A drowsy silence hung over the endless rows of square houses along Pleasant Lane, a vestige of unironic, suburban “Americana” where neighbors left their doors unlocked, drank lemonade pitchers out on their porches, and watered their emerald green lawns in sync during the longest days of the year … which are only some of the reasons why it practically invited vice.
On her porch, a small outlet in front of the white behemoth of a house, Gladys Farrow sipped a tepid mug of tea and peeked through the overhanging trees at the houses across the way. Looking at the front porches through the branches was like looking through a hand brought close to the face.
“It tastes bitter.” Her friend, Betty, said.
“Oh, it doesn’t taste bitter,” Gladys said back, only half aware of her companion (who she’d probably pay more attention to if she was fifty yards away behind some obstruction). “It’s a drink fit for a king.”
“A deposed one perhaps.” Betty responded. She often grumbled that Gladys had lost all her senses, often including ‘mental’ in that mix.
You see, snooping in the neighborhood was Gladys’s favorite pastime. However, it was more than just a pastime. It was a way of life. One in which she placed her head above the neighborhood, as the prime knower of all things that went on in her little ant farm of suburbia. This pastime was how she knew that the Durnings had gone delinquent on their house payments and were now two months from foreclosure (and pitifully attempted to make money on the side by bidding and selling storage lockers); that the Schillings had to cope with a plastic-bag hoarding habit of Mr. Schilling who had nearly filled an entire room of their house with the damned things; and that Mildred Burns had once been a bodybuilder in the 1980s, until she tore a hamstring and became addicted to a dangerous mixture of codeine and alcohol, now buying Listerine with startlingly regularity.
“May I interrupt you for one moment?” Betty said playfully while twirling her finger around the rim of her cup.
“Oh, you just have.” Gladys said haphazardly as she tilted her head to see around the mulberry bush blocking her view. She thought she may have caught some movement through them.
Betty cleared her throat with a sense of indignation. “Gladys, I don’t think it’s proper to spy on one’s neighbors.”
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, dear.” Her sing-song voice replied.
Betty eyed her friend up and down as she strained over her porch railing, paint chipping away from years of Midwest winters. “Clearly.” She tilted her head. “Is this about that bag hoarder?”
“Oh no.” Gladys replied, half-distracted as usual. “He’s moved on to boxes anyway. I’m looking at the Peterson house.”
“Oh.” Betty scoffed. “There’s no hope for you …”
“Well, then you should have a clear conscience in letting the matter drop.” She didn’t make eye contact with her friend once while she spoke.
“Oh Gladys.” Betty barked putting the teacup on the glass table. “What is so interesting about the Petersons anyway?”
“About the Petersons?” She held out the ‘S’ sound like a snake. “Not much. But there is a red car …”
“What type?” Part of Betty’s game with her golden-year companion was to bait her with nearly rhetorical questions about her gossipy endeavors.
“The type with four wheels.” Gladys looked over at her for the first time in this conversation. Looked at her dead in the eyes. “I don’t know. A car … that’s red. Anyway, it’s not one of theirs. And it’s been there off and on for two straight weeks now. Always at dusk. Always for no more than an hour.” Her gesticulations seemed to make an argument beginning, middle, and end.
“Maybe it’s the plumber.” Betty said, to which, almost as if in response, a gorgeous woman in a red dress and stiletto heels opened the Petersons’ door and walked down to the sidewalk, her heels clicking with each step she took.
“If that’s the plumber,” Gladys said with an almost smug smile on her face, “then every man in the neighborhood is going to have his pipes checked.”
Betty stood up from her chair and slowly made her way over to stand beside Gladys. She had to admit, she wanted a better look now. “I take it that’s not Mrs. Peterson.”