The Neighborhood – Chapter Five

On my way home I was thinking, “okay.  We have a preaching judge, a kleptomaniac, a soliloquist, a human parrot, a know-it-all and a resident serial killer.”  I felt like I had just stepped through the looking glass.

Some people might be amused or alarmed or, as was I, completely indifferent toward the plethora of personalities living in the neighborhood. I had always appreciated diversity and I had my own propensities, although nobody yet knew what they were.

The next week, via her usual story-telling, Jean “introduced” the neighbor directly across from me.  “We call him “double-take,” she said.  “His name is Don…or Donna, depending on the day.”  I was laughing as I listened.

Without breaking stride, she said “he’s one of those ‘higher-ups’ for the Shell Oil Company, although he’s semi-retired.  I think he pretty much only works when he wants to.  He’s been a confirmed bachelor his entire life but he loves all the women and all the women love him.”

I interrupted her and asked “what’s the Don and Donna about?”  She said “oh.  He sort of likes to wear women’s clothes and be called Donna.  He just has that little eccentricity but we all adore him.”  She laughed and said “last year, he came to the neighborhood party wearing a sun dress, a long blonde wig, a floppy hat and a strand of pearls around his neck.”  She opened her eyes and said “I don’t have a problem with it.  I find it rather charming.  I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to dress like a man?”

It took a few seconds for me to say “not that I recall.”

She continued.  “You might see him working out in his yard, wearing a tube top and short shorts or you might see him wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  It just depends on ‘who’ woke up that morning.”

I asked her if he dressed like a woman when he went to work.  Jean said “that, I don’t know.”

I was really starting to wonder if Jean was having me on but I had witnessed Gladys doing exactly what she had described, so maybe the stories were true.  I knew people were strange and as I said, we all have our own stories but this neighborhood seemed to be a little more bizarre than I expected.

I asked Jean if she had come up with a nickname for me yet.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “I call you three-ring.”  Again, I was echoing Ditto when I said “three-ring?”

I was wondering to myself, “does she mean a three-ring circus?  Was she comparing me to a trick-performing elephant or even worse, was she comparing me to a clown?”

She said “it hasn’t escaped my attention that you wear three gold bands on your left thumb.  That’s why I call you three-ring.  I’ve seen people wearing thumb rings but I’ve never seen anyone wear more than one.  Might I ask their significance?

I looked her dead in the eyes and without blinking said “I pried them off of the cold, severed hands of three dead husbands.”

For the first time since we met, Jean was totally gobsmacked.  It took her a few seconds before she burst out laughing.  “That’s a good one,” she said.

“I’m glad you liked it,” I answered with a smile.


To be continued________________






The Neighborhood – Chapter Four

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_________________


The Neighborhood – Chapter Three

I actually started looking forward to my visits with Jean.  I wasn’t sure if it was more because her stories about my “bizarre” neighbors were so interesting or because I enjoyed that bit of respite from the mountainous unpacking I was still facing.

The woman who lived next door to me was the next topic.

“Her name is Gladys,” Jean said.  “Now, there’s a character.  She sits on her side porch and talks to herself.  I mean, she will have full on conversations with herself.  Sometimes, she will just wail and wipes her eyes with a roll of toilet tissue she keeps beside her chair.  The next time she will be laughing hysterically like she has just been told the funniest joke she has ever heard. Then there are times when it’s just a casual conversation, complete with hand gestures and pauses like she’s listening to the other person answer.”

“Do you think she’s a paranoid schizophrenic?” I asked.  Jean said “I don’t think so.  She may be as normal as you or I.  Like Leo and his thing about stealing, she just has this thing about talking to herself.  Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have anybody else to talk to.”

I wasn’t sure how normal I would say Jean was and I wasn’t even sure that I would call myself all that normal.  I knew how it felt to have nobody to talk to.  I had been guilty of not only talking to myself but answering myself just so I could remember how my own voice sounded.  Loneliness can do all sorts of things to your psyche and maybe Gladys invented an audience so she could hear her own voice, too.

