A little more than two years ago, Ashley Walker’s husband had a stroke. She wrote about it.
I was in our pitch dark alley, stuffing a maloderous bag in the garbage when a nearby voice said, “So uz ‘at your old man I seen you with t’other day? Inna car an’ all?” Coming out of the dark like that, I jumped about a foot and then squinted over in the voice’s direction. I made out Dwight, one of the woolly brothers next door, peering over his own garbage cans right back at me.
What with his whiskers and his eyes’ reflective red shine, he looked remarkably like a ‘possum, I thought. ‘Possums were on much my mind just then since we were in the middle of ‘Possum Freeway, which is what this alley really is. A lot of them cut through here and always scare me to death, since they look like sci-fi radiation-zapped mega-rats.
“Yeah,” I said to Dwight now, “it was my husband, alright. We’ve been going out to all kinds of places. Eating, shopping, and just for drives. Gotta get the man out and about. Can’t let him be the weird guy in the back room.”
“Well, hey,” Dwight said and there was a longish pause, while he decided what to do with this much info. “‘at’s real nice,” he said at last, and slouched back on home.
It was the longest conversation we’d had in twenty-eight years, he and I.
I don’t know what he does for a living, or if he’s the younger or older brother, or why he moved back into the house two years ago. I do know he has an ex-wife much younger than he is, a beautiful Mexican woman, who sometimes lives with him and sometimes doesn’t. I do know Dwight can operate a chainsaw while loaded and still drink a beer at the same time. (My boy once watched him saw up a big fallen tree limb one moonless night, all the while holding a brimming cup of