In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 40: M, M, F

It was now dark enough that Keith would need a light to see anything, but he couldn’t be bothered. The TV flickered and murmured, but the sound was turned right down so that he wouldn’t have to concentrate on the words.

Keith had started in on the scotch even before Darrell had left; once he was alone again he’d drained the bottle. Impossible to say what he did after that, but at some point he’d puked—he remembered that well enough, the fragments of his day tumbling out of him, splashing in and on and around the toilet. Then he’d slept, waking up around six when he thought he heard Lisa come in. She hadn’t; probably a dream.

He lay there, feeling the ferocious hangover starting to take hold of him. The ceiling rotating above him. The rough soreness in his throat. The clamp of the headache slowly tightening on the back of his head.

And the question: where was Lisa?

She’d gone off to her friend Donna’s around ten. Donna lived a half hour away. They were heading up to Cambridge to the big fabric stores up there—they called themselves “mill stores” but nothing had been milled in Cambridge in decades. Three hours of looking at godawful pieces of cloth, an hour for lunch so that Donna could bitch about Eric and Lisa could bitch about him. Another hour to get home, and that would make it five, six at the latest. It was after eight now, well after.

Keith had pieced together his conversation with Darrell, the important parts at least. He had been right about Stan being the peeper, that much he knew. Darrell must have known something—no idea what, or why he was holding it back. But the way Darrell looked at him, rock-steady, looked him in the eye and then, just slightly, just enough to let Keith know, he nodded—now Keith knew for sure.

Normally, Keith liked when Lisa was out. It was a chance to relax in a way he never did when she was home. He usually had bacon and eggs for lunch, had a beer or two in the backyard, not needing to worry that she would call for him—had he fixed the shelf in the garage, could he fold the laundry in the dryer, maybe we should go to the garden store, the hardware store had paint on sale.

Right now he would love to hear her voice. Whether it was the early hangover or what he now knew about Stan, having her there would make it all better.

He got to his unsteady feet and shuffled to the front door of the house, careful not to jar loose any fresh sensations of pain. The half-window in the front door was segmented into small panels of glass, some coloured, some textured—Keith didn’t really like it, thought it was kind of ugly, but there was one small pale yellow piece right at eye level that worked well as a peephole. He looked at the slice of the driveway that was visible to him from this angle, hoping to see Lisa’s car there, just parked, with her coming up the walk any second—

The evenings were coming in earlier now, noticeably earlier. The rain didn’t help, the misty gloom sucking yet more light out of the day. He opened the door a crack to see better, then stepped out onto the porch.

The air had that peculiar, tinny taste of summer heat and rain, but it was cooler, fresher, almost healing, compared to the stuffy house. He took a few deep breaths, savouring the moistness of it, the actual texture as the air ran down his throat and filled his lungs.

It wasn’t any particular thing, not a sound or a movement, but Keith realised that there was something there, around the side of the house. It was like a smell, so faint that you couldn’t purposely detect it, just get a sense of it, like a whiff of something rotting in the kitchen, hiding under the fridge.

He poked his toes into a couple of flip-flops that sat on the porch and quietly descended the steps. He padded across the moist lawn, keeping his feet slightly curled so the flip-flops wouldn’t slap against his soles.

He knew what it was—who it was—he knew, he knew, he knew—

He stayed close to the wall of the house, paused at the corner for just a moment but then forced himself, one more step, and turned—

Stan froze, one hand on the branch overhead, one foot braced against the tree trunk, his mouth wide open, moving but soundless.

Keith knew it.

Slowly, Stan brought his foot back down and let go of the branch, his tennis shoes falling to the ground with a soft plop.

Walk away, Keith told himself. He knows you know, now. It doesn’t have to turn into a big thing. Walk away. It’s a lot easier.

Keith ignored the impulse, ignored the ache in his head, the queasiness in his stomach, the wave of dizzying exhaustion that loomed over him, threatening to fall like night.

He walked towards Stan, who took a step back, another, raised his hands as if to put a wall between them. Keith was right there already, face to face with Stan.

“Keith,” Stan said, trying to pass himself off as calm and in charge. “Just relax, man.”

“What the fuck,” Keith said. He immediately realised that this was the wrong move; his voice got too strained, almost squeaky. He should have backed off, should have—

“It’s not what—” Stan said, his voice high, ready to crack. “I didn’t—I just—”

He knew he was caught, was searching wildly for something to say, but he knew, and Keith knew, that Keith had him. Keith’s heart pounded and filled his chest with an airy sensation, a weightlessness that forced his blood through his body, his eyes half-closing under the pressure, his fists clenching, throbbing as they tightened and hardened.

Stan had given up trying to talk and started to shrink away, his knees bending, his hands higher and higher. Keith could feel his fear, his submission, felt it enter his stomach and flow into his chest, the energy shrieking and churning inside him—

“Look, I won’t—I’m sorry—”

“You’ve been—” Keith was pleased to feel that his voice was back to normal. “It was you Lisa saw in the window.”

“I just—it was only the one time. And anyway—”

Keith moved forward slightly, and Stan shrank away. “You—”

“Listen, it’s not—I’m leaving anyhow. We’re putting the house up for sale—” Was he crying? Keith moved forward again, and now Stan was right against the wall of the house.

“If I ever—”

“I mean it,” Stan said pleadingly. “We’re moving, honest. And if—”

“You know what you did to her? To us?” Stan was starting to slide down a little, and Keith was enjoying this feeling, being a tower over him, the little squirming shit.

