It was just last September that I became obsessed with my neighbor’s wife.
I was out in my front yard, adjusting the sprinkler, trying to get a semblance of life in the barren coral wasteland of my Key West lawn. The sprinkler cost me a ridiculous $37.95 at Scotty’s hardware, because it was guaranteed to be easily adjustable to fit any lawn. Bullshit. The damn thing seemed to be dumping half my water bill into the driveway. I had just bought this house a few months before, for a sum I am embarrassed to admit to. Those who argue about the cost of living should try living in the Keys for a while.
I was on my knees, reaching behind a hibiscus plant gone wild, trying to find the knob to adjust the water pressure. A gecko suddenly surprised me, leaping out from the shade and sprinting away down the driveway. About halfway to the street it stopped, bobbed its head a few times, and disappeared behind the palm I hate, the one whose fronds always seem to grow out over the driveway to swat at our Camry as we pull in. As the gecko vanished, I looked beyond it, across the street, and beheld my neighbor’s wife for the first time.
She was wearing a flowing black sarong and some sort of plunging, black, lacy top. A mere string was all that covered her back, tanned the most perfect shade, reflecting the midday sun. She walked from her car towards their front entrance, all a swish and a wiggle. A haze of baked air came off the street between us, making her seem ghostly, unreal, and impossible. Her chestnut hair hung in long waves off her shoulders. Each finger had a silvery ring. She walked barefoot, with bells tinkling from a chain around her left ankle. I took all this in, drank in the vision of her, in no more than three seconds. Then she disappeared into her home, but the spell did not break. My obsession grew.
I remember that night I had problems sleeping. My wife and I had gotten into an argument earlier, which had caused our teenage son and daughter to retreat to their rooms in annoyance. That night I almost relished the cold shoulder my wife presented in bed, because it was hot, and we ran the air conditioning sparingly to save money. I tossed about the bed for hours, always seeming to catch the clock at weird times – 12:34, 1:23, 3:33. Finally I resorted to the ace up my sleeve, my always guaranteed method of relieving my mind and putting me off soundly to sleep. I fantasized of killing young women, who had everything to live for, and every reason to trust the world. My hands clasped around tender young imaginary throats, held flaxen crowned heads under shallow water, suffocated them with satin pillows in a moonlit bed. By the end of the third victim, I slept like a lamb.
I dreamed of hands clutching at me, small feminine hands with nails painted black and bells twinkling in the back of my mind. They pulled at my bare skin, dragging down into blackness too deep to perceive. And then I awoke, of course, to the horrid screech of my alarm clock at 6:30. I showered in a fog, shaved without aim, and coasted through a ridiculous day at the office. All day my mind kept returning to the woman across the street, the swish and the wiggle.
Two months later I first began to suspect I was under a spell. It was the end of November, and I was out in my still barren, still hot Key West excuse for a lawn. I was doing my damndest to drive wooden spikes into the ground, from which I planned to string a happy banner of twinkle lights in assorted gay colors, the very model of kind-hearted, wholesome Christmas cheer. Most of the fucking posts broke or split down the middle as I bashed at them with a hammer. My lawn was all impenetrable coral rock, just like the whole pathetic excuse for an island. My son was crouching nearby, supposedly helping me, but instead performing at a level that would have been substandard for a robot. Hold the post Son. Hold it with both hands Son. Hold it with the point downward Son. He had perfected the art of making his help more trouble than it was worth. I got angry and took the post from him, threw my hammer at the ground near his feet, and showed him, showed him precisely, how I wanted him to hold the post for me to drive it into the ground. The look he was giving me reeked of teenage angst and homicide. I was cursing under my breath, when I heard the tinkle of bells.
