Renters

by Desmond Everest Fuller

To our left, the neighbors we never see keep an immaculate lawn. Grass that’s beveled. A resentful neatness in their flowerbeds, while dandelions strangle our yard in yellow.

At the old green house to our right, the rhododendrons and the camellias receive tender care. In five years, we barely receive eye-contact. The fence between our yards is decomposing. We have, on occasion, wondered about shame.

Over the back fence matted in trumpet vines, a dog barks because he can. I hear him and wonder if I’d do the same, given nothing else to call mine. Young boys hatch plots in a tree house. I hear them too. Later, their father tries to explain justifications for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Voices carry, but we never see faces.

Across the street, an old man lives alone in a grand craftsman. His cigar winks in the aromatic dark. His sunflowers climb until he’s lost among their stalks. Sunflowers were his wife’s favorite. In the fall, the crows hook their beaks into the drooping faces, digging out seeds.

To the old man’s right are three generations and seven days a week of bickering. A grandmother glowers at her naked grandchildren at play in the dirt. Young men and less-young men have been sipping on the porch for hours. There are many wayward comings and goings from a Camaro that’s seen better days. When the older kids get stoned, they act like they’re invisible. From our vantage opposite the driveway, we claim to know better.

To the old man’s left, is the beautiful house. The foundation poured as the sun rose in June half a century ago. Concrete graced with first light on a morning that broke before the television was invented. We drink beer and envy the old woman who lives there her allotted stretch of history. By the fourth round, we’ve almost convinced ourselves that she is Harper Lee. One day, Harper Lee tells me about the man who owns our house. “No one should speak to their children like he did.”

In the yard down from Harper Lee, lights spin in big colors. They’re the youngest family on the block, the kind of parents who might have considered Scout but settled prematurely on Khaleesi. She makes ambulance wails and stomps in her dad’s sidewalk shadow. On nights when he smokes crystal, he busts out the Day-Glo hula-hoop. Khaleesi claps and squeals, her cotton hem twirling in the grass as the lights turn like the helm of a celestial ship.

This is our block. We are the renters. The eyesore dragging down property values. Between us, there’s not a down payment for a tool shed or the will to trim the hydrangea.

Nights grind their teeth on our forgettable days. We return empty bottles and cans, spend too much on breakfast, work for shit pay, and tell each other, “I’m not tied down, I can go anywhere.” Sometimes I even believe it, when the nights lie too warm, another weekend’s gone, and I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t. At the end of the block, there’s a place that hasn’t happened yet where I’m recalling this period of my life with abashed fondness; I tell myself it’s already there, and I can go see it any time.

Turn to my left, pass the judgmental tulips. Pass the white house where, on the red car, Jesus eats Darwin, yet, ironically, both are fish. Then the dogs that bare their teeth. They lunge at me. Confounded by a high fence, they turn on each other. The poodle loses an eye.

I pass the drab brown house. Sun-faded Regan ‘84 flyers in the window. We never saw the mother and daughter outside. They smoked Winston Lites with the TV on for years. “I don’t know what’s her problem,” the mother told the caretaker on the morning her daughter’s heart had stopped in the recliner next to her, eyes closed against a blue tide of infomercials.

At the end of the block, there’s a house beneath a dogwood tree. At 460’ the floor plan could fit in your palm. Through a gap in the curtains, a naked bulb shines, and it is not an unpleasant light. Someone is unpacking boxes. Sipping from a mason jar.

I want to know why it isn’t us, embarking on a belle epoch armed with a mortgage and paint rollers. I want so badly it snarls up the night. Marooned where the sidewalk ends, I count seasons in fallen dogwood petals. The yard behind the small house slopes into deepening green. I let myself pretend that it tumbles on forever.

And we’re carried through July swelters and apocalyptic smoke, November gloamings and buckets of rain. I look for something we might hold on to before that dog barks again, under the porchlight, adjacent the blackberries, and suddenly every house on our street is a heartbreak that’s sleeping.

 

Desmond Everest Fuller is an MFA candidate in fiction at Boise State University and the associate editor of The Idaho Review for the 2023 issue. His short stories appear in Indiana Review, West Trade Review, The Gravity of The Thing, Timberline Review, and elsewhere.

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