The Ones is a writing blog game in which participants receive a story title, a little wrinkle to up the challenge factor, and then must create a single draft story in no more than one hour from the prompt. They then trade stories and post someone else’s entry on their website. My guest this week is Paul Hamilton.
Here’s a nugget of truth for you wisdom collectors: being caught in your next door neighbor’s garden at2:30 in the morning is hard to explain without sounding like a nutjob. I suppose the timing is largely irrelevant. Unless you’re very good friends with your fellow street dwellers, being discovered in their back yard is almost certainly going to get you branded with the crazy iron.
You might think I’d get a bit of a pass. Being blind, I mean. It’s maybe not impossible to imagine getting turned around, disoriented somehow, maybe drunk. People are sort of naturally sympathetic toward me, a default condescension that irks me right up until it comes in handy. “Aw, poor Fred,” you might expect they’d say, “stumbling around the Simmons’s tomato plants trying to find the fence so he can feel his way back home. Here, let us help you out.”
And if my life had been normal for the week prior, that might have been what I heard. Instead, I got this: “Fred! Get out of there! Thom’s getting the shotgun. You’d better be off our property before he gets back.”
Thing is, up until a week ago, I had no real idea who Dannie Simmons was. Sure, I knew she was the woman who lived next door. I traded pleasantries with Thom Simmons now and then, mostly because he’d putter around in the garage, turning the engine of his Harley over just to be a tool. He’s one of those guys who always says hello as if it was a physical challenge. Every conversation carries the subtext, “You gonna make something of it?”
His wife never said one word to me until last Sunday. I figured she was one of those skittish, semi-high society snobs who felt disabilities were best viewed through the safe lens of a charity bake sale. Pun intended. Since she knew I could never be sure if she was looking at me or noticed me or was absorbed in a headphone-loud phone conversation, if she said nothing she’d never have to talk to the sad man with the dark glasses who lived next door.
I may be blind in the legal sense, but I’m not blind to the world. That’s something a lot of people misunderstand. They think because I can’t see in the mirror that it makes no sense for me to work out, to buy nice clothing, to comb my hair. But I understand that aesthetics matter in this life, so I do all of those things even if I have to take someone else’s word that it’s working. I have enough friends I trust to tell me the bald truth—both when it’s good and bad.
So yeah, I know I’m attractive. The joke is that I’m good looking, even when my looking is bad. And maybe that means I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dannie finally did speak to me and the first thing she says is, “I can see into your bedroom at night.”
But I was surprised. Turns out, she was full of unexpected.
Her comment came as I was watering my lawn, whispered from behind into my ear. I was standing there in bare feet, shirtless, enjoying the warmth of the sun. I heard her pad shoeless across the hot cement of her driveway, sensed the light vibration of the soil as she rounded the rough, decorative wooden fence Thom installed two summers back. Her toes swished the grass as she came toward me and I pretended not to know she was coming. Maybe she could have been coming by to slap me or something, but she didn’t have the thunderous heel-first thud of someone stalking indignantly to confront a neighbor whose life has encroached a little too closely. Besides, staying stock still while she hissed her sensual sentence into my neck allowed me to do my ever-cool unflappable persona thing where I don’t even react where most sight-reliant people would jump out of their skin.
“Then you have the advantage over me,” I replied.
“I’ve been watching you for years, you know,” she said.
“I had no idea.”
“Just thought you should know. Those curtains are useless.”
“Maybe they do just what I want them to do,” I said.
We bantered like that for a bit, flirting with tone and innuendo if not with actual words. She was pretty good at it. Eventually she cut to the chase.
“Thom’s away. You should invite me to come over.”
“Want to come over?” I asked.
“Well, that’s a surprise.”
“Mmm-hm,” she said. I told my friend Greg about Dannie a day later and he asked, “What does she look like?” As if that was something that even mattered. For me, sexiness is voices, intellects, softness, enthusiasm, novelty.
“She’s beautiful,” I said. He laughed, and I felt sorry for him.
Dannie’s beauty came in part from the fact that she was bright and funny and yet she was married to Thom, the kind of guy who told handicap jokes to blind people. They didn’t fit, and I told her so.
“Sure, that’s why I’m in your house,” she said.
“But why stay?” I asked. We hadn’t done anything at that point, it was Wednesday and we were having coffee in my kitchen.
“I have a blind spot when it comes to Thom,” she said, her voice echoing a bit in her mug. I could tell she winced. “Sorry.”
I just laughed. “No need.”
“He’s worthless,” she went on, “but it’s like owning a pit bull that hates everyone except you. Most of the time, you question if it’s worth the hassle. Then that one time someone tries to break in your house, you remember why you put up with it. That and cold winter nights around the fire.”
“Sounds like a warning.”
“Was I that subtle?” Her voice had a smile in it.
I held out for twenty-two more hours. After that, we left each other’s bedrooms only to trade for the least messy bedsheets and the occasional run to the market for pre-packaged junk food.
“When is Thom coming back?” I asked on Friday as I reclined on his bed and felt Dannie’s fingers trace my abs.
“Monday, he says.”
“This annual fishing trip of his… I don’t think there’s been a year yet that he hasn’t extended it by at least three days.”
“So probably next Thursday.”
“At the earliest.”
Here’s another gem for your life lesson scrapbook: Whenever something good depends on someone else being consistent, that’s the exact moment they’ll choose to break the mold.
Thom came home on Sunday and I was in his master bathroom. I learned of his arrival via the door opening and my clothing being hurled in at me. “He’s here,” Dannie hissed. My first idiot reaction was to ask, “he who?” Of course there was only one “he.”
I crawled out of the window. I mean, what else do you do? Thom never struck me as the kind of guy you cross. I always returned his air compressor the same day I borrowed it. I laughed at his racist jokes. Being blind may not be the life-crushing curse some people think it is, but I’m not exactly handy in a fight, despite what kung fu movies may have led you to believe.
So the truth was, I actually was stumbling around the Simmons’s tomato plants, looking for the fence so I could feel my way back home. Dannie found me first. She tried to warn me. I try not to blame her. She stalled for me, I’m sure. But it had to be suspicious for her to be standing on the back porch, whispering at the zucchini. And call it the luck of the blind, but Thom was a bad shot from any kind of distance.
I changed the curtains. And I have to move. It cost extra to convince the movers to come at night. It feels like I’m running away, fleeing into the darkness.
It ain’t far from the truth.
Paul Hamilton lives and works in the Silicon Valley with his wife and daughter. He writes stories about broken people and repairing worlds. When not writing, he reads or draws or rides roller coasters. He considers the word “omnibus” beautiful and never passes up a chance to try a new food. More of his writing is available at http://ironsoap.com/; he also tweets @ironsoap.