She was across the street again, chatting with three women I had never seen before. All of them were wearing black dresses, in Key West, where flip-flops and t-shirts are the height of fashion. Each of the three women seemed to be dressing in adoration of my neighbor’s wife, a pale attempt at impersonation bordering on the absurd. One of the three women was a scrawny wisp of a girl, somewhere in her forlorn forties. Another weighed at least two hundred pounds, proudly exposing a roll of fat that surrounded her bare waist. The last of the three looked too pale to have ever seen the outdoors, her eyes sunken and her lips thin. All of them, except for my neighbor's wife, had hair some unnatural color, a red almost purple, a black almost blue, a blond turned gasoline orange. They all wore baubles about their necks, trying to emulate the style of the woman who haunted me. When my neighbor’s wife tossed her hair they did likewise. When she laughed in soft melody, they orchestrated with the braying voices of jackasses. When she walked with a cats grace from point to point, they followed her in a thundering parade. I hated them at first sight.
It was then that I realized that my neighbor’s wife never ate, never drank, never seemed to take anything into herself. Each of the other bitches was putting something into their ghastly mouths - a cigarette, a sip of some fruity alcoholic drink, a fat-ass cheeseburger. But my neighbor’s wife merely chatted with them, her mouth filled with even white teeth, uncorrupted by stain or odor. I caught a good glimpse then, for the first time, at her eyes. In the middle of some clever retort, intended for ears other than mine, she stopped, and looked right at me.
Her eyes were the faded blue you would expect from a desert princess. In the light tan of her face, they shone like stars. I was mesmerized by them, entranced, and enslaved. I was full aware that she had me, at that very moment, under a spell. As she looked at me, held me like a small frightened animal pinned under her gaze, she leaned forward to rest a slender hand on the fat shoulder of one of the intruder women. She spoke some word into the bitch's ear, and each of the three intruders guffawed in their particular style, with either a roll of blubber, a shudder of pointy bones, or a faded heroin addict shiver. They were laughing at me, each of the three intruders. But she was not laughing at me, that I could sense. She was not laughing at me because she knew she owned me, and a certain respect is inherent in all that you possess. I was possessed. I was a possession.
The intruders laughter died down a bit, and my neighbor’s wife leaned further forward, her lips rounded, and kissed the fat bitch right on the mouth. Their lips parted, and with a sudden eagle-eyed laser sighting it seemed I could zoom in on the action of their pornographic tongues. A half a second they touched, and then it ended in ice, and my world spun out from under me. I looked down at the arm that supported me, and saw it was being gnawed on by fire ants. I looked over at my son, and saw he was holding the hammer. I thought for certain he intended to brain me then and there.
I leapt away from my son with a barely swallowed shriek, then slapped stupidly at my arm that was beginning to glow from the bites of the ants. The bubble of reality burst, and the hex was put back over my eyes, my son looked concerned, the bitches seemed concerned, the world seemed normal. All of it except for me, of course. I was the madman in dirty clothes grunting at harsh fate. I retreated indoors. My wife pretended concern. My daughter feigned interest. My son relayed information, now the robot anchorman. I thought I still saw a smolder of murder deep within his eyes.
Time passed in agony. Christmas was hell. Thank you for the tie. Thank you for the razor. Thank you for the wallet. Please do me the courtesy of slitting open my ribs and pulling out my lungs in a wretched blood eagle. End my existence.
Every night I could not sleep. The mantra of youthful torture no longer did the trick. I desperately forced my mind into further imagined carnal bloodshed, to no avail. I introduced my young fantasy women to harsher treatment – acids, serrated edges, splatters of blood on bare walls. My eye caught the trick of digital time night after night – 3: 21, 3:33, 4:56. I took to wandering at night, after my wife had turned her cold shoulder. The sex between us was hollow and hostile and unfulfilling. My kids hated me. Even my fucking dog turned away.
