Questions just bounced of those dark eyes staring at me, all I was getting was silence and then more of the same. It didn’t help. I felt uncomfortably hot and kept wiping sweat from my forehead like someone had turned on a sprinkler. I was in a corner, not quite physically, but mentally, I wasn’t even sure why I had come here in the first place. I supposed now that it had been some sort of macho impulse, like you wanna impress someone so you jump and as you fall you wonder whether it was really such a good idea. It was too late now. I had crossed over from where Jane and me had been hanging, for the past few weeks. Left the sunny spot by the apple tree, which was in full bloom, filling the air with a bustle of bee’s and birds, the sun made the dampness rise from the grass and the air felt warm and accommodating. We were sipping on lemonades during the days and had beers and barbecues most evenings, apart from one night when it had been raining like it was the end of the world.
Anyhow the music had been blaring from speakers inside the house across the street, which we sort of accepted for some time, but when Kit started crying and just wouldn’t stop I was reaching the end of my patience. Kit was just over five. Kit was getting to grips with riding a bike. Kit kept falling over, but to our delight made much progress and now Kit was crying loudly, yet barely audible cause of the music coming from across the street. I didn’t mind not hearing the child cry so much, but trying to calm her I had to raise my voice till I felt myself shouting. Which seemed to have the adverse effect on Kit and who could blame her, and that combined with the humid heat and the air so still and thick that if you could cut air this would be prime target, proved too much. In short, I flipped, started to stomp over, across the lawn opening the little wooden gate, crossing pavement and street then walked up the paved driveway up to the big wooden door that I had often noticed, but never seen opened and before I gave it another thought I started hammering against the door like I was ready to tear the house down. Just when the door opened I realised that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t exactly small myself and had in recent years broadened some in most directions but up, however I felt dwarfed by who opened the door.
The dark eyes stared at mine for a long time without saying anything and all I was doing was burning up inside and sweating like a pot bellied pig over a fire. Then he indicated for me to wait, there was nothing threatening in that gesture but it was conveyed by one who seemed very sure of himself so as much as it was an indication it almost seemed like a command.
The music was turned down then off and he returned, his stride as sure as the gesture earlier till he came to a halt in front of me.
‘Yes’ ,he muttered in a somewhat southern drawl. There was something reassuring in his voice, something soft that I couldn’t have told earlier. Now it was up to me to feel apologetic, just that I was holding on to my rage while racking my brain for something to say. I turned just then and found myself pointing across the street, pointing at Jane and the apple tree and Kit who was back on her bike laughing out in a manner which clearly travelled across the street, sounding of joy only a five year old could feel and convey, a joy that would hit you low and fill you with pride and you wanna point out that the little girl is yours and your pride and joy and that you love more deeply than you would have thought ever possible. I pointed and my voice crackled into gear before making sense once more as I turned.
‘We moved across the street’ I found myself saying, ‘just over a month ago we moved across from you, I thought I come by and do the decent thing, make sure we don’t get off on the wrong foot. My partner Jane and our daughter Kit and I am Mark.’
I was still pointing half turned and could see Jane wave sort of friendly if a little hesitant.
‘I am Darryl’, he said in that same deep voice, a big hand stretching out for me to shake and it covered mine, would squash it if it wanted to but instead just gave it a firm friendly squeeze.
‘You came cause the music was, driving you crazy hm, I apologise.’
There it was with that one line he had disarmed me, taken away the reason for anger, would have made me stutter were it not for the fact that I knew of nothing to say.
‘I got carried away, playing the guitar.’ He mimed the motion of playing a guitar, like we had done when we were younger sometimes utilizing tennis rackets other times just using thin air. He gave off a chuckle then sort of stopped with a final silent cord and a satisfied laugh proud, of his performance as much as amused by it. He took a step forward, but his face clouded over and suddenly the giant in front seemed vulnerable. He looked me over then, pointed up and to either side before speaking up again his voice gone quiet.
And I didn’t know what he wasn’t able to but it became clearer just a moment later when he continued.
He raised his hand pointing now as I had done before just that there wasn’t so much as one target he pointed out it was more the everywhere we were surrounded by.
‘They are out there, watching, as we speak.’ He retreated quickly from there, back to the safety of his hall, throwing me a smile, meant to look reassuring. Reassuring me of his sanity, or though I presumed at the time, but I didn’t buy it, not all anyhow. He motioned me inside his eyes shifty now, cautiously surveying the periphery of his vision, his world which had shrank so much since I had first approached his door.
I looked back towards my own yard, Jane’s eyes following me and the child at a similar pace. I followed Darryl inside, feeling her big eyes burn holes in my back, somewhat tensed by that feeling, my shoulders tighten upwards, knowing that I am taking a wrong route just then, but somehow unable to stop, say no and turn in my steps.
As much as the house oozed warmth from the outside once indoors the place is stripped of all comfort, bare walls, bare floors, standard issue furniture, all immaculately clean, bordering on the never before touched, entered, lived in, like a blank canvas or a showroom home. The air itself seemed to have an unnatural crispness to it, an artificiality achieved by … through … I couldn’t tell. I followed through a bright but lifeless living room towards the terrace, sun streaming through the large glass pane windows which take up the whole end of the room. Outside a well groomed lush green, like had been at the front of the house just that this was the sun side and the garden set back and much larger than the one we called our own just across the street. A couple of six packs were stood on the breakfast bar dividing living room from kitchen. Darryl grabbed a couple, passed me one and we twisted the tops open simultaneously.