I asked Jean if she knew her story.  She said “I don’t know anything about her really, except that she talks to herself.  None of us know anything about her.  She’s the only person in the neighborhood who never participates in any of the parties.  If you see her on her porch and start to walk toward her, she gets up and goes inside her house.  I know she has a brand new car that never gets driven and in the winter, she all but disappears because it’s too cold to sit outside.”

Jean had suggested that Gladys was normal.  She might not be normal according to my classic definition of the word but who knows?  We all have our own little peculiarities.  Jean serves coffee in a tiny little tea set.  Leo likes to lift things but is basically harmless.  Gladys talks to herself but doesn’t bother anyone.

I needed to get back home but I wanted to hear more about the neighbors. Jean was happy to oblige and poured another cup of coffee.

“Have you noticed the house two doors down from Leo?  The one with the gigantic bird bath in the front yard?” Jean asked.  I told her that I hadn’t really had time to scout the neighborhood yet but “do go on,” I begged.

“Well,” she said.  We call him ‘Ditto’.”

She had piqued my interest once again.  “Ditto?” I repeated.  “Just like that,” she said.  “Anything you ask him, he repeats, such as ‘how are you doing today’?  He will answer ‘how am I doing today’?  Then he will tell you what he’s been up to or what’s he’s building in his garage.  If you ask him if he watched the football game last night, it will be the same.  He’ll answer ‘did I watch the football game last night’?  Then he’ll tell you that he did…or didn’t.  I’ve often wondered if he suffers from some form of Turrets syndrome.”

“What’s his real name?” I asked.  Jean paused and said “you know, I really don’t know.  Nobody has ever called him anything but Ditto.”

I was getting cute when I asked if he had to circle his birth bath five times before he went inside or if he had to lock and unlock his door thirty-three times after he circled the bird bath.

Jean laughed and said “I don’t know but you know, he’s a handsome man. Tall, good-looking and you might be interested in knowing this.  He’s single.”

I wondered why she assumed that I would be interested.  As I said, she hadn’t yet pried into my private life but maybe the fact that she hadn’t seen a man at my house, or knew that I was doing all the work myself was a tell.  I told her that I wasn’t looking for a man and the idea of a talking human parrot wasn’t very appealing.

I was beginning to feel like I was a player in a scene of The Twilight Zone or maybe I was the victim of a Candid Camera episode.  So far, nobody in the neighborhood seemed anywhere close to being normal, again, by my definition.  As I was walking home, I was wondering.  “How normal could a preaching judge, a kleptomaniac, a soliloquist and a human parrot be?”


To be continued________________

The Neighborhood – Chapter Two

The next week, Tuesday rolled around and I went to Jean’s house.  As much of a “nosey-nellie” as she seemed to be, I was surprised that she hadn’t yet insinuated herself into my personal life, which was fine with me.

As we were sipping our coffee in the tiny little tea set, I couldn’t help but laugh when in her usual fashion, she closed her eyes and started to ramble on about the neighbor who lived two houses down from her.

“Now, we call him Leo the klepto.  You do know what a kleptomaniac is, don’t you?  Of course you do.  He will steal anything that isn’t nailed down.  He steals the silverware from restaurants and then goes to the bathroom and steals the toilet tissue.  He has stolen yard decorations from the neighborhood and once he knocked on a door up the street and asked to use the bathroom. Being a small town, we’re pretty trusting people, you know.  Anyway, he went into this young couple’s house, used the bathroom, went through the cabinet and stole the woman’s pregnancy test.  But the best or worst, depending on how you look at it, was that along with the test, he took her grandmother’s false teeth.”

She laughed out loud and I admit, so did I.  She continued, “he’s basically harmless and when he takes something from one of us, say like a lawn chair or a gnome from our garden, or somebody’s false teeth, we just walk over there and take or ask for it back.”

I said, more or less to myself than to Jean, “so I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t hang out my seasonal flags?”  Jean said “oh, you can hang them out but when they disappear, just be prepared to go get them back from Leo.”

“Is he suffering from dementia?” I asked.  “Oh, no.” she said.  “He just goes through these phases where he feels the urge to steal.  He used to work up at the Salvation Army Thrift Store but they had to let him go because he kept stealing the shoes.  Now mind you, he didn’t care if they were men’s shoes, women’s shoes or children’s shoes and he didn’t even care if he got a pair.  He just stole shoes.  They were trying to help him and even tried to ‘pray away the affliction’ as they called it but it didn’t work.  He lives off of a pretty good inheritance, which is why it’s so strange that he steals.  We just let him be and keep a sharp eye peeled when he comes to the neighborhood parties, which by the way of course, you will be attending.”