I was no longer myself. Tortured by the spell of my neighbor’s wife, I spent long moments peeking out of windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Perhaps she would flutter her hands, or cast some chicken bones, or slay a stolen infant, in the pursuit of her craft. Perhaps she would release me from my spell. Night after night I watched and I caught a few bare glimpses. Her out alone at night, looking up at the full moon. Her moving about the shadows of her bedroom. Her meeting strangers in the darkest of nights. They came and went like gypsies, some men, some women. Always they came alone, sometimes she left with them. Her movements followed no discernable pattern, other than a tendency toward the nocturnal. I began watching her from my front yard, then from her front yard, then from inches away from her bedroom window.
That’s when her husband caught me. It was in late January, after 3AM, and a brisk 67 degrees outside. I was up on a garbage can, peeking in through an open transom over their kitchen door, hoping to catch a scent of perfume.
“Do you love her?” came a voice from behind me.
I jumped like a cat. I came crashing down with a flat slap on the concrete edge of their porch, knocking the wind out of me, smashing my elbow against the ground. Still I sprung to my feet and backed against the stucco walls of their house, trying to back through them and away from the shadowy shape of hulking masculinity in front of me. He seemed all arms and shoulders. I realized at that moment that I had never truly considered my neighbor before, though every moment I had spent surveying his wife’s body in my mind.
“Do you love her?” He asked again, and took a step toward me.
“No!” I said, afraid for my cowardly skin. My elbow was in agony. I imagined the bloody wreck it must be.
“No.” He said, considering. “Then what does that make you? Not a stalker. Not some fling she dumped in the past. What’s your excuse?”
I was terrified. I thought I was going to be beaten loudly. I thought the neighborhood would be awoken by my screams. I couldn’t find words. I struggled to piece together some sentence, some explanation of why I had been perched up on their garbage can, peering into their house.
“Do you love her?” He asked again, but I was not really listening. I was considering some escape path. Perhaps I would choose any direction and run straight off the island, dive to the bottom of the ocean, and be eaten by sharks. He took his last possible step toward me, closing the distance between us to mere inches. I had to look up at him.
“Yes!” I answered in a squeak, “Yes, I love her! And I hate her!” My mouth went suddenly dry. How loud had I said that? Loud enough for her to hear? Face to face with a wrathful, wronged husband, I feared the slip of a woman inside, sleeping in her bed.
“Yes.” He said. “Then it’s too late for you.”
Then, suddenly, the guise was lifted from my hexed eyes. I saw glorious reality. The hulking beast in front of me shriveled into a small, balding, poorly shaved man in a cheap shirt and slacks. He looked scared, scared of her, I surmised. He was a slave to her, a servant. Not a bodyguard, not an assassin, he was just a pet. He held no key to her bedchamber; he owned no corner of her cold witchy heart.
“You’re not her husband, are you?” I asked, but he did not answer. He looked down at his feet, and the air seemed to go completely out of him. I knew. I knew all I needed to know about the man in front of me. Insanely, I considered walking right into her house – not his, but hers. I considered leaving him outside to listen to the sounds of me rutting her – not out of passion for her, but out of contempt for him.
“If you tell a soul,” I said to him, “I’ll cut your fucking heart out.” And I meant it. I turned my back on him and went home. I stripped off my clothes and got into bed, awoke my wife, and vengeance fucked her to punctuate my certainty.
The next day was a Saturday, and I slept in late, awakening with a powerful vitality inside me. The guise was lifted. I was in control. I considered my enemy, the woman next door, evaluating her strengths and weaknesses. I had taken a bold, if accidental step. I knew her lackey, her live-in servant male, would tell her what I had done, and felt set free by it. I considered all the ways to kill a witch, whimsical and practical. Hold her underwater; if she doesn’t drown, she is a witch. Burn her at the stake. Cut off her head. Smash her with a blunt club. Carve her bones from the meat. I masturbated joyously to the thought.
A few spent moments later I walked, naked, to the shower. I enjoyed my late morning shower cold. I decided that she would die with multiple knives from my kitchen drawer, pinned down and held in place on our spinning Earth. I shaved carefully, and dried myself off slowly. I applied aftershave, brushed and flossed my teeth, studied my profile in the mirror. My elbow was slightly bruised, but still ached furiously. I walked out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, and took a peek into the family room. My son sat on the floor, staring straight up at the ceiling. The oddness of his position intrigued me, and I walked toward him. Then I heard my wife’s voice from the kitchen, and smelt coffee and cinnamon.
