by Sean Proctor
It was happening again. Isaac’s held his breath and put his eye to the peephole. John, his elderly neighbor, was struggling to open the chain link gate. Again. How could this keep happening? Isaac turned from the peephole, put his back to the door and gulped for the air he restricted while diving into the peephole. It always took John several tries to open the gate, one of the few perks of being hounded by a neighbor with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes he’d forget what he was doing before he could even open the “newfangled latching mechanism” on Isaac’s gate. It was always new. Everytime. For the past two years.
When Isaac first bought the little house he thought he had it all figured out. Save your money. Find a quiet neighborhood. Become the local Boo Radley. He had endured the apartments of his twenties like an iron maiden of humanity closing on him. He was past it now. No more snooping landlords dropping by to “fix” the heating. No more children knocking on his door and running down the halls. No more neighbor’s posturing in the parking lot while fixing their cars. He had worked hard, saved his money and was finally able to get out. He was finally free, his trials were over. But then there was John. Over and over again, there was John.
Isaac’s anxiety intensified as he heard John finally figure out the gate. In his more dramatic moments he compared himself to Anne Frank but would instantly reprimand himself for such hyperbole. John wasn’t a Nazi, just an outstanding citizen who continued to serve god and country with his little neighborhood patrols. John got the abandoned cars moved. John made sure everyone knew about any shady character. John got the burned out street lights fixed that shined into Isaac’s window and kept him up at nights. Most of all, John was the block ambassador, welcoming new neighbors to the block. Again and again in Isaac’s case. Isaac knew he had little hope of avoiding him. He paged through the mental Cliff Notes of John’s previous visits. They usually came in five parts.
Part 1, introductions (mostly painless)
“Hey there, welcome to the neighborhood. The name’s John. I live over in the blue house there with my wife, Shelly. What’s your name? (Firm handshake) Isaac? Nice to meet you, Isaac.
Part 2- Sizing up.(mostly awkward)
“So what do you do Isaac? Computers? (Isaac just says computers, it’s easier that way) Don’t like computers myself. Me, I’m retired. Airforce. Flew Huey’s and the like. Now my son’s are having all the fun. (This is when John would squint his eyes and silently measure Isaac up to his son’s. Slowly the 33 year old Isaac would get filed somewhere between Snot Nosed Kid and Ungrateful Punk.)
Part 3- The old neighbors (cautionary sermon).
“Yeah, they old people who lived here never quite fit in. Put up this awful chain link fence, never mowed their lawn, had too many cars, etc etc etc… Nobody liked them much.”
Part 4- Goodbyes. (The glimmer of an end)
“Welp, it was nice meeting you Isaac. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Part 5- Post script (The final jab)
“You should think of cutting your lawn soon.”
Sometimes John’s dementia would work out to Isaac’s advantage. He would walk by the house and assume no one was home because there wasn’t a car in the driveway, always forgetting that Isaac took the bus every time the hard drive was wiped clean. But that wasn’t going to happen this time. John had been on one of his “constitutionals” when Isaac was walking home from the bus stop. From down the street Isaac saw he had been spotted and now the odds were low that John would forget he saw Isaac by the time he reached the front door. But it wasn’t out of the question.
Isaac took a deep breath and turned to the peephole again. John had finished struggling to close the gate and was now shuffling up the walk. Isaac’s panic spiked as he remembered the orange electrical cord stretched across his front walk that John was currently making his way to. Isaac had been meaning to put it away but ignoring it also helped to dull his anxiety about the mower. He had been cutting the grass earlier in the week, an attempt to keep John at bay, when he ran over a rock and the electric mower sputtered to a stop. This set off a chain of events in Isaac that ended with him, as he often did, doing nothing to fix the situation. He knew what part he needed but couldn’t find it in the infinite expansion of the hardware store. When he felt he had been in the store long enough that the false smile of customer service would soon be electrifying the hairs on the back of his neck he grabbed a clawhammer and bought it. He could use a second one anyway.
All of this flashed in Isaac’s mind and how all this could have been avoided if he wasn’t such a freak. As John got closer to the cord Isaac shamed himself into action. He took a deep breath, grasped the doorknob and stopped. John’s squinted eyes traced the orange cord’s path and Isaac silently celebrated the victory. John was safe and Isaac had bought a few more precious moments to prepare if John didn’t forget that he saw Isaac.
The lawnmower! In a flash of genius Isaac whipped out his phone and checked his google search history from the past week. Isaac knew there was going to be a conversation about the lawnmower and if he could sound like he knew what he was doing, shit, what was the name of that part? And what was the size of that allen wrench he needed? Just mentioning these things by name might raise John’s esteem of Isaac to the level of College Ass; a step up that could do wonders for their relationship. Well, wonders until the next time John stopped by to introduce himself. Again.
Isaac was congratulating himself on this hypothetical success with John when he heard a thud outside. He turned to the door and almost gave himself a black eye slamming his face against the peephole. There was John, sprawled out on the sidewalk, his face painted with blood, stumbling like a deer that had been hit by a truck. Shit. John saw the cord alright but he had little success navigating it. A man who once recklessly flew Huey’s through clouds of Agent Orange in Vietnam had been cut down by an orange extension cord stretched six inches high across his path.
Isaac pressed his eye deeper into the peephole as John had untangled himself and stormed his way up the front steps. The only thing that kept Isaac standing now was the paralyzing fear of John hearing him move. Stiff as a corpse Isaac felt John’s knocks banging through the door in and straight into his heart.
“Come out here! It’s your neighbor! I saw you just get home so I know you’re in there! I just tripped over your eyesore of an extension cord you can’t be bothered to put away! Come out here before I go and get my boys and we knock your door in!” John punctuated his last four words with thunder peels from his fist. Then he stopped and that’s when the change happened. John took a step back from the door as confusion sculpted itself into his face. He scratched his chin as he of did to think but was distracted when he felt a warm wetness. Looking at his hand he saw the blood and stared at it as if it he was thinking “Is this art?”
John turned and sat down on the front step. An old muffled fight song trumpeted from his front pocket as he fought to find his phone. He looked at it like it as if it had been planted on him then finally flipped it open. “Hello? Yes, this is John. Honey, is that you? Honey, I’m… I’m at the rental property but someone has painted it. We what? We sold it? No, I… I remember. No, I’m okay. Yes, I’m coming home now. No, nothing is wrong it’s just I… I think I must have fallen down. No, I’m okay. I’m bleeding but… I must have stopped at the rental house for help and blacked out. Yes! I remember we don’t own it! No, I’m fine. I can get home myself. No, don’t send David over. Wait. David’s home? But… it’s not September yet, is it? His deployments over? Then is Donnie is home too? Honey, why are you crying? Yes, I… I remember now. I’m sorry. I’m… I’m coming home now. I’m coming home.”
Isaac relaxed a bit but still didn’t dare move. John stood up and wiped the blood from under his nose. He looked back at the house and Isaac felt the shame that all of this could have been avoided had he summoned the strength to be a normal person. He knew he needed help and Isaac resolved to get better.
However, this clarity lasted only moments as John tripped on the cord for the second time that day, cracking his skull open on the pavement and sending Isaac back into the spiraling black abyss.
© 2014 Sean Proctor