The Missing Neighbor
Gregory A. Kompes
Shakita pointed with her right index finger. “He lived just over there. No one knows what happened to him. Poof. He just up and vanished. The papers piled up on the stoop for about a week; the mail overflowed the box; the grass grew taller and taller until you couldn’t even see the porch from the street.” She pointed again. “Look. See what I mean.”
Velma, at her neighbor’s urging, looked over at the abandoned house. She’d seen it before. We all had, all the neighbors.
If there’s one thing you should know about me, I’m not really a gossip; I’m not the neighborhood’s Mrs. Kravitz. I have better things to do with my day. Sure, our children are all out of the house now and Pete, that’s my husband, he’s still off to work each day. I take our dog, Daisy, two or three days each week to the hospice and hospital. She’s a therapy dog. Oh, well, you didn’t sign up to hear my life story. Anyway, I’m busy most of the time and I don’t really keep up with the neighborhood gossip. But, it’s true, our neighbor, a seemingly happy young man who mostly kept to himself, simply disappeared. When the papers piled up, Velma had called the Butterfly Times, that’s our little local paper, and told them to stop delivery. Then, the papers were gone.
Shakita and Alice said they went over and walked around, looked in the windows and such. Nothing, they said, was out of place. The furniture and draperies and fine wooden-slat blinds, they’re all still there. Even the patio furniture out back, fine, aged, redwood chairs and table, they’re still there amongst the growing lawn.
And, while I’m not one to gossip, this time of year, well, I keep the windows open most days. It’s been so nice this summer. So, I hear them talking on and off throughout the day, when I’m home, that is.
“What do you think happened to him?” Velma asked, her gaze focused on her neighbor’s home. “Those apples are just about ready to be picked.”
“It’s true,” Shakita confirmed. “Those apples are about ready. I’ve been watching them. Earlier in the season his cherries and apricots all went to the birds.
The two women were silent for a bit, so I looked out the slats in my Venetian blinds; they were still standing in Velma’s driveway, looking across at the disheveled house.
No one knew his name. He never really talked to any of us, as far as I know. He lived alone, pretty quiet. Even though he never really spoke, he always waved hello and smiled. He had a nice smile.
“You should have your boy cut the grass over there. You don’t want varmints to start living in all that grass. And, it’s next to your house, so it’s got to be pushing your property value down.” Velma never looked at Shakita.
“Property values? What do I care for property values? Unless Ed McMahon turns up with the Prize Patrol and a million-dollar check—”
“He’s dead,” said Velma.
“How do you know he’s dead?” Shakita pointed toward her neighbor’s house again.
“Not him…well, I don’t know about him. I was talking about Ed McMahon. He died a while ago.”
“Oh. That’s sad. I’ve been sending in those coupons my whole life. Never so much as a thank you. But, they do have the cheapest price for Hair and Nails Today.”
“Mm hm. I get that, too. My daughter got me hooked up on the Internet and now I shop at Amazon. It’s way easier than that Publisher’s Warehouse place.”
“Clearinghouse,” said Shakita, pushing a ring of hair off her forehead.
“Oh, right. So, what do you think happened to him? Think he’s dead? There’s no eviction notice or foreclosure notice on his door.”
“I just don’t know. I have an uncle. He got his third D-U-I. He didn’t want to go to jail so he jumped bail. Every so often we get a postcard from him. No return address and different postmarks on all of them. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time we heard from Uncle Willy.”
“I miss letters and postcards. Sure there’s the E-MAIL. That’s how I keep up with all my kids and now the grandbabies. Those little ones are born knowing how to type and text.”
Again, they were quiet. Or, maybe I’d dozed off for a moment. That happens to me in the afternoons now, well sometimes.
“Well I’ll be damned,” said Velma.
“Huh?” Shakita looked in the direction of Velma’s eyes.
Then, just like nothing had happened, the garage door went up. He pulled in, got out, grabbed a large duffle bag from the trunk, waved hello, and headed for the front door. He opened that door, collected all the mail from the box, and, before turning to go in, he again waved toward Shakita and Velma, who waved back with smiles on their faces.
“Musta been on a long vacation or something,” Shakita said.
“Daisy,” I called, got the dog on her leash and we headed out for our afternoon walk to the corner and back. I guess, with nothing better to do, our imaginations sometimes run a bit wild.