In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 7: Jerk

It was always like this, with these guys. Any time someone hinted at sex, even slightly, they got all uptight. Show them a woman in a bikini and they’d practically run for cover. Instead they wanted to spend their weekends watching men in tight pants and armour play sports.

It wasn’t just Zsolt’s neighbours, it was the whole culture over here. Remember a couple of years ago, when everyone was all upset because Madonna was prancing around in leather? Back home, women sunbathed topless on the beach, in the park, and no one cared, no one even noticed. And you never heard about rapes or any of that back home, either.

That’s why Gerry’s suggestion had been so surprising, but of course Zsolt thought it was a great idea. He knew Gerry always watched Elena like a ferret when they went over for a swim in the pool. Elena had been a gymnast, and her body still looked pretty good, so Zsolt always liked it when other men appreciated it.

Elena had been against the idea at first, and when Zsolt laughed and called her an old prude, she had actually started to cry. But once Zsolt showed her Gerry and Doreen’s tape, her attitude changed.

“I look way better than that,” she said.

“Of course.”

She watched as Gerry hooked his elbows behind Doreen’s knees and really started leaning into her.

“And he’s not—” She squinted critically at the screen. “Well, maybe he’s as big as you. It’s hard to—”

“Enough,” Zsolt said, grabbing the back of her bra and snapping it. She hated when he did that. “Let’s try it, and show them what to do.”

Gerry had pulled out and now Doreen was stroking him eagerly. “Use the tripod,” Elena said absently, still locked on the screen.

So that had been that. Zsolt enjoyed himself, Elena enjoyed herself, and every time they got a new tape Elena was as horny as a weasel.

Zsolt didn’t worry too much about Gerry and Doreen leaving; there were still two other couples in their little circle, and who knew? Maybe the new neighbours would want to join in, too. Zsolt would have been happy to introduce them to the idea, even, once he got to know them.

But instead, Stan got all embarrassed and uptight, and now he had to go over there like a jerk and demand Stan’s tape. He could have refused, but what good would it do? Stan would just go over there like an even bigger jerk, and there was no chance the new people would join in after that.

Besides, Keith’s wife was pretty—all that long, fiery red hair. Zsolt had never been with a redhead before. They were probably real tigers in bed. Would Keith’s wife have the same bright red hair down below? Or would it be like most blondes, where the hair got darker? It would be interesting to know.

Time to get it over with, Zsolt decided, and went across the road to Keith’s.

The redhead answered the door, wearing a paint-spattered t-shirt and shorts. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were a sparkling green.

“Yes?” she said. Not friendly.

“I’m Zsolt,” he said. “From across the street.”

Her expression softened a little, but not much. “Oh, hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Lisa.”

“Settling in okay?”

“Getting there. We’re just painting.” She gestured at the paint on her clothes. He took the opportunity for a half-second glance down, just to see how the fabric clung to the shape of her waist, her hips.

“I don’t want to interrupt, of course,” he said, meeting her eye again quickly. “I wanted to introduce myself to you and your husband, though.”

She stepped back a bit, holding the door open for him. “You might as well meet Keith, anyway. Please—don’t mind the mess—”

“We moved in six years ago,” Zsolt assured her, “and we still haven’t finished unpacking.”

She smiled—not the open, warm smile Zsolt was hoping for, maybe, but it was progress. She turned and led him down the hallway. The shorts she wore were baggy, mostly shapeless, but his eyes ran down the backs of her thighs, down her calves as she walked. Good legs—strong, well-muscled legs.

Lisa led the way to a room at the back of the house, where a transistor radio was playing some tinny country and western music. Keith was up on a stepladder, paintbrush in hand, his back to them.

“Who was it?” he asked absently, concentrating on the line he was painting.

“This is Zsolt—Zsolt, right?—from across the street.”

“Hi,” Zsolt added, and Keith craned around to look.

“Oh!” He laid the brush carefully on the top of the stepladder before climbing down. “I didn’t realize.” He reached for a rag and wiped his hands briefly before coming over to where they stood.

“Nice to meet you,” Zsolt said, shaking his hand. Keith’s grip was slack, something that always appalled Zsolt. A woman’s grip should be soft; a man’s grip should be firm.

Zsolt gazed around the room; it was about halfway done, changing from a plain beige to a warm sky-blue. “I like this colour,” he remarked.

“We used to go with much paler colours,” Lisa explained. “Then once it was on the walls, we’d ask ourselves why we went with an off-white again.”

“Bold colours,” Keith said. “This is an experiment.”

“It looks good.”

Keith started to say something, but Lisa got in first. “I don’t know,” she said, in a complaining tone that annoyed Zsolt immensely. “I still think it looks like a playroom, or a nursery.”

“We’ll see when it’s done,” Keith said.

“It’s going to need at least two coats.”

“Of course.”

They seemed to have forgotten Zsolt was there, and this was obviously not a new argument for them. “I’m sure it will look good when it’s done,” he said hastily. “Anyway, I should let you get back—”

“Oh, are you sure?” Lisa said. “Wouldn’t you like a cup of coffee?”

“I could use a break anyhow,” Keith said. “Why don’t we sit down for a second.”

“I’ll keep at it here,” Lisa told him. “You two go ahead.”

It wasn’t until they were on Keith’s sofa in the rec room with their mugs of coffee that Zsolt remembered he wasn’t here on a social call. He had almost left without even talking to Keith. Better find a way to bring up Stan’s tape quickly, before Lisa put Keith back to work.

“I’m just going to check the score in the soccer game,” Keith said, turning the TV on. “You mind?”

