The Unemployed Neighbor
The unemployed neighbor never mows his lawn. He owns one of the most high-tech riding mowers in the neighborhood. The mower sits under the unemployed neighbor’s dilapidated back deck covered with a blue torn-up tarp with grease stains all over it. Behind the mower, hanging on a rack on the outside wall of the house, hangs a number of gardening tools: manual rototiller, rakes, shovels, pitch fork, hoes. But the large raised garden bed in the unemployed neighbor’s backyard is filled with dandelions and moss-carpeting. The wooden garden gate archway is cracked, splintered and crumbling, and the swinging gate-door hangs crooked from only one working hinge. The carved daisies on the upper curved border no longer look like flowers. Their painted purple petals have all broken and fallen to the ground.
The unemployed neighbor has a two-car garage, but he only drives a sidecar-motorcycle—his one running vehicle. His cycle, a relic of a Harley, is a hodge-podge of mismatched parts pieced together from junkyards and fellow local bikers. The only original part of the unemployed neighbor’s cycle is the seat; it’s a two-seater, original from the day he bought the Harley brand new. The passenger seat of the unemployed neighbor’s two-seater Harley is worn and faded, but I never see him with a passenger. A beat-up 1975 Camero sits up on cement blocks in the unemployed neighbor’s side yard. The hood is always propped open, held up with a thick tree branch. There is no motor inside the unemployed neighbor’s old beat-up muscle car.
The unemployed neighbor walks with a limp. He’s a tall slim man, with monkey-like arms. The long, ringlet-filled salt-and-pepper ponytail and silvering-beard shows his age. He’s in his mid-fifties. The unemployed neighbor never wears shoes in the summer. In the winter he wears sandals with mismatched socks. Sometimes the unemployed neighbor wraps plastic shopping bags over his sandaled feet. I see this happen on the slushiest winter days. In the spring and the fall the unemployed neighbor pedals around and around the cul-de-sac on an old, rusty women’s bicycle. It has a white wicker basket attached to the front of the handlebars that is covered with purple-peddled daisies. When I see the unemployed neighbor peddling around in circles, he’s always wearing flip flops and fuzzy purple leg warmers. The unemployed neighbor always stops at some point in the middle of his pedaling-circles to pick up pebbles from the side of the road and places them in the basket. I always wonder what he does with all those pebbles.
The unemployed neighbor’s makeshift mailbox is made out of a bright yellow plastic kitty litter container duct taped to a purple-painted PVC pipe stuck into a mound of gravel and rocks. But the unemployed neighbor doesn’t own a cat. He owns a dog, an old black dog with only three legs. I’ve never heard the dog bark. Every day at dusk, rain or shine, the unemployed neighbor takes his dog for a walk. I see the two limping and hopping around and around and around that cul-de-sac a number of times. One evening I found myself on my front porch bored and alone and watching them circle that cul-de-sac over and over and over again. I decided to count the number of times they made. Sixteen times is what it had amounted to. Curious, I set out to count their circlings every time I noticed them out on their walk. Every time I count, the number is always the same. Sixteen over and over and over again. It never varies, not when I’ve observed.
Every night, after walking his dog, the unemployed neighbor drives to the nearest liquor store, sometimes on his Harley, sometimes on the rusty women’s bicycle with a Little Red Wagon trailing behind. He always buys a case of O’Doul’s and sixteen fifths of vodka. When he arrives home, he turns on a bright floodlight. The floodlight is attached at the upper back corner of his sagging roof, and it illuminates a shooting range in his backyard. Then he stands with the case of O’Doul’s on the ground beside his feet, a .45 in his hand. He takes aim and shoots at the vodka bottles all lined up on wooden sawhorses along the tree-line at the back border of his yard. Often I notice over his left ear a purple-peddled daisy. The evenings that I see no daisy over his ear, there is a purple glass vase filled with purple-peddled daisies beside his case of O’Doul’s.
The unemployed neighbor keeps to himself. I never see him have company at his house, and I never see him go out to socialize. The town is small, but I never hear anyone mention him, except to complain about his unkempt lawn. This is what I over-hear from the old women of the community gardening club in the local diner where I order my daily takeout. I like to watch the unemployed neighbor while I eat my daily diner meals. Unemployed-neighbor-watching takes the place of dinner conversation, since I dine and live alone. It provides me much satisfying entertainment.
Tonight while eating dinner I doze off. I awake with a start to the sound of shattering glass. I look out the picture window expecting to see the unemployed neighbor shooting at vodka. His floodlights are all off. I stand up from my recliner, the only seat in my living room, and feel sharp piercing pain once my left foot hits the cold creaky floor. I look down and see a spider-web-splintered picture frame on the rotting hardwood. I pick up the picture and brush it off and sit back down. My foot is dribbling blood, but I cannot feel the wound.
In the photo, which has a smudge at one corner, I see a middle-aged man, tall and slim with monkey-like arms. His hair hangs in a ringlet-filled salt-and-pepper ponytail over one shoulder. His beard is raven-black. Beside him is a sixteen year old girl in a purple sundress. She is sitting on a purple bicycle with a white wicker basket attached to the handlebars. All over the basket are purple-peddled daisies. Around the girl’s head of long sable hair is a halo—a ring of woven together purple-peddled daisies fresh out of the lush garden behind father and daughter, and food-colored by the girl’s mother for a birthday present. In the girl’s dainty hands is a .45. Beside her bare feet upon the grassy ground rests a torn-open box and crumpled wrapping paper. Across her and her proud daddy’s faces—smiles brighter than his shooting range floodlights. Smiles that will never return.
In the foreground of the photo sits a rectangular picnic table covered with a purple Sweet Sixteen tablecloth and a freshly baked homemade birthday cake. The cake is two-tiered with white frosting and a border of purple-peddled daisies.
Those smiles will never return, not since that day, that day drunk daddy cleaned sweet-sixteen-Sandra’s birthday-gift-gun and accidentally shot her dead.
That photo. Such a great photo, had I not smudged frosting across the corner of the lens.
The aroma of fresh baked homemade cake will never grace my kitchen again.
Renee S. DeCamillis is a dark fiction writer, an online horror movie reviewer, and an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Her short fiction has appeared in Down In the Dirt Magazine and Stonecoast Lines. Her movie reviews have been published on AllHorror.net and Horror-Movie-Reviews.com. Her poetry appears in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume IV. She sold a story in 2016 to a pulp horror anthology, but the editor died before the publication was finished. Darkness follows her everywhere.
She was a Fiction Editor for Words and Images, and earned an MFA in popular fiction from the Stonecoast Graduate Program at the University of Southern Maine. She has a B.A. in psychology and has worked in the mental health field for years. She is also a blues/rock/metal lead singer and lyricist and rhythm guitarist, and has been in a number of bands where she took on various roles, including a hand percussionist. She attended Berklee college of Music as a music business major, with guitar as her principle instrument. Back in the 90s she was an A&R Rep for an independent record label. She implemented and lead a School Rock Band project in an alternative education program, and was a private guitar instructor. Also in the alternative education field, she taught creative writing to at-risk teens. She is also a former gravedigger; she can get rid of a body fast without leaving a trace, and she is not afraid to get herhands dirty.
She lives in the woods of southern Maine with her husband, their son, and a house full of ghosts.
Image: Flickr / Michel Curi