Friday, February 16, 2024


Al Bruno III
Week One
He woke to the sound of engines and the flashing of lights. Was it the police again? It seemed they got called to this godforsaken neighborhood every night. Rolling out of bed, Gabe walked to the front window and shifted the curtain aside just enough for him to peer outside.

The first thing he saw was the moving van pulled right up onto the sidewalk; its motor coughed and belched, and its hazard lights blinked mindlessly.

New neighbors, he realized. Of course, he didn't remember the previous residents moving out, but that was a pretty common occurrence in this neighborhood, too, along with drunken arguments, drug deals, and missing children. The trash that had lived above Gabe had skipped out on their lease the day before Christmas. The speed and skill they'd employed to empty their belongings into the back of a pickup truck was almost dizzying.

The digital readout on the VCR told him it was a little after five in the morning. Who moves in at this hour on a Sunday? Gabe wondered as he tried to see what the new arrivals looked like. The van's back doors were almost flush with the house across the street, so all he saw were shadows stepping from the back of the truck onto the darkened front porch.

Week Two

Tomorrow was garbage day, so Gabe dutifully dragged his two well-worn aluminum cans out to the curb. He hated those two dented husks of rusted metal, but he knew better than to purchase new ones. They tended to disappear on him. It was just that kind of neighborhood. Gabe looked up and down the block, at the dirty children screaming and running from yard to yard, at the washed-out-looking adults that sat out on their front steps smoking and drinking with their music turned up too loud. At the lawns that were either un-mowed or had half -junked cars parked on them.

It hadn't always been this way; he'd had a house in the suburbs, a wife, and kids, but they were long gone now, and he was trapped here. Trapped here by child support and payments on a house he was no longer allowed to live in. All he could afford for himself now was this, the bottom floor of a run-down two-story tenement.

Gabe shook his head, trying to clear away the unpleasant thoughts; he knew where this would lead, where it always led- to him half-drunk at his kitchen table, glaring at the sheaf of divorce papers and restraining orders. He looked up at the house across the street; his new neighbors were bringing out their trash, including a ratty-looking old couch, a bureau, and a few armfuls of clothes.

They were a good-looking couple with white-blond hair and striking features. They looked like movie stars; Gabe wondered what had landed them here on this dead-end street. Had the Husband's drinking gotten him fired? Was the Wife spending cash as fast as the family made it?

 Maybe, he thought as he watched them maneuver a stained mattress out onto the curb. Maybe they just want to renovate the place. Maybe they think they can turn this neighborhood around. Good luck.

The Husband spied him watching them and offered a genial wave, "Afternoon."

"Afternoon," Gabe called from across the street.

The Wife came out carrying a pair of dripping garbage bags. Her smile was dazzling. "We're remodeling," she said.

"Good for you," Gabe said with a wave. He headed back into the house. They seemed like nice people but a little too chipper for his tastes.

Week Three

It was raining and miserable, and Gabe had left his umbrella back at the office. Shivering and cold, he walked the four blocks from the bus stop to his apartment. The sidewalks here were as run down as everything else. The cracked pavement fostered wide puddles. With every step, his shoes and socks were more and more soaked; with every clammy, he tried to calculate how long it would be before he could afford another car.

 Two years for a junker, longer if I want something nice.

The bags and cans at the end of every walkway reminded him that it was garbage day. He groaned at the thought of dragging the two cans out from the back.

As if I'm not soaked enough.

The pounding noise told him that the morons that were into rap music had cranked up their stereo. Of course, that meant that the half-wit that lived next door to those morons would soon be blasting the screeching speed metal they loved so dearly.

His pace slowed as he approached his house; the couple across the street had their garbage out already. It looked like they were cleaning out their basement; an old washing machine, a love seat, a waist-high pile of books, a few broken chairs, a chest of drawers, and a birdcage were on the curb.

He stood there contemplating the washer for a moment, wondering if it still worked. If it did, it would sure as hell save him his weekly trip to the laundromat.

