Peering Through Three Windows: Suburb Stories
(This is fiction for grownups by Kim Norris.)
************* (1) *************
Jerry couldn’t concentrate. The yap-yap-yapping from two doors down drilled into his eardrums in sharp jabs. One day he would figure out how to kill those damn dogs, the noisy little dust mops. He ought to call the humane society on the lady who owned them. She left them out day and night, in all weather. They barked at everything – the wind, joggers, mail carriers, other barking dogs. They barked until they should be hoarse, until he was mad with the sound of it.
The stupid fucking dogs hadn’t lived on the block when he moved in…was it really seven years ago? He could concentrate in those days, sitting at the desk in the corner beside the open windows. On one side, his desk looked out into the back yard, and the field beyond, a respite of green in the asphalt of Suburbia. He liked to write there, watching the busy bird feeder and the butterflies that amassed along the border of Echinacea.
The view was private in this corner of his house. If he turned his head to the right, he could see out the side window into the bedroom window of his next door neighbor, but mostly he stared straight ahead out at the flowers and the field. It relaxed him; outlines for his novels would practically write themselves; romantic heroines leapt out of his imagination and onto the computer monitor. Moody, handsome heroes brooded in the background, awaiting their moment of seduction. Barking dogs now thwarted his creative muse.
He earned a good living as Belinda Lovewright, writing the pulp love stories that filled the shelves of airport bookstores worldwide. In the peace of Suburbia, he cranked out eleven novels a year, easily meeting his greedy publisher’s deadlines. He had his own formula – he called it his recipe – for writing romance novels. The core ingredients never varied: two beautiful people, one rich, one poor; love at first sight, unexpected, unlooked for; at least one jealous ex; at least one dangerous rival. But like the choice between chocolate chips or M & M’s in the cookie dough, the flavor came in mixing up new ways to be rich, poor, beautiful, and moody. Inventing his character’s names gave him the most satisfaction. He challenged himself to devise porn-star names without eliciting an objection from his publisher. His personal best to date was Felch Fritzling, a passionate Bavarian prince who falls for a beautiful but sassy barista while visiting Seattle, Washington.
Jerry had never been to Seattle, but nonetheless, Latte of Love, and all its hyperbole had been a big seller for Belinda Lovewright. He bought a BMW for his mother with the first royalty check, paying cash on the barrelhead. Lately, though, since the beasts moved in two doors down, his muse had gone silent, driven away by the barking dogs, like a cat who hides behind the couch, safe but inaccessible. He needed the first ten chapters of the new novel by the end of the week. Thank God insomnia had returned earlier in the week – he had gotten a good start in the dead of night, staring out into the velvet black, the night noises unsullied by the damn dogs. Janet Justice, newly barred attorney, and Dirk Dreadson, recently arrested son of a mob boss have fallen in love, she’s even in chains in his basement, in the good way, but his jealous ex-girlfriend is at the door, she still has her own key to his place, and her gun is loaded…
Jerry went to bed at that point, finally tired enough, figuring the chapter would write itself in the morning. But now, the shrill piercing staccato yips of Floppy and Fluffy left him impotent to finish it.
A sudden waft of coffee from the nearly empty carafe distracted him. He poured the last of it into his mug and turned off the hot plate. Maybe the caffeine was affecting his concentration as well, but for a moment, all was quiet. He sipped as he re-read the last few sentences, and contemplated how to describe the look on everyone’s face when Magdalena bursts in on the lovers. A sharp peal of thunder startled him, and he just managed to avoid the splash of hot coffee. Two doors down, the dogs began to bark.
************* (2) *************
He was writing again. He was always writing, at all hours of the day or night. Gloria longed to go next door, ring the bell, and ask to read the words. She knew it had to be dirty sex novels; he always masturbated at least once before turning off the monitor and lumbering out of the room. Lately, it had been more frequent. She’d watched him for hours last night, and she was surprised he was up this early, considering…
She started at the thunder, banging the binoculars against her bifocals, then cursed as the dogs next door started barking again. “Fuckers,” she muttered as she adjusted her view. She knew it was wrong to watch him, that it was weird. She knew that acting like this didn’t jibe with what everyone believed about her , but something always drew her back to the bedroom window that looked into his study. When he first moved in seven years ago, she couldn’t read the monitor at all; the old rounded screen deflected her view. He had upgraded to a flat monitor recently, and while her retiree eyes still couldn’t make out any words, she could clearly see paragraphs forming along the white column.