He turned the music back on with the volume down, but I could see his head starting to bop along and his hands forming invisible cords or the beginning of such. He placed himself on the three seater by the window while I was left to hover about, suddenly unsure what my reason for being here was. And as the silence underneath the music grew so did my tension. I started thinking of an excuse to cut my visit short when I noticed the gun leaning just beside the sofa within easy reach of where my neighbour was sat. It made finding an excuse that little bit more difficult and a lot more desperate.
Although I had never actually owned a gun myself, friends had and had talked of the joy the weapon gave them. Those were friendly encounters with people I had known for a long time sometimes since childhood. There was no deception, no secrets, the weapon would be there unloaded, for anyone to touch. There was indeed something about the cold mechanical construction which fitted so well that was admirable, yet the ease with which it could be turned into a deadly instrument had always prevented me from going down that route. Now the two of us had met again, I was unsure of the way I ought to react. Was I to mention the now obvious presence of the gun, or ignore it, finish the beer make some random comments on the music he seemed so fond of then retreat to the other side of the road, forget I was ever here, but take my family inside, out of sight, out of range. As an afterthought I may call the police. I wasn’t thinking just now though, not of the police not wanting to arouse suspicion not even through thoughts he may be able to read. My unease grew.
‘Nice garden’, I remarked.
He briefly looked at me, at the garden nodded then stretched to turn up the volume, up to a level it might have been at before I had come over, up to a level were words had to be shouted to be understood. My beer neared empty and I indicated as much, causing him to point at the bottles, finishing his own then burping while signalling to me who hadn’t moved from where I was stood to get him one too. There was no discussion or exchange of words, perhaps there was no need for such action. Had I become hostage? Or was I free to leave if I so desired. The only way to find out was to announce my departure, but that took guts which right then I did not possess, I got each of us another beer seeking solace by numbing my thoughts although given the choice I would have replaced the beer with something stronger.
Once or twice I cleared my throat to make a comment but it remained unheard, I walked onto the terrace and out into the garden. Calm, I kept telling myself as I scanned every square inch for an alternate way out. A higher then average wall was surrounding the house, dividing front from back yard and by doing though making it impossible to gain access to either without having to cross through the house. The wall was not always visible through the lush vegetation, and once or twice I trembled with the excitement of having found a gap only to realise my error when I looked close. I admired the diversity of plant life, its abundance, the care someone had invested to create this illusion of unspoiled wilderness only to make it the setting for the tragedy that was about to take place.
Darryl eased himself onto the terrace, clinging to the edge of the building, his eyes anxiously darting around the yard. I couldn’t help wondering whether I would be able to reach the gun, if I were to make a dash for it. I thought I couldn’t, perhaps due to there being a gun to dash for, rather than actualities. He looked like a hunted animal, expecting to find the sniper behind a bush aiming at and then firing. The music had stopped, and been replaced by the happy song of birds and the occasional car passing on the other side of the house. I wondered whether Jane might have called the cops, but couldn’t see why, not from her point. I returned from my wander then, casually walking towards the door. I could see how there was a twitch in his movement as he himself got animated, swiftly moving back inside, quite obviously relieved to do though. He gave me a good natured smile when I came indoors, one which would have translated into thank you under different circumstances. Again he took his seat by the window, the gun within easy reach, but oblivious to it all the same. My second beer was nearing its end, and I was aching for something stronger, something to cloud my mind and take the tension from my shoulders. And just when I don’t quite know how to handle the situation any longer, I find myself asking the question.
“Do you have anything stronger than beer,” I ask and then swallow my fear and breath heavy, while sweat keeps running from me. I get little reaction, am not even sure whether he has taken the question to heart or whether it bypassed him completely. Then after what feels a long silence he nods and rises, slowly in that particular way of his, he moves towards the kitchen and my eyes follow every one of his steps. He opens a large build in fridge freezer and that is when something inside me clicks, realises that there is nothing to stop me now to gain control of the gun. I rush over to where he was sat just a minute ago, knocking his bottle on the way, but don’t care, I clutch the gun pull it up, swirl around and point, gripping it so tightly that my knuckles go white and my shoulders still so tense and sweat running from my forehead. He is halfway between fridge and myself, holding some glasses, a bottle his head cocked to one side with slight disbelieve yet still showing that soft smile that got me earlier.
“Don’t”, I shout but he keeps on coming so I do what you are meant to do when you point a gun, I pull the trigger back hard and the gun explodes and I near enough keel over backwards. The last thing I see is his big face with that smile on it, I hear glass break, sort of imagine the glasses and bottle drop, a big red patch is forming right in the middle of his chest. He is pushed back then, tumbles to the ground with a loud thump and I let go of the gun. All of me is shaking, the tension, the relief, the big bang I start sobbing like a child, snot running from my nose, sit down continue to shake.
The police find me not much after in very much the same state, pointing their guns at me then cuffing me, just to make sure I suppose. They calm me some too, hand me some water to drink which I swallow quickly, I feel thirsty and exhausted and tired, but before I can get to rest there are the questions I must answer. And I explain what happened, from the beginning, where Jane and Kit and me decide to move to the burbs to provide a better life, and perhaps try and make things workout between Jane and me cause things were a bit rocky. Telling them calms me more, till I get to the music being overly loud and then me inside with him acting weird and me being hostage.
The ambulance guys come in and take him away, and I can’t help wondering what went wrong, why he would do such thing.
A sergeant comes and whispers something into the captains ear, passes a note which the captain studies careful. He then looks up from it and throws me a long glance. Something isn’t right and I can feel myself sobbing again, tears welling up.
“What is it?”
“Mr. Bonine, Darryl Bonine, he had a condition.” “He was attacked a few years back and lost his family, he hasn’t left his house since, couldn’t face it, agoraphobia I think they call it.”
“He was just about moving in here as part of his therapy, change of scenery, fresh start.”
“That’s why the place is so empty.”