I decided to walk by Gladys’ house to see if she was on her porch and sure enough, she was sitting there talking away. I tried not to look like I might approach her since Jean said if you did, she would get up and leave.
I couldn’t really make out anything she was saying but just as Jean said, she seemed to be having an agonizingly painful conversation with herself. She was wiping her eyes and covering her mouth with her hand as if maybe trying to muffle her sobs. I wondered what had happened to this woman to make her escape into a world of make-believe and I didn’t think by any stretch of the imagination that she was anywhere close to normal.
The next Tuesday, as usual, Jean began to tell me about her immediate neighbor to the left. She said “we call her “four-ells.” I said “do you have names for everyone in the neighborhood? Judge Carson, Leo the klepto, Ditto and now there’s someone called four-ells?”
She laughed and said “her name is Ann. She is a sun worshiper and the only time you see her in pants longer than her underwear is in the winter. She looks a lot like Tweedledum. Shes very rotund in the middle and has these little leathery lizard legs. All four of those words start with an ‘L’ so we call her four-ells.”
“Do you call her that to her face?” I asked. Jean laughed and said “no, we call her Ann. I don’t know much about her but she’s really sweet. She’s always willing to help if you need anything but because she’s always in the sun, her face looks like an old catchers’ mitt.”
“Then,” she said emphatically, “there’s Martine. She lives on the other side of you. Honey, have you ever met someone who knows everything there is to know about everything there is to know? Well, that’s Martine. Her real name is Martha but she changed it so it wouldn’t sound as she says, so old-fashioned.”
Jean was cracking up as she started telling me about her. “She will let you know in a hot minute that she knows more than you do about any and every single thing from lawn care to car engines to how to shingle your roof. It doesn’t matter if you are Oxford educated, you don’t know squat and she will let you know.”
“Anyway,” she went on. “She took the test to be on Jeopardy and passed. She was telling everybody that she was going to be the most winning contestant ever seen, even better than that Ken Jennings fellow.”
“She was bragging about being flown out to the studio and how after she won, she just might decide to stay and start mingling with movie stars. She was a little hard to take sometimes but we all wished her the best luck possible.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Obviously, she returned to the neighborhood.”
“Well,” said Jean. “She didn’t get a single answer right.” Jean was laughing hysterically by then and said “she blamed it on a faulty signaling device, saying that when it finally ‘worked’ she was so shaken up, she couldn’t think. She claims the whole show is rigged and favors male contestants.”
By that time, I admit that I was laughing too. Jean said “the show finally aired and I’m not sure but I think you could hear collective laughter throughout the neighborhood. It took several months for her to more or less re-emerge and we decided to never talk about it, at least not in front of her and of course, not at the neighborhood parties.”
“Speaking of the neighborhood parties, when do you have them?” I asked. “We usually have them in the spring,” she said.
She started to say more but I interrupted her and asked about the neighbor who lived in the house at the end of the street. I had noticed that house, due to the overgrown “jungle” on both sides although the front lawn was carefully groomed. The house didn’t really tacky up the neighborhood but somehow, it just looked out of place.
Jean handed me my second cup of coffee and I was in mid-sip when she just as nonchalantly as she could, said “oh, that’s hacksaw Henry. He’s our resident serial killer.”
Coffee spewed out of my mouth and nose like an erupting geyser. When I finally stopped coughing up both of my lungs, I sounded like Ditto when I repeated “our resident serial killer?”
Jean said “well, the rumor around the neighborhood is that he chopped up his entire family with a hacksaw, put their body parts in oil drums and threw them into the Florida Everglades. You know that nobody is ever found in the Everglades.”
I was stupefied. I asked why he wasn’t in prison. She said “there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. They didn’t have bodies and he told the authorities that his wife left him, took the children and changed their names. You know that without a corpus delicti, it’s hard to make a case.”
“Does he come to the neighborhood parties?” I asked. “Oh sure,” she said. “We don’t want to end up in a barrel in the middle of the Everglades. We’re cordial but nobody really carries on much of a conversation with him. I have personally never talked to him.”
I found that statement interesting, especially considering Jean’s vociferous personality.
She said “he just sort of walks around with this eerie grin on his face, like he knows that we know that he got away with murder.” She laughed when she said “and this is funny. He always brings a rack or two of ribs and we always think twice before we eat them. For all we know, they could be human.”
I looked at Jean and said “now, HE sounds like my kind of guy!”
To be continued_________________