Jean was certainly what you would call brashly assertive but her amusing way of talking made it a little less annoying.  I was actually starting to enjoy hearing her stories about the neighbors.

Again I thanked Jean for the coffee and the company.  “I need to get back home and do some more unpacking,” I said.  “I’m trying to get things organized in the basement and it’s going to take a while.”

Jean surprised me when she said “you need some help?  I’m pretty good at unpacking.”

I declined but told her that I appreciated the offer.  What I didn’t say, even though I enjoyed her stories, was that her incessant talking would probably drive me insane if I had to spend more time with her than it took to drink a tiny cup of coffee.

She said “okay then.  See you next Tuesday.  I insist.”

As I walked across the street, I was thinking “so far, I’ve learned that there’s a hell fire and brimstone preaching judge who stands on the corner and a kleptomaniac who lives two doors down from Jean.”  Suddenly this quaint little neighborhood was looking a little more interesting.


To be continued_____________



The Neighborhood – Chapter One

It was a quaint little neighborhood in a quaint little town.  It wasn’t featured in magazines or newspapers nor was it sought after as an area where you would make a statement of “finally having arrived.”  It was quiet and peaceful and despite being only one street away from the center of town, seemed to be strangely secluded.

There were well kept houses with finely groomed lawns and it wasn’t just the neighbors who never failed to throw up a hand when walking or driving by.  The garbage collectors would drive by and wave and then break out into a good old gospel tune.  It was exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for.

The day I moved in the workers were scurrying about, putting the last of the boxes and pieces of furniture where I pointed and I was ready for a breather. Suddenly a car pulled up and a woman jumped out, with an outstretched hand and barely took a breath when she said “welcome to the neighborhood.  My name is Jean.  We are so glad somebody finally moved into this house.  It’s such a great house.  We thought it was going to stand empty forever.  I know you’re going to love the house and I know you’re going to love the neighborhood!”

Wow.  What a mouthful.  She plopped down beside me and said “I made you a list of all the phone numbers for fire, Ems, police, water, gas and electricity.”

I thanked her for the utility numbers but I didn’t mention that I had known how to dial 911 for years.  She said “I can see that you have quite a job ahead of you but next week, I want you to take a break and come over for a cup of coffee around ‘one-ish’…say on Tuesday.  I won’t take no for an answer and that’s that.”  I started to tell her that I really wanted to get everything unpacked but she interrupted me and said “I insist.”

I agreed, thinking that I would just stay for one cup of coffee and then make a legitimate excuse to get back home.

Her idea was actually a good one.  After a week, I was almost worn out so I walked over to her house, which was slightly kitty-wampus across the street.  She greeted me like we had known each other for years.  I prefer friendly people to the opposite but she was going a just a little overboard, I thought.

She was a slender woman with short, thick silver hair.  She had an excited way of talking, like she was in a hurry to get it all out or something and she never said one single sentence.  Her way of talking was almost as if she was reciting a novella.  She closed her eyes when she was talking and I wondered if it was so that she could remember everything she wanted to say.

She told me how she came to live in the neighborhood.  She said she had taken care of a woman and when the woman died, she left everything to her, along with what I deduced was quite a bit of money and what Jean described as a flawless diamond ring, worth $38,000.00.

I thought that was a tad bit too much information to be telling somebody you had just met but that seemed to be Jean’s way.  She was definitely a flibbertigibbet and a little idiosyncratic but sort of “precious” at the same time.

After she brewed the coffee, we sat down and she served it in a dainty little set of china that you would expect to use if you were an antique porcelain doll.  It was beautiful china but it only held a few swallows of coffee.  It was more suitable for espresso, I thought.  Even so, it took me back to my childhood of tea parties with pots filled with air and cups that when spilled didn’t make a mess.

She began the conversation with “I’m guessing you want to know all about the neighbors.”  I hesitated and said “um, okay.”

