NEIGHBORS Timber Creek Review Volume 12, Number 1 Lonesome walked the red dirt road on his way back home from the river. The flat mile pulled on his heart. It made him think of how his daddy and mommy both had died at the age of sixty-eight, within a year of each other. They were buried on what was left of the farm, one north of, one south of, his sister, with plenty of elbow room in between. His sister had only been a week old when she died in 1900. No one remembered her, not even Lonesome. At seventy-one, he had lived years beyond his own expectations, and he had lived many of them alone. His long feet raised puffs of dirt as fine as the bath powder that his mommy used to sift over her shoulders on Sunday morning. Late afternoon sunlight blanketed the motley fencerow of leafy trees on either side of the road. It folded through limbs and leaves and covered him like a crazy quilt. He had wanted catfish for his supper, but after he got to the river he saw that he had forgotten his fishing pole again. Knowing what work waited for him at home, he spent the day sitting in the shifting shade of two sycamores on a knuckle of ground that diverted the lethargic current. He passed the time counting and re-counting, then petting the raw blisters on his hands. When the sun was directly above his head, he ate the baloney sandwich he’d wrapped in wax paper and pressed into his tackle box where rusty fish hooks, faded green lures, and cracked red bobbers rattled around. He bit into the sandwich and chewed and the white bread gummed up where an eyetooth used to be until he ran his truck off the road this past spring. All he remembered of that day was the Devil’s pinch on his heart. Lonesome sucked the bread out of the hole between his teeth and took a nap before he headed home. He continued along the road where it came to a T, and turned onto a stretch that dead-ended at two houses claiming an overturned bowl of ground. Daniel Boone had laid eyes on the low mountains that sat behind the houses like green, round-shouldered arm chairs. Old man Stubby had driven the mail car for thirty years, though he was younger than Lonesome, and the mail car was generally the only car on this dead end until the woman moved into the Morrow place a week ago. All this land, and Lonesome could never figure why the two houses had to sit right on top of one another. Though for all he saw of his new neighbor the house may as well be vacant still, which suited him fine. He had done without neighbors for five years. He stopped at the two mailboxes that wobbled side by side in the ground like old, loose teeth. There was one envelope inside his box, and he did not need to open it to know that it was the second notice from the light company. This was the first time in his life he’d not paid any bill by the due date, but he was having trouble finding the money. He couldn’t help it. His chest ached, which had not happened before, if he dug for more than fifteen minutes an afternoon. And he’d been digging for three weeks, on his good days, but not making much progress. He pictured the money, bills rolled in Mason jars, and Mason jars full of coins, buried deep enough to hurt him. Lonesome relied on the family savings as he’d done since his father died, living frugally, expecting the money to outlast him. When Lonesome died, whatever was concealed in the ground would stay there. He let go of his tackle box on the porch, beside the fishing pole he’d left on the glider this morning. His hand rattled the screen door handle. The house felt like no one lived in it anymore because no one talked in it. His dusty shoes followed the whitish path worn into the blackish-green flowered linoleum as he made his way from the door, around the end of the davenport, and into the kitchen. He cut the light on, set the envelope on top of the refrigerator where other envelopes were crisscrossed over his worn black Bible, then washed his hands and turned on the electric stove. The lusterless black coil reddened and warmed the lard, thick and gray in the bottom of the iron skillet on the front burner. For his breakfast, he had fried three eggs in that skillet until their edges curled crispy brown, and now he fried the last three eggs in the carton for his supper. From his seat at the square wooden table he could see the television set in the living room, but it had gone bad a month ago. Most days, only one channel came to the house, but that was enough. He liked Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and Ed Sullivan. Tonight Lonesome stared at the silent box and ate his eggs, two stale powdered sugar donuts, and drank the rest of the warmed over coffee he’d made for breakfast. After a forced belch he got up and scraped the softened lard from the heavy skillet into the kitchen sink drain. The strike of the metal spoon on the skillet broke into the evening. Like his mommy had done, he washed the day’s dishes in high suds as soon as he finished eating supper, and left them in the plastic drainer to dry, the brown and white striped dishrag wrung out and spread over the clean dishes. The dishrag soured his hands, and would be stiff and dry within minutes from the persistent breeze coming in the double windows over the sink. The new neighbor, Daisy she called herself, had air conditioners in two of her windows. Her house was shut up like it was wintertime. She was writing a book, she told him the day she moved in, a book she called The Next Great American Novel. Lonesome had never read an entire book. His daddy pulled him from school in sixth grade. After his mommy died, Lonesome had seen his name in her obituary and quit the newspaper. Lonesome could keep track of his young neighbor lady from his windows, or from his porch steps. She didn’t look anything like a daisy. More like pokeweed. He saw her when she walked to their mailboxes, or when she hoisted a brown paper sack of groceries onto her hip and carried it up to her house. She did not park by her front steps, but left her car by the road like city folk who had sidewalks. All that traipsing back and forth made no sense to him. A time or two she had met his stare from one of the four windows he could see from his own house. He put his eyes down before she waved. It was fidgety in the house without the TV to wind down his day, so Lonesome settled on the front porch steps. His lights were out. Her lights were on.

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