The Neighbor (Part 1)

A woman sits on the edge of her cracked-cement porch. It is evening, after eight, and the sky has grown dim as the promise of day fades into muted blues. There is nothing in her hands; usually, she grips her cell phone like a life raft to the world Beyond. Tonight, her hands are clasped loosely, elbows propped on ample thighs, eyes boring into the nothingness that looms on the horizon. Two houses down, a child shrieks with ecstasy — his father is teasing him on the front lawn, his mother looking onward with approval; a Proctor & Gamble advertisement in the flesh.

The woman doesn’t bat an eye at the startling squeals. She doesn’t budge an inch, either, when a mower roars to life across the street. She is impervious to sound; maybe to life.

The garage door at her house gapes in a nighttime yawn: the man has not returned. He’s a phantom: we rarely see him, and when we do, it is as though he only exists when the man looks you straight in the eye. At all other times, he is a silent wisp, ethereally gliding about in the background. We don’t know the man at all.

We watch the woman, sometimes. Usually at night, when she’s put the children to bed. When it’s temperate, she moseys out to the porch to stare blankly at whatever fantasy smothers the reality before her. When it’s not, she idles in the front room, every light glaring at full force in the house, even the ones in the basement. We watch her absently grasp the remote, but her face remains unembellished by the glow of the television. She picks up a few items from the floor — probably stray children’s socks and colorful wooden blocks and discarded Cheerios — only to move the things elsewhere in the front room.

Most of us draw the shades in the evening, in search for a bit of privacy; but not the woman.

She leaves them gaping into the night, lets the dark seep into the house in its familiar prowl, until the lights from her house gleam brightest on the block.

***

At dusk, the garage door is still agape. We rub crust from the corners of our eyes, dash our coffee with possibly-sour milk from the back corner of the fridge, and grumble about our Monday agendas. Perhaps the Sandman dosed us extra heavy last night, or perhaps we’ve become immune to caffeine; either way, none of us notice the heavy boards nailed to the insides of the window frames.

It’s gone ten o’clock when the whispering begins. It starts with a text:

Did you see the Garbler place this a.m.?

And then the flood begins; a practically community-wide group chat devoted to unearthing the truth.

No — but I heard the house is all boarded up! WTF?

It’s from THE INSIDE. I just know that woman is holding her kids hostage…

LOL right?! She’s always been a bit unhinged.

I always thought she seemed nice…a little sad, maybe, but not violent.

That’s what’cha get for thinkin’, June.

GUYS. Back to the issue at hand: who’s gonna knock on her door and find out what’s going on?

The silence is characteristic of small towns: we want to know our neighbors’ business, but we damn sure don’t want to know it from their mouths. Most certainly not when that business involves five-inch nails and two-by-fours. Especially not when it involves the woman.

There are several minutes of silence, several dot-dot-dots hovering in the group message, several collective moments of held breath and nervous chuckles — How could they seriously expect me to knock on her door? I don’t even know the woman! — before the ping comes through.

***

She knows they’re whispering this morning. She can sense their fear, can feel its vibration on the air that is curling up from the gap beneath the back door. People are always suspicious of unknown women.

The boards are an ominous addition to her living room; they’re a pale fir, which shouldn’t seem looming, but the absence of light makes the woman shudder. She can hear nothing beyond the walls of her house; truthfully, nothing more than ten inches from where she sits. The boards have blanketed all sound.

It’s only a matter of time, she reminds herself. Only a matter of time before someone comes knocking.

Outside, the sun continues its ascent.

I Talk[ed] Too Much.

Every era of my life has been documented.

As an adult, I’ve (obviously) taken to blogging, sharing overly personal accounts from my ordinary life in hopes that my own wounds might heal through the process, and others might find a gem they can clasp in their minds. (Isn’t that what all writers aspire to, in one way or another? Sharing words that others will find meaning in and remember, perhaps even quote or share with others?)

As a child, I wrote daily — sometimes multiple times each day — in my diaries. These journals, covered with glossy images of Ariel and Jasmine or elegantly loping horses, contained details of petty arguments with my sister and descriptions of minute details from kickball at recess or mysterious school lunches. They also contained the beginnings of my discovery of my deepest need: to express my inadequacies, fears, and anxieties, as a means of self-repair.

I wasn’t kidding about those diaries, folks.


Insecurity has reigned over much of my life, seemingly stemming from seventh grade and the start of a longterm relationship with eating disorders; but truthfully, it can probably be traced back to my grade school years, when I loved everything about life — except those all-too-frequent moments when others told me, “You talk too much.”

My family used to tease me relentlessly about my chatter, because that’s what Simons do: We poke the bear until chuckling turns into a bit of a low, rumbling growl, which quickly turns into a tearful roar. It’s not an intentionally spiteful thing, this teasing, but for me the continued ribbing about talking became a burr. I vowed over and over again that I would change. I would stop talking so much, starting today. I’d grab a journal, curl up between my bed and the wall, and furiously scribble in a very loud, very obvious silence. Thirty minutes later, that resolve for silence quivered. An hour later (this is probably a romanticized approximation of time), my lips were practically trembling in my effort to keep them still, to trap that chatty persona that dwelled in my throat.

Writing, then, became a solution for my deepest need . . . and in turn, writing also became a critical part of my existence. On paper, I didn’t have to apologize for talking too much. I didn’t have to worry that anyone would beg me to be silent for just a little while, please.

Writing also became a means of captivating my audience. For years — even now — I’ve found that people tend to tune me out when I speak more than one or two sentences at a time. As a ten-year-old, this tuning-out probably occurred because my stories frequently had some obscure point that could only be obtained after ten minutes of descriptive banter about backstory or ambiance. As an adult, I think these distractions come more from society’s inability to devote attention to speakers for more than 90 seconds. Who could possibly pay attention to a story about my mid-run dance with a hunchbacked badger, when there’s Facebook and Twitter and email to check on that glowing palm-sized screen?

Most of my life I have been told my stories are too long, or too pointless, or too unnecessary. But now, when I share my writing, people “listen”. They read my words, because they trust I have pared my story down to its most important bones. They trust there will be a “point” at the end. They believe what I have written is important; not just important to me, but also, somehow, for them.

This trust, at long last, is why I write.