She said “well….did you notice the man on the corner?  Oh, silly me.  Of course you did.  How could you not?”  I told her that I had seen him but I had been pretty busy with the movers and this was the first day I had actually been out of the house.  She said “I’m surprised you haven’t heard him.”

“Heard him?” I asked.  She said “that’s Judge Carson.  Every day come rain or shine, sleet or snow, he stands on the corner holding a tattered and faded sign warning that ‘the end is near’.”  I asked her if he was a real judge and she laughed.  “No,” she said.  “He just acts like one because he preaches hell fire and brimstone and calls for the repentance of all of us wicked and evil people.”

As she started to emulate him, she reminded me of one of those people who, when filled with the Holy spirit, suddenly start speaking in tongues. “Come to me my brethren and I will cleanse your wicked soul.”  She laughed and closed her eyes as she wielded her spoon and said “God will smite thee with His mighty sword of vengeance lest ye ask forgiveness for your sins.”

“Do you know his story?” I asked.  “Nope,” she quipped.  I said “are you not curious?”  Again, she quipped “nope.”

She might not be curious but I was.  For as long as I could remember, I had a fascination with people in general and found that everybody has a story if you’re willing to listen.

I thanked her for the coffee and the company and told her that I needed to get back home.  She said “we’ll do this again next Tuesday, same time and I’ll tell you more about the neighbors.”  I didn’t even have time to say I’d think about it before she said “I insist.”


To be continued________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Six

A little more than a week after Dawn and I visited the gallery, I got a call from Sally.  She excitedly asked “how quickly can you get up here?”

I was caught by surprise and it took me a few seconds to get my wits about me long enough to say “I can walk up there in about fifteen minutes.” Almost commandingly, Sally said “drive.”  I asked her if she had gotten robbed or if had there been a fire or my fondest wish, if had she found the artist.

“Just get up here,” she said.  I grabbed my car keys and headed up the street.  I was so nervous, excited, worried and a little hopeful that when I got to the gallery, I didn’t even remember how I got there.

I walked in and Sally grabbed my arm.  “Come here,” she said.  We walked to the area where Katy’s paintings were.  A gentleman was standing there and she introduced us.  “What’s going on?” I asked.

She said “this gentleman was looking at The Journey Of Life and when I was lowering the shades, he yelled ‘hold it…hold it…hold it’.”

She leaned over and whispered “I thought maybe he was having a stroke or something so I ran over to see about him.”

He said “look.  You can see just the faintest difference in the colors here and I think I can see a word.  I noticed it when the sun hit it in a certain way.”

Sally said “he asked me if I had a black light, which of course I did, so we lowered all the shades, turned off the lights and shined the black light on the paintings.”

She smiled and said “and there it was…on all of them.  A word.  She said “it was in a foreign language and I didn’t know what it meant, but he did.”

The gentleman scratched his head and said it was a strange word to be on paintings and it really didn’t make any sense to him.

When he told me what the word meant, I understood why it was there and I immediately knew that my suspicions had been right all along.  There was no doubt that all of those pieces had been painted by Katy.

I believed that Miss Mabel somehow had a hand in this particular gentleman showing up on this particular day, at this particular time, looking at this particular painting.  Again, I wrestled with the idea of telling Sally that I knew who the artist was but I think Katy’s intent was to have a certain je ne sais quoi attached to her paintings and I would not take that away from her.

I would like to say that once again, paintings mysteriously began to arrive at the gallery.  I would like to say that I was eventually able to purchase one of her masterpieces.  I would like to say that I found her and discovered that she had finally found peace and happiness.  I would like to say all of those things but I can’t.

I have no idea what happened to Katy.  She just might be on that island as I hoped, or she might be resting in the cemetery near Miss Mabel, having been reduced to nothing more than a forgotten, nameless number.

I did know one thing.  I had been witness to extraordinary work, the likes of which I was sure I would never see again.  Katy had touched me in a way that no other had or ever would.  As long as I lived, she would not be forgotten.

Some of the notes she left had almost ripped my heart out but the paintings she left made it sing with joy.

I think we all want to leave a mark and whether or not she realized it, she had done just that.  She left a mark on many lives…Miss Mabel’s, mine, Samwell’s, Dawn’s, Sally’s and every person who gazed in awe at her exquisite work.