“He hasn’t been himself lately.” said my wife’s voice. “He has a lot of trouble sleeping, but recently it seems worse than normal. He needs to relax, enjoy living in paradise a bit more.”
“Oh, he will learn to enjoy paradise.” said a woman’s voice. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have a man. Mine is gone.”
How. Fucking. DARE SHE! My wife was in my kitchen, in my house, discussing me and my business as if I were not even there. My son swiveled his head, rolling it to the side, and looked me right in the eye. He did a marvelous job hiding his emotion, but still I sensed the laughter inside him. Look at the old fool wrapped in the towel. Look at the peeping tom, the sexual deviant, the hexed perpetual victim. I decided to stroll right into the kitchen, confront my wife and whatever hen she was confiding in, and terminate the conversation immediately.
Then I heard the sound of tinkling bells.
I smelled my own cold terror, sharp in my nostrils. Blackness circled my vision, and I felt my legs turn rubbery. I took shuddering steps toward the kitchen door, grabbed for the frame, missed it, and wound up taking two more steps right into the kitchen.
“Dad!” said my daughter. She was sitting up on a counter, her smile large and warm and seemingly genuine. “Where are your clothes?” She laughed. She was stirring a big bowl of sliced apples and cinnamon and sugar, the signs of pie making all around her.
“Well good morning.” said my wife, chuckling. She had been pressing the edges of pie crust into a pan with a fork, flour smeared on her shorts in a handprint. “You might want to get dressed. We have company. This is Melody, who lives right across from us.”
She pointed to the other counter, where the witch, Melody, had her back to me. I could see her chopping apples with the very same knife I had imagined using to stab her with the night before. With the strength and efficiency of a butcher, she sliced through apple after apple, dumping them into a large bowl. She was mostly covered in a black skirt and blouse, except for her arms and a bare peek at slender midriff, and, of course, her bare feet and musical ankles. My dog sat at her feet, hoping for some scrap to drop. The hair at his neck brushed against her slender calves. His tongue lolled.
“Melody, excuse my husband.” said my wife with a giggle and a mischievous grin, “He never has been much of a dresser on weekends.”
The witch, my neighbor, grabbed the last apple and put it on the cutting board. I observed the tickle of her light movement, and then the sudden chop as she cut the apple in half. She turned toward me, and looked at me with her desert faded eyes.
“Good morning.” She said, and it occurred to me that today was the first time I had ever heard her voice. “I hope you didn’t get all dressed up for me.” The women in the kitchen laughed playfully.
“I have just been enjoying a little chitchat with your girls.” The witch continued. “We are making you breakfast, although it will probably be lunch when we are done. You do like apple pie, right?”
I didn’t answer her. I wasn’t even thinking of answering her. I wasn’t even thinking. I was numb. I was standing in my kitchen wrapped in a towel, exposed in the glow of bright florescent bulbs and morning sun to a woman who could burst my heart with a gesture. I knew she was here to kill me. My daughter appeared at my side, holding a cup of coffee. With an effort I took it, and my daughter leaned forward, giving me a kiss on the cheek. The dog flopped his tail against the linoleum floor once, twice.
Melody walked toward me, holding a half an apple in each hand. “Here.”, she said, holding one half toward me, “Eat this, and tell your girls thank you for being so sweet to you on this beautiful Saturday morning.” I took the half apple from her hand with my free one. I dimly remembered a half apple as meaning something, perhaps in some book I had read about witchcraft, recently.
She bit into her half of the apple, looking at me curiously. It was the first time I had ever seen her put food to her mouth.
I bit into my own half, and reality again shifted. I was right, but it was too late to do anything about it.
"Thank you." I said.
Yeah, it's fiction.