Why would they throw it away if it wasn't broken? He chided himself and headed inside. The trash could wait till morning.

Week Four

 Another couch. Gabe stood there marveling at it, Another goddamn couch.

But it wasn't just a couch; there was also a cabinet, a lone snow tire, and a box of melted-looking action figures. Gabe glanced at their mailbox; it was still blank except for the dull metal numbers. He wondered what their family name was; it must have been Rockefeller, considering the amount of furniture they went through.

It wasn't that he cared what they did, but still, it was a little odd. So much stuff. Well, at least they picked a good neighborhood for it. He thought. Back in the suburbs, there had only been one or two days a year set aside for heavy trash pickup, but here, the garbage men seemed willing to take away anything at all. Maybe, Gabe thought. Maybe they do it because they know that if they don't, this crummy little town will start looking like the full-fledged junkyard it really is.

The front door swung open, and Gabe quickly pretended to be adjusting his cans. It was the Wife. She was wearing a clingy top and a pair of white shorts. She bounded down the front steps, got into her minivan, and drove away.

Damn, but her husband's a lucky guy. Gabe thought.

"Whatchoo lookinat?" his boozy next-door neighbor called at him.

"N-nothing," Gabe said. Blushing furiously, he retreated back inside. When the door was safely barred and bolted behind him, he allowed himself to whisper, "Nothing, you scumbag."

Week Five

From the first moment, the blind date had been an unmitigated disaster. From Gabe's first look at the woman, he'd known it would go badly. What had Homer been thinking?

Gabe sat in the back of the taxicab, fuming. He was almost mad enough to call Homer right now. When he'd described her as having a wonderful personality, that should have been warning enough, but Gabe decided to try his luck anyway. He'd been away from the dating scene for too long.

The cab slowed before his house. Gabe paid the fare and strolled up the walk. He wanted to kick something. He couldn't believe the bitch turned him down. How could she afford to be discriminating? Of course, she waited until after he'd picked up the tab from dinner before she dropped that little bombshell.

Speaking of bombshells. Gabe thought as he paused on his front porch. His eyes strayed across the street. He wasn't sure what they did, but every light in the house was on till all hours of the night. Whenever Gabe peeked out the curtains, he saw silhouettes flitting across the Venetian blinds. It was almost like they were dancing. Sometimes watching them, he imagined he was up there with the Wife and the Husband living down here in this crappy tenement.

Embarrassed at the thoughts filling his head, he turned to enter his front. His keys fumbling in the lock, he took one last longing glance at the house next door and did a double take.

Was that another couch he saw sitting on the curb?

Gabe couldn't help himself; he crossed the street and gazed at the cigarette-burned Davenport sitting there; one of its cushions was missing; in its place sat a record player that looked to Gabe like an antique. A bureau with wobbly legs rounded out this week's pile.

He paused a moment, thinking to himself, This is nuts. What if someone else sees? But the impulse was too crazy, too strong for him to deny it. He walked up to the bureau and pulled out one of the drawers.

It still had clothes in it, all neatly folded. Panties and socks, were they hers? How could that be? How could he not know she was tossing out all her undergarments? This was too weird. Gabe glanced up at their house, wondering if they had seen him out here. Wondering if they'd care the man from across the street was going through their garbage.

It was just their garbage, after all; if they had really cared, they wouldn't have put it out on the curb, would they?

He pulled out the second drawer, more clothes, sweaters and ties, expensive looking by the feel of them. The kind he used to be able to afford.

Not certain what he was looking for, he pulled the third drawer out. A gagging scream caught in his throat. He shoved the drawer closed again and stumbled back across the street, tripping on the curb. Sobbing with fear, he scrambled to his feet and ran into his house, where he slumped to the floor and tried not to be sick.

"It was just a toy, just a toy…" He whispered to himself, "It was a trick of the light. It didn't move."

There was a knock at the door, and a neighborly voice was calling Gabe's name.


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