There. At the edge. In the soil, where the weeds hadn’t totally taken over. A footprint.

A big, round, deep footprint.

Someone had been there.

Mouth dry, head pounding, Keith went back into the house.

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