I think about the word she hid in all of her paintings.  The brutality of her father’s words had never stopped ringing in her ears and the wounds left by those words had never healed.

I kept repeating the word and I will never forget the gentleman at the gallery cavalierly saying.  “The word is WORTLOS.  It’s German.”

“Translated, it means…worthless.”


Das Ende.


Finding Katy – Chapter Five

I left my name and phone number with Sally.  I asked her to call me if by any chance she got another painting or if she got some information about the artist.  I decided not to tell her that I was almost certain that I knew who the artist was.  For now, it was going to be my secret.

I stopped by to see Miss Mabel on my way back home and thanked her for guiding me to that gallery.  It had taken a while for her to “give me a sign” but it was worth the wait.  Maybe my arrogant and open declarations of disbelief in anything mystical had prevented me from being nudged.

There were so many of Katy’s paintings on display and I wanted to study each and every one of them.  “The Journey Of Life” had been painted when she was 65 years old and it was the last painting the gallery had received.

I didn’t dare think the worst as to the reason they had stopped.  I was instead hoping that she had retired to a faraway island and was sipping piña coladas, while swinging in a hammock like the ones she had painted for Miss Mabel.  I was hoping that by painting The Journey Of Life, it meant that her story had been told on canvas and she was finally saying goodbye to her horrific, painful past.

I went to visit Dawn the next day.  This time, she greeted me wearing nothing but a towel…and the usual smile.  After she excused herself to put on some clothes, she offered me what she called a nutritious, energizing, immune-boosting drink.  I was polite and sipped on it while thinking it tasted like how I thought rotting seaweed must smell.

I told her that I found this gallery uptown and I was sure some of the paintings there were by Katy.  I also told her about the “cloak and dagger” way the gallery had received the paintings over the last ten years.  She surprised me when she said “I’d like to see them.  Let’s go.”

We walked uptown and went into the gallery.  Dawn walked around looking at all the art.  Her tastes, unlike mine, included the abstract, the “what the hell is this supposed to be?” and the two eyes on the side of the face genre.

I was looking at The Journey of life.  Suddenly I heard Dawn say “oh my God! That’s my horse!  Look.  It has the same eyes.  The eyes are full of fear.”

Sally and I walked over and she asked Dawn what she meant when she said “that’s my horse.”  Dawn told her that she had a painting of a white stallion on the enclosure of her fireplace.  Sally asked her who the artist was and Dawn told her that she didn’t know.  “Only the date is on the painting,” she said.

Sally said “only the dates are on these paintings.  Same artist maybe?  Hmm.  This is getting curiouser and curiouser.”

“Dawn’s horse” had been titled “Escaping The Dark.”  I had been so mesmerized by the “Journey,” memorizing every line, every curve and every stroke of the brush that I hadn’t even noticed the horse painting.

Sally said that a few children had been a little frightened when looking at that painting.  I could understand why.  The background was pitch black and a white stallion looked like it was charging right toward you.  Sally said “almost every visitor remarks about how the horse looks like it is ready to jump out of the canvas.”  She shook her head and said “whoever this artist is or was, is or was…truly, truly remarkable.”

Dawn told Sally that she would like to buy the painting.  Again, Sally told her that it was not for sale due to the fact that they didn’t know who the artist was.

I thought maybe Dawn had a valid point when she said “well, they are here in your gallery.  Because they came here anonymously, that would tell me that they belong to you.  The purpose of displaying most art is to sell it, yes?  I mean, the other artwork is for sale.  Why not these?”

Sally said “if we sold them, who would get the money?  The artist should, but we don’t know who the artist is.”  Dawn said “give the money to charity.  They were sent to you for a reason.  That reason might very well be to help someone in need and the proceeds of the paintings could do that.”

Sally told Dawn that in all good conscience, she just couldn’t sell the paintings but perhaps in the future, if the artist hadn’t come forward, she would revisit her decision.

I wondered if I should tell Sally that we thought we knew who the artist was.  It probably wouldn’t change her mind and we certainly couldn’t prove it, so it seemed like a moot point.

We decided to hold onto our secret for a little while longer.


To be continued_____________