Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 03

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I made my appearance next door, and stoically accepted the offered condolences which were definitely putting me in the wrong state of mind. After only half-an-hour I knew I had to get out of there, even if it did piss off Paisley.

John seemed to catch my mood, and dragged me outdoors to enjoy a cigar in semi-peace. With a heavily spiked eggnog in hand, and a more than decent Rocky Patel Decade burning nicely, I was willing to stick it out a little longer when he headed back indoors.

“I should skin you alive for that little stunt, you know.”

I heard a voice coming from the poolside, and headed that way to face the music. Victoria was sitting there alone, a large, mostly empty glass of wine at her side.

“I know. I was bad. But I’m done now.”

“What were you thinking?” she snapped.

“I just wanted Hannah to have a decent Christmas, and wanted to help you out a little in your effort to sell your house.”

She cackled, and it wasn’t a pretty sound. “You too? You just barely met me and you’re so damn eager to get me out of the neighborhood.”

Her words surprised me. “Not at all. I’m just trying to fight back a bit against the unfairness of the world. What are you doing out here alone, anyway?”

“I can’t stand the way they look at me. Like suicide is contagious or something. They don’t know what to say; they all avoid me, or look at me like I was a leper or something.”

“People can be assholes.”

She smiled. “I’ll drink that.”

I sat beside her and drank my 80 proof eggnog in silence. We watched a small group come out and start talking while they lit up their cancer sticks.

“I know you mean well, David. But you can stop now, Ok?” she said softly.

“One last thing.”

“Please. Enough already.”

“Joseph called. Everything’s cleared up with the insurance. You’ll get your check next week.”

She looked at me like I’d grown a third eye, completely stunned. “Really?”


She finished her wine, gulping it down, then sat back. “Shit. Six fucking months they drag it out and then suddenly, like that,” she snapped her fingers, “they’re willing to pay up?”

“Joseph’s good.”

She leaned forward and held her head in her hands. After a few seconds I could see her body was shaking. She was crying, silently.

“I’m sorry it took so long. If I’d been a better neighbor, we might have taken care of this months ago.”

She sat up abruptly, and I could see the streak of the tears on her face. “Don’t. Don’t apologize. Just don’t, Ok?”


I sat awkwardly, while she wiped her eyes and turned away from me, staring out at the backyard. I leaned over and took her empty glass. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Yeah. I mean, yes, please. Thanks.”

“Be right back.”

It took a few minutes to navigate the crowd around the bar, and to endure the late arrivals expressing their sorrow over my “loss”. Like they know anything about loss. Shit. I was happy to get back outside, away from the doe-eyed suburban mommy’s pity and their awkward mumbling husbands.

I plopped down next to Victoria. “Jesus. Next time you can make the booze run.” I told her to pass the wine glass over.

She gave me a twisted smile. “You volunteered, remember?”

“Don’t remind me.”

“That’s what you get for being a Good Samaritan.”

“That’s it for me. Believe me, I’ve learned my lesson.”

She chuckled. “Somehow I doubt that.”

My cigar had gone out, and it would have been a shame to waste it. I ventured into the smoker arena long enough for a light, and immediately regretted it, catching the sidelong glances they gave each other, knowing what they were thinking. I didn’t spend a moment there longer than I had to, hustling back to my solitude and Victoria. The only kindred soul at this soirée who might feel a tenth of the loss that was consuming me.

There was one last thing I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how she’d take it. I thought that maybe, just maybe, with one more glass of wine under her belt, she might acquiesce.


“Mmmm. I don’t know if I like the sound of that. Are you up to something again?”

“No. Maybe. Not really. I mean, well, can I show you something next door?”

She gave me an odd look, which lasted quite a long time. “Can I bring my wine?”

“Of course. It’ll only take a minute.”

She stood, and followed me out the gate. We walked around the fence to my driveway and into my backyard. As we crossed my patio she piped up.

“Just because I’ve had a few drinks, and just because you did something nice doesn’t mean you’re going to get anywhere with me, I hope you know.”

Her words slammed into me like a bucket of cold water. I hadn’t even thought about anything like that. I turned and looked at her. She didn’t look bad. Not at all. She cleaned up nicely, and even if she was ridiculously skinny, I could see she was an attractive woman. Funny that I’d never even noticed. I stood there trying to think of how to reply.

“Jesus, David. I’m just teasing you.”

It took me a few seconds to reply. “That was the furthest thing from my mind.”

“Of course. Believe me. I understand.” Her sardonic reply was more surprising than the original tease.

Caught without a response, I entered the house and led her to the living room.

“What did you want to show me?”

I turned on the light in the living room, and moved out of the way.

“Holy crap!”

I gestured toward the piles of gifts. “They were for my girls. I don’t know what to do with them.”

“That’s all for your girls?” she asked, looking on in wonder.

“Yeah. I kind of overdo it.”

“I’ll say.”

“I’d like Hannah to have them. She doesn’t have to know they’re from me. They can all be from Santa if you’d like. If you don’t take them, I… I don’t know what I’ll do with them.”

“It’s too much, David. It’s a nice gesture, really. But it’s too much.”

“Please. No strings. Do it for Hannah.”

She stood silent for a while, before she turned to me. “Why? Why now?”

“I don’t know. Look, they’re just sitting there. I’ll end up donating them to some charity or something. I’ve got a ton of gifts, and nobody left to give them too. You’ve got a sweet little girl who has one present under the tree and could use a bit of joy in her life.”

She wandered around the room, nudging the gifts with her foot, not answering, taking the occasional sip from her glass. She eventually wandered back and stood beside me.

She stood quietly for several seconds, apparently pondering a reply. “It’s not fair,” she finally muttered.

That wasn’t what I’d expected. “No shit. Life’s about as unfair as I could ever imagine,” I answered honestly. “Good people get hurt for no apparent reason. Jack-offs seem to glide along easily without a care in the world. Innocent little girls have their lives cut short meaninglessly.

Good-hearted neighbors have their lives crapped on as if it was some big cosmic joke.” I could hear my own voice getting louder and more frustrated. “Life’s a fucking kick in the ass, and every time it looks like something nice might come out of it, some cosmic comedian pulls the rug out from under you. What kind of God destroys a family for no good reason? Hunh? Answer me that!” I was almost shouting by the end of my tirade.

“I…I think I need to go home now.” She turned and started walking away.

I chased after her, “Please, can you take just a few? Please. It’s killing me to see them here.”

She stumbled a bit, then paused. Without turning she said, “Bring over what you want around midnight.” Then she slipped out the back door.

I took a few minutes to compose myself after she left. I’d made a complete ass of myself. Oh well. About par for the course. I decided to make another short appearance at Paisley’s to at least say my goodnights. My nosy neighbor caught me the moment I made it in the door. “John told me you were around, but I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“I ran into Victoria, and we broke people sort of hid out in your backyard.”

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