“The Arsenal match?” Zsolt was impressed—he thought he was the only one in the country, sometimes, watching the English soccer games on Saturday mornings.

“Yeah.” Keith stared at the screen as the tube slowly warmed up and the picture brightened. “And Manchester City.”

The referee and an Arsenal player stood in the middle of the screen, arguing. The ref dug into his shirt pocket, pulled out a yellow card, and lifted it; the player smiled incredulously, his hands on his hips. The ref took out his notebook and jotted in it.

“C’mon,” Keith growled. “Show the score.”

Play resumed, and in answer to Keith’s wish, the score appeared on the screen: 1-0 for Arsenal. “Dammit,” Keith muttered.

“You’re not an Arsenal fan?” Zsolt asked.

“No, Manchester.”

“United?”

“City.”

“Ah.” Zsolt like Manchester United—they were clearly the best team in the league, had always been. He didn’t know that Manchester City even had any supporters. Very strange. He knew the two teams were rivals, though, and he didn’t want to come across as a jerk to Keith so he didn’t say anything.

Keith was engrossed in the game anyway. “C’mon,” he muttered, as City passed the ball around the midfield aimlessly. Pointless anyway, Zsolt though. Arsenal’s going to win.

“So have you met everyone else around you?” Zsolt asked when Arsenal cleared the ball, kicking it all the way back to Man City’s goaltender.

“Just Darrell and Sherrie,” Keith answered, gesturing in the direction of their house. “And the old guy, Tim, I think? Across the street from me.”

“Oh yeah.” Zsolt said hello to Tim now and then but didn’t really know him. “So you haven’t met... Stan?”

Sure enough, Keith reacted. Nothing big, but he swallowed hard, and concentrated intently on the soccer game.

“Not really,” he said, after a long pause.

“But you know who he is, right?”

One of the City players rolled around on the grass, grimacing, trying to get the ref’s attention. Keith concentrated on him as if hypnotized. “I’ve seen him,” he said at last.

“So what did you think of his tape?”

Now it was Zsolt’s turn to feign interest in the television, sure that Keith was watching him but not wanting him to feel any more embarrassed than he undoubtedly already did. Stan wouldn’t have been so considerate—yes, it was definitely better that Zsolt had come over, not Stan.

“What tape?” Keith asked, long after the point where it would have made him sound innocent.

“You know, Stan and his wife.”

“So Darrell talked to you.”

“Yeah, yeah—no, he talked to Stan and me. Stan knows you’ve got it.”

“He does?” Keith exclaimed. The volume of Keith’s outburst surprised Zsolt; he risked a look over, and found Keith wide-eyed, gripping the edge of the couch cushion with both hands.

“Sure. He’s a little bit—well, you should probably give it back some time.”

“So Darrell told him I have the tape.”

“Stan thought you probably did, and Darrell just said yeah.”

“Oh.” Keith leaned over and craned his neck towards the hallway where his wife had gone when she left them. “So what does he want me to do?” he asked, turning back to Zsolt. “Just knock on his door? ‘Hey, Stan, here’s that tape of you fucking your wife.’”

“You could,” Zsolt said, a little disappointed at Keith’s lack of respect for the tapes. “Or you could leave it on his back step sometime. Or,” he added, trying to sound like the idea had just occurred to him, “you could give it to me, and I’ll give it back.”

Keith took so long to answer that Zsolt began to wonder if he’d understood the question. “That could work,” he said at last.

“Darrell seemed to think you might be willing to join in, too,” Zsolt added, “which, since you’re already kind of involved, is—”

“Whoa, whoa. I didn’t ask for Stan to leave the tape—” Keith suddenly checked himself and lowered his voice to a near-whisper. “I mean, in theory, sure. I could join in. But with Lisa, I don’t—she might not want to.”

“Oh, Elena liked the idea. She got right into it.” This wasn’t exactly true, of course. But when she had originally blushed and looked away, shaking her head, Zsolt knew that it wouldn’t take long to bring her around. Sure enough, the next night, in bed, she had peppered him with questions: what did they need to do? How would they record it? And so on. Just as Zsolt had known she would.

Keith was still frowning at the TV. No use cutting hay with a feather, Zsolt decided. “Well, if you give me the tape, I’ll return it,” he suggested. “And I’ll help smooth things over with Stan.”

Another glance back towards Lisa. “I guess that’ll be easiest, yeah,” Keith said uncertainly.

“Tell you what,” Zsolt said. “I’ll give you one of our tapes in return. Trust me. Elena is way sexier than Marie—”

“Sh!” Keith hushed him in a panic. “Not so—”

“Okay, okay, sorry.” Zsolt lowered his voice a notch. Was this guy always so afraid of his wife? “Why don’t you get Stan’s tape, and then we’ll go over to mine—”

“Yes.” Keith was up and off the couch, but stopped in mid-stride. “Hey, do you have a step ladder I can borrow?”

“Sure.”

“Hang on,” Keith said, and was gone. Getting his wife’s permission, no doubt. It was almost embarrassing to see. Zsolt would have just yelled “Going out” to Elena, and left.

But Keith was back almost immediately. “Okay, let’s go.” He handed Zsolt a grubby plastic bag, wrapped around the tape.

“Okay.” Zsolt followed Keith to the front door. At the hallway, he called out, “Nice to meet you, Lisa.”

She appeared in the doorway at the other end of the hall, tucking some stray strands of hair behind one ear, breathing a little heavily. “See you soon,” she said.

“I hope so,” Zsolt replied, and they left.

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