In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 4: A Load

Stan had his chance late Sunday afternoon. The sun was still bright and high up, but the edge was off the heat. Darrell was out washing his old red pickup truck.

“Hey, Darrell,” Stan said loudly while quickly walking towards him, ensuring Darrell had no chance of getting away. “How ya doing?”

“Oh, hey, Stan,” Darrell said before turning to dip his sponge into his bucket of soapy water. “How’ve you been?”

“Not bad, not bad.” Stan said. Had Darrell stiffened a little when he called out? It was hard to tell.

“Nice weekend this time, eh?” Stan said, feeling his momentum faltering.

“First one in a while,” Darrell agreed, slopping the foamy water around on the side of the truck.

“Yeah.” Stan watched him for a few seconds before feeling it was safe to change the subject. “So—you talked to your new neighbour at all?”

Did Darrell hesitate before answering? Stan thought he had, then immediately wondered if he had been mistaken. Maybe Darrell was just changing direction, washing the rear half of the truck now.

“Sure,” Darrell answered without looking back at him. “Couple times. Had a beer with him yesterday afternoon. Nice guy.”

“Wife? Kids?”

“Married, yeah. No kids.”

“So—like Gerry and Doreen, then.”

“Hope they won’t disappear quite so quick.”

“Yeah.” Darrell turned around to dip his sponge again, but Stan couldn’t seem to catch his eye.

“You ever get to talk to them, before they left? Find out what happened?”

“Not really.” Darrell was straining to reach the top of the truck’s cab with the soap. “Didn’t—see it coming. Talked to—Gerry once before they left.”

“Really? Gerry and Doreen both disappeared after the house went up for sale, as far as I knew. I never saw either of them again.”

“It was just before they moved out. I saw him in the driveway and ran over. He didn’t really want to talk, I could tell. Made an excuse and took off, quick as he could.”

“You know why they moved?”

“No idea.”

“I heard they got divorced. Or—were going to. I don’t really know.”

“Didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, you’d never know, would you? Seeing them...” Stan almost said, seeing them together, before realizing what he might be implying.

“They seemed like a close couple,” Darrell agreed. Was he implying the same thing?

Stan wasn’t sure, but just talking about Gerry and Doreen—knowing what they both knew—gave the conversation a momentum that Stan couldn’t seem to stop. “Doreen really was a good-looking woman,” he said.

Darrell’s reaction was gratifying. “She really was,” he said, stopping and turning back to face Stan at last. “I mean—” He struggled to complete the thought. “I mean, she looked like, like, a woman who—”

Stan smiled. “Relax. We both saw the tapes. She was a dynamo.

Darrell grinned, his face red. “That she was.”

“Real shame they’re gone.”

“Yeah.”

“Did they—” Stan had given a lot of thought to how he should pose the question, but found he still wasn’t quite ready. “Did they return anything to you? When they left?”

Darrell abruptly went back to washing the truck. “I gave them back the one of theirs that I had,” he said over his shoulder. “That’s all I know.”

“So they didn’t return any of yours?” Stan felt his voice rising but couldn’t seem to talk about it as calmly and naturally as he wanted to.

“I’m not sure whether they had any, to be honest,” Darrell said. “I admit, I never really kept track of who had what.”

The one Stan had held onto of Darrell and Sherrie’s was an early one, where he was working her from behind, while she was bent over a table or desk or something. You could only see her face, contorted with pleasure, and her breasts, sagging with age, but brushing the tabletop gently as they swung back and forth in their rhythm.

You could barely see Darrell, just his hands on her wide hips and various little slices of his hairy torso, depending on how Sherrie moved. But you could hear Darrell, grunting and breathing heavily, then slapping against Sherrie, faster and harder and louder, until he let out a groan, almost a roar, and she closed her eyes and buried her head in her arms.

Stan wasn’t really interested in Darrell and Sherrie’s tapes—they were too old, too fat, to really be of interest—but that one was really something. He was glad to know he would never have to give it back.

“I think they had one of mine,” Stan said, still thinking of Sherrie’s swinging breasts.

“I guess we should’ve talked about it more,” Darrell said, grunting slightly as he reached down to scrub the black grime off the bottom of the back bumper. “We never really thought about what would happen if someone moved away.”

“He should’ve said something,” Stan said. “Not fair at all to just leave without talking to us.”

“True.”

“It’s not the same as.. I mean, the situation is different here.”

“It is.”

“There’s a trust... well, there should be. It’s a special relationship we all have.”

Darrell’s head had disappeared under the truck, and he didn’t respond. Stan stood musing to himself for a while.

“I’m pretty sure they had one of mine,” Stan said again, when Darrell re-emerged. “I left it for them just before the For Sale sign went up. Didn’t think of it till recently, though.”

“Are you sure they picked it up?” Darrell said. “It could still be there.”

“No, I checked. It’s gone.”

Darrell stood silently for a moment, looking at the side of his truck, the sponge lying in his hand, dripping slowly onto the driveway.

“Maybe Keith found it,” he said at last.

Stan had been trying very hard not to come to this conclusion himself, but hearing Darrell say it confirmed it somehow. “He probably does,” Stan said. “What an asshole.”

“Now, hang on, there,” Darrell said. “It’s not like—it wouldn’t be like he stole it. You left it on his property—”

“I don’t care. It’s not his, and he would know it wasn’t for him, I think.”

“Well, how would you react, if you found a tape of your neighbours? It’s not exactly a normal—”

“No. That’s a load.” Stan could feel his face and neck reddening and getting warmer as the full realization of what had happened hit him. “You deal with it directly. You don’t go skulking around in the neighbourhood with people’s property—”

“It was in his backyard, though—”

“Still, it’s obviously not for him. He’s—no. You go up to the person, you say, here, I found this. You deal with it.”

Darrell went back to his truck. He had worked his way almost around to where he had started. The steam and foam was gone from his bucket of soapy water, and the water itself was now an ugly dark grey.

“Have you ever talked to him?” Darrell asked.

“No. He’s probably avoiding me.”

“He seems like a nice guy. Maybe you should just ask him.”

“I’m not the one—” Stan sighed, started over. “Whatever. Maybe. But he should really talk to me.”

“It doesn’t have to be all—I mean, maybe there’s a positive, here. Maybe he’d want to join in. Have you seen his wife?”

Stan’s anger disappeared suddenly. “Is she the redhead?”

“Yeah. Nice figure.”

“You think... I mean, would they be interested?”

“No idea. But if they were...”

Darrell dropped the sponge into the bucket, the washing done. He picked up the end of the hose that he had left on the driveway. “Stand back if you don’t want to get soaked,” he advised.

Stan took a step back, watched the soapy residue slide off the side of the truck, leaving clean, shining metal behind. White mist enveloped Darrell as he rinsed.

“Still,” Stan remarked, not sure whether Darrell could hear him over the spray. “He should’ve come to me.”

“If he has the tape,” Darrell said.

Stan’s anger was rising again, as the outrage and humiliation returned. Whatever Darrell said, the same point was at the middle of it all: Keith had taken the tape, and he should have given it back.

“I’ll see you later,” Stan said angrily, and left, not waiting for Darrell’s reply.

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