Widowhood had made her a peeping tom. It started accidentally; she was putting sweaters in the cedar chest and pulling the tee-shirts out, a wardrobe season change as sure as spring following winter. Married Gloria would never have noticed how clearly she could see into the window of his study, especially at night. But as her sense of isolation took over, she spent more and more time in the dark, watching through the binoculars that she had given her husband for his last birthday. It closed the distance between her and the man next door. She liked to pretend they were in the same room, she sitting next to him as he wrote, maybe helping him with his need…she was so damn lonely since Bud died. And a woman could only read so many Belinda Lovewright novels…there was only one real way to console a widow.
A second peal of thunder made her yelp. She dropped the binoculars hastily as her neighbor whipped his head around at the sound. She smiled with what she hoped was a modicum of dignity and walked away from the window, out of the bedroom and through the glass door in the living room. Gray cumulus clouds towered over the field behind her house. The wind gusted, bending the white pines that separated her fence line from the writer’s. She kept her shape for her age – she couldn’t be that much older, but she’d never have the courage to ask him. The wind picked up as the first rain drops fell. The barking next door became more frantic. Tears started down her cheeks, the rain already wiping them away.
************* (3) *************
Gail sat on the floor, knees under her chin, arms around her legs, and stared through the dirty window panes of the sunroom. A second peal of thunder rolled across the sky and rain began to fall, streaking the dusty glass. If it rained hard enough, she could avoid having to clean them. She could see the dogs barking and pawing at the door, desperate to come in out of the storm. Especially Fluffy, who feared any loud noise (except her own incessant barking). Grateful for the sound proof glass, she adjusted her position to hide the dogs from her view. She couldn’t handle it right now, their neediness or their noise.
The nosey neighbor lady was standing on her deck in the rain. Gail watched as the woman looked up into the storm and shook her fist. Then she turned and went inside. Gail understood her motion completely, that defiant gesture of contempt. Maybe the neighbor believed in a heaven up there, and a god that might give a shit if she flipped him the bird. Gail wasn’t falling for that bullshit again. God was fiction, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. She had never believed in a vengeful god. (Who the fuck would pray to that?) Lately, the concept of any god made no sense at all. The All Loving All Powerful did not let good men die, or little girls. In the past four months since they moved to this house, she had buried one of each.
If she had ever been a dog person, the animals might have been a comfort. Ray loved them, Allie even more so. But Gail fed them, let them out, let them in, groomed them, saw to their vaccinations, cleaned up the dog shit, and the piss. She had been thrilled for Ray and Allie to take Floppy and Fluffy with them to Clarks Pond that day. Ray and Allie could ride their trail bikes, the dogs could run behind. The state park was pet friendly. Gail could use the time to steam clean the carpets again. Or read a book…she had just received the latest Belinda Lovewright romance through her book club…her guilty pleasure, especially in a hot bubble bath. She had barely finished drying off when the state police rang the doorbell.
Ray had pulled out onto the highway…the truck driver’s brakes had failed. Seatbelts had done nothing to stop the roof caving in as the car rolled…only the damn dogs had survived…
The rain stopped briefly, then resumed in a torrent. Sheets of water pounded the glass on all sides, deafening her. Slowly, she crawled across the floor, pried open the door, and fell back as two wet, scared animals bolted past her and into the house. They huddled together on the tiled kitchen floor quivering with each roll of thunder. Gail pulled herself to her feet, and followed the animals into the house. They shook themselves dry as she approached with a bath towel, then jumped up on her legs, eyes shining with gratitude, eager to please.
Continue to Chapters 4-6.
Continue to Chapters 4-6.