In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 39: Hot and Wet

“I read the forecast,” Darrell said, “and I swear, it didn’t say anything at all about this.”

“The way this summer’s been going, you’d think a light drizzle’d be front page news.” Keith said it in an offhand way, so you wouldn’t immediately think it was a joke, but really it was. You couldn’t always tell, but it seemed that almost any time Keith said something weird or unexpected, he was making some kind of joke. It wasn’t always clear what the hell Keith was talking about, but Darrell at least didn’t have to worry that he was being a jerk all the time.

The rain was hitting the big front window in Keith’s house head-on, blown by the howling gale of the thunderstorm. Big gobs of rain smacking the glass like they were being fired from a gun. First rain in... weeks? Months? It felt like a lifetime.

In fact, Darrell had been on his porch, just watching the rain fall, marvelling at the thick, moist air, when he’d seen Keith waving at him to come over. No, nothing’s the matter, Keith said, just bored, come have a beer with me.

Now it was three beers, and not bottles—those tall cans, some of that English stuff that everyone in the neighbourhood seemed to drink nowadays. Not something he’d go and buy himself, but it was okay, and beer’s beer.

Keith had started out talking about Reagan and Ollie North and all that. Darrell watched the news about the hearings at first, but had soon lost interest. Iran, Nicaragua—basically Russian satellite states. You could trust Ronnie about that kind of stuff. And all the things Keith was saying—well, half was probably bullshitting and the other half must have been just his weird, sarcastic sense of humour. They had both powered their way through their beers, filling the gaps. Darrell felt fine now.

“’Nother?” Keith asked, waggling his own empty can in Darrell’s direction.

“Nah, I—” Darrell suppressed a slight belch.

“Aw, c’mon,” Keith said, heaving himself to his feet. “Lisa’s out. Can’t mow the lawn today. Let’s relax. Enjoy it.”

Sherrie was gone for the day too, gone shopping for material with her friend Anna. Staying home from that was reason enough to celebrate. “Awright,” Darrell agreed.

“Attaboy,” Keith said. Darrell was going to add “just one more,” but thought better of it. Who cared?

He finished the last of his can by the time Keith returned, and gratefully popped the next can open. This English stuff was a little heavy, maybe, but after a couple, it was actually pretty good, maybe even better than the regular stuff.

He was halfway through the beer, watching the raindrops trace their irregular paths down the window, when he realised that neither of them had said anything in a good, long while. He searched for something to talk about, something normal and relaxing and not politics.

“So,” Darrell said at last. “Everything okay with you and Lisa?”

It was only supposed to be a conversational question, just small talk. But Keith sat back and shut his eyes tightly, as if he were suddenly in great pain. His brow was furrowed and his face was turned pleadingly toward the sky.

He didn’t say anything at first, and Darrell thought briefly that he must be having some sort of attack. Then Keith let loose a long sigh, and after that Darrell was just annoyed. State your problem, he thought, and spare us the dramatics.

Finally Keith lifted his head and opened his eyes. Darrell looked away—he wasn’t about to encourage that kind of silliness by playing the eager audience.

“I guess things are all right,” Keith said.

Darrell was suddenly exhausted. He took a sip of beer, his eyes half-closing on their own.

“I mean, there’s been...” Out with it, goddammit all. “Our love life hasn’t been great lately,” Keith finished in a rush.

It wasn’t exactly Saturday afternoon conversation—the phrase “love life” wasn’t really proper conversation for any man, much less between two next-door neighbours.

Then again, maybe he was being too hard on the guy. They regularly—often—watched each other having sex with their wives. Maybe talking about “love lives” wasn’t completely out of the question—a lot of rules about being neighbours were different on their street.

Darrell had to come up with some kind of response, in any case. He nodded slowly, although he wasn’t sure Keith was even looking at him.

“Just judging from your tapes,” Darrell said carefully, keeping an eye out for any reaction from Keith, “it looked like you were doing well together.”

Keith sort of half-smiled, maybe sarcastically or something. “Don’t get me wrong, when we’ve been—” He stopped, then set off in another direction. “Making those tapes, and then, you know—” He spread his fingers wide. “—and sharing them with—well, all that.” He swallowed. “That was all great. It’s been—”

“I’m pretty sure all of us found the same thing,” Darrell said, trying to help him out. “It’s kind of a different—it’s a change, right? So sometimes that makes things better.” How had this conversation gotten so difficult? All he did was asked Keith how he was doing. Suddenly they both had to be tense, be careful about every word they said.

“It was the thing with the—I told you, didn’t I? About the peeping Tom?”

“He hasn’t been back, has he?” Darrell asked quickly. No hint from Keith whether this was a trap, and Darrell felt compelled to prove how interested and concerned he was. “I’ve been keeping an eye out myself,” he added.

“I don’t think so,” Keith said. “But it really upset Lisa. I know it made her feel very exposed, very vulnerable. It really messed our—messed things up. For a while, at least.” He shook his head. “I mean, if it was...” His gaze travelled off into the distance, leaving the thought hanging unfinished behind him.

“Well, think of this,” Darrell said, when it became obvious that Keith was done talking. The beer was numbing him a little bit, now, and he had to really concentrate to put the thought together correctly. “Remember when you found that tape in your backyard? It wasn’t your fault, and I don’t think you did anything wrong with it at any point. But you can see how Stan would have been legitimately upset, maybe not at you, but—”

Keith leapt to his feet, still not meeting Darrell’s eye. “I gotta take a leak,” he said. “Hang on.”

Alone in the room, Darrell considered his strategy. Did Keith know he’d caught Stan peeping again? He could be testing to see whether he’d admit to it. Maybe he’d already confronted Stand and was now trying to lash out at everyone and anyone, just so he could feel like the man in control.

Still, what had Darrell done? He’d given Stan a stern warning to make sure he wouldn’t do it again. You didn’t need to make a capital case out of these things, most of the time.

He could just deny it all. If Keith knew Stan had been spying on him, and it came down to Darrell’s word against Stan’s, who would Keith believe?

Keith was really taking his time. It was kind of weird, wasn’t it—all the people watching each other, watching them in their most intimate possible moments, and that was fine. Then someone sees someone else’s wife taking a shower or a dump or whatever, and look what happens. Why couldn’t people just be sensible?

Keith lurched into the room and placed another open can of beer in Darrell’s hand, then fell back onto the couch, about three-quarters of the way to horizontal. Darrell thought about making an excuse, something about Sherrie coming home or needing to get some weed ’n’ feed for the lawn, but Keith—now that he looked, Keith didn’t seem quite right. His brow was deeply furrowed, and his skin was sweaty.

“You okay?” he asked.

Keith shook his head. “’M okay,” he said, as though talking took an extraordinary effort.

Darrell took a healthy slug of beer. He obviously couldn’t get out of there very easily; might as well drink his beer. He couldn’t remember whether he’d finished his last beer, come to think of it. It was waiting over on the coffee table, either way. He’d get to it eventually.

“This’s my question,” Keith said abruptly, and Darrell turned to listen.

“How come,” Keith said, an angry glare fixed on the window, “everyone wants to take a look at my wife?”

Wherever this was coming from, it couldn’t be good. Darrell didn’t know if it was even directed at him. Was he part of everyone, here?

“Who’s trying to get a look at Lisa?” Darrell asked.

“Everyone,” Keith insisted. “Zsolt said he wanted to watch her fucking. You were trying to get us to make tapes. And Stan’s looking in our windows—”

The guy sounded like he was going to cry. All this after three beers, too—was the guy in high school?

He decided to take the opening while he could. “Stan’s the one looking in your windows?” he asked.

Keith waved his arm carelessly. “Doesn’t matter.”

“It’s serious,” Darrell said, even as he wondered why he didn’t just let the subject drop. He had another gulp of beer. “It’s a serious—I mean, do you have—”

Keith looked down, suddenly miserable. “I don’t know. But I’m sure. I just—” He raised his head to face Darrell. “M’I crazy, or—you think it could be him? I don’t—” He lifted his beer, took three deliberate swallowed. “I think it was him,” he finished, panting slightly.

“I wouldn’t—” Darrell started, then stopped. Why did he always try to calm everyone down, help everyone get along? Stan was a peeping Tom, and here Keith was, having figured out he was trying to sneak a look at Lisa. Fuck ’em, then. Let ’em sort themselves out.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said, forcing the words to come out clearly and definitely. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

Darrell could see Keith’s jaw set, his eyes clouding over, his hands and neck clenching. Time to go, he decided. He drank the rest of the beer in his hand, just a little bit left anyway, hoisted himself to his feet, said something—he wasn’t even sure what he said himself, just Sherrie and gotta go, the right kinds of noises. Keith didn’t even respond. Darrell let himself out.

He didn’t even notice the rain, the mud on his shoes, nothing but his need to pee and then the bed, sleep, just a few minutes. Then nothing until Sherrie came home at four or so and started shrieking about the dirty sheets.

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