Stan’s face, twisted in contempt as he probed his wife’s mouth with his cock—

Lisa, her eyes closed, dipping her fingers into her cunt as Keith held the camera over her—Stan watching her, stroking his thin little cock—

—wanting her—

—hating her—

—his fear—

—Stan moaned softly—

—Keith released, and the energy spilled out, and Stan lay on the ground whimpering.

—aftershock—one more sweet jolt overcoming him, and Keith swung his foot and Stan cried out, then lay still.

He stood there for a moment, waiting for the feeling to ebb away, and soon it did. Stan rolled over a little and their eyes connected.

“Asshole,” Keith said, a trail of spittle falling out onto his chin, but he didn’t care. No—one more word, one thing left to say.

“You’re a cunt,” Keith said.

“I’m—”

Keith didn’t hear the rest, just turned away and went back around the front and into the house.


Lisa was right there, beside him.

He jumped slightly, involuntarily. “Yeah,” he said reflexively, answering a question he vaguely realized was there but couldn’t remember.

“I’ve been calling your name for five minutes,” Lisa said.

“Sorry.” Keith tried to lick his lips with his thick, fuzzy tongue. “I’ve been—I guess I fell asleep. What time’s it?”

The room was still almost dark, only a pale shaft of light shining through from the hall. “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you,” Lisa said.

What was different? The smug, accusing tone she usually used—it was gone. She wasn’t telling him he’d been drinking; she was asking whether he had been drinking or not, that was all.

If this was some sort of game, well, fine. He’d play. “Yeah,” he said. “I had—this morning. I had some beers with Darrell. Then—” He thought back to try to determine a quantity, but couldn’t come up with one from the blurry mess of an afternoon. “A lot of scotch,” he concluded.

“You don’t smell great,” she said, and again, it was just putting it out there, not accusing him of anything. Was she actually concerned?

He squinted at the VCR clock—nine oh, what, three? Was it nine at night, really? He lifted his hands to rub his eyes—

—shooting, searing pain—

“Sh, sh, sh,” Lisa said softly, touching his forehead lightly with her fingertips, steadying his right arm with her other hand. “Shhh. What on earth did you do to yourself?”

Lisa leaned over and turned on the lamp on the side table, then returned to Keith’s hand. It was definitely swollen, and there were streaks and smears of black dirt all over it. Had he fallen in the mud outside?

Blood, he realised, and laughed. Mostly Stan’s, he hoped.

“How did you did this?” she asked in wonder, gently turning his hand over and back.

“Punched someone,” Keith replied through gritted teeth. He’d meant to get some ice and take an aspirin when he came in the house, he now remembered. He must have sat down for a minute and fallen asleep.

“Wait here,” Lisa said, patting his shoulder. “Don’t move. I’m going to get you some aspirin. And we should get some ice on that hand.”

She was gone only moments, and then was back, lifting his chin, placing the two bitter, chalky tablets on his tongue, pressing the cold glass against his lower lip and the clean, fresh water flowed over his aching teeth.

“Why were you so late?”

“You know how Donna is about driving in the rain. It was still coming down by five, so we went and had dinner. Then we got lost trying to find the highway.”

“That must’ve been fun.” Amazing how much better he felt already.

“Conversation was getting a little thin by the time I dropped her off.” She placed a warm, comforting hand on his neck. “You should probably tell me who you punched,” she said. “We’ll want to have our stories straight before the police show up.”

Keith actually laughed at that. He hadn’t even thought about the possibility of Stan calling the police. All his anxiety was focused on Lisa, what Lisa would think and say, how stupid and low she would make him feel. But she was just being sweet—and funny. The anxiety, the anger, even the pain, all of it was just ebbing away.

“I would’ve been home earlier if I’d known you were going to be getting into brawls without me,” Lisa added, examining Keith’s face. “You seem to have made out all right, though.”

“It was Stan.”

“Really? From two doors down? How did that happen?”

“He was the one looking in the window,” Keith explained. “I caught him, halfway up that tree beside the house. And he tried to just pass it off as no big deal, and I—I ended up punching him.”

She drew back, her eyes wide. “You’re not serious.”

“I know—I should’ve—well, I guess I could’ve called the cops or something. But he just—” Keith accidentally gestured with his bad hand and gasped in pain.

She smoothed his hair slightly, and the sensation of her fingernails on his scalp sent a buzz of pleasure down his spine. “I had the feeling he was a creep,” she said. “He has a pervert kind of look—I mean, okay, we’re all perverts around here. But he was the creepy kind, not the nice kind who just make tapes of themselves... does that make any sense?”

It did. It made perfect, utterly perfect sense, just the way she said it. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I never really liked him.”

“Not good that they live two doors down, though.”

“They’re moving soon, apparently.”

“Really?”

“So he said.”

“Before or after you punched him?”

“Before.” Keith smiled. “I kicked him, too.”

“I wish I’d seen it.”

Keith tried to stifle his yawn, but it was on him too quickly and forcefully to suppress. “We should get you to bed,” she said.

No, stay. Keep talking to me. Stay here, forever, just being sweet and talking.

Keith looked up into her eyes, her big, laughing eyes. “I think we should put all the tapes and stuff behind us, maybe.”

Lisa led Keith upstairs, pulled his t-shirt over his head, his shorts down so he could step out of them. She guided him to the bed, and sank down into it with him, her own naked body close to him as they fell asleep together.

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