A telescope protruded from an open second-story window. Callie, from her back patio, noticed it a few weeks after the creepy neighbors moved into the house next door. She felt unnerved but wondered how to broach the subject tactfully, given that she rarely saw her neighbors, and when she did, they were coming and going in a car parked regularly in their garage, from a driveway that snaked around the house.
Her boyfriend Harold, a 350-pound Polynesian with an easygoing disposition, suggested knocking on the door. Callie refuted this, saying that’s not how the neighbor thing works. First you wave, then you say hi or hello, then you stop to have a conversation, something light about the weather, or better yet, about some neighbor who you both think is weird, sort of thine enemy is mine enemy, like the dreaded Homeowners Association taking pictures of your lawn then sending a nasty gram through mail, instead of being neighborly, and stopping by to have a chat. They always want to make sure you know about the $30 fine for infractions, double that if they’re forced to tell you again.
That damn telescope bothered Callie, and was it even a telescope? Did the neighbors even close the window? She considered the moderate climate and a host of tall palm trees on the side of the house that shielded the opening if there was a surprise rainstorm. She was careful to draw the curtains when she took a shower. She liked to parade around the house in the nude to air dry.
Finally, after a few days of contemplating what Harold suggested, she got up the nerve to walk over to the house next door. She knocked, waited, and listened closely for any noises on the opposite side that would give a clue someone was about to open the door. Then, she heard the gate to the driveway creep open slowly, run by an electric motor. A black Mercedes Benz rolled up and passed through the gates. Standing next to rose bushes, most of Callie was hidden, and tinted windows on the car did nothing to clear up the mystery of who lived in the house and why there was a damn telescope pointed at her. She figured now that someone was home, they’d come to the door.
She rang the doorbell, then knocked, more than a few times. A voice on the intercom floated from the speaker next to the mailbox. Callie, startled, turned around and stared at it. There was also a small camera embedded into the stucco wall. She looked directly into the camera and waved.
A woman’s voice crackled, “Can I help you with something?”
“Uh, yeah,” Callie said, “I’m your next-door neighbor.”
She sounded a little sarcastic, which she thought she couldn’t help, considering the ridiculousness of this initial introduction.
“I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself, if that’s OK.”
Her pronouncement was met with a prolonged pause.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” the voice said. “If you can give me a sec, the house really isn’t… well, it’s just that I’m not prepared for visitors. Can you come back some other time?”
Callie frowned into the camera, being a little careless. She forgot about being watched.
“Well, OK,” Callie said, stepping off the front step out beyond the rose bushes.
As she turned, the door opened. A beautiful woman appeared. She was dressed in a business suit, her auburn hair done up in a bun. A gold necklace with an Aztec styled medallion hung around her neck and flashed in the sunlight. It dipped down to her cleavage where her silk blouse spread open, with several of the buttons undone. She still had on large sunglasses. Looking down at Callie, who stood a good six inches shorter, she said she had just arrived home from work. Callie, strangely, felt a little intimidated and aroused.
“Would you come in,” the woman said. “Come and have a seat. I need to get dinner started. Would you like a glass of water, tea, or coffee? I can put a pot on.”
“Yeah, a glass of water would be fine,” Callie said. “I don’t want you to feel like I’m intruding.”
“It’s OK, the husband is out on a business trip, and will be late coming home. Just give me a few minutes to change out of these rags.”
After the lady handed Callie a glass of water, she then moved up the staircase adjacent to the living room, where Callie heard her say, “my name is Barbara, by the way.”
Callie looked around the house at bare walls, and the pristine furniture. The TV stared back at her with a blank face. She sat down on an expansive couch, blue turquoise, comfortable in a white polo and faded blue jeans. Her dark hair and dark brown eyes made her cute like Janeane Garofalo, Harold always said.
Barbara came back into the living room dressed in a blue silk robe.
“I’m sorry to be off-putting, I just get so caught up in my own routine, I forget myself. Ed, my husband, and I lived in the city for so long, we sort of forgot that people can be nice. We lived downtown in a concrete palace. We’re pretty good with a house in this southern California burb, but Claremont sounds a little hoity-toity. No offense.”
“Some people think it is,” Callie said, “but I lived here all my life, soooo…”
“Forgive my manners,” the woman said. “You hungry?”
The TV which had mysteriously turned on drew her attention. A light blinked on and off like it was recording her. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper. She turned just in time to see a pile of loose skin surrounding Barbara’s feet. “I know I am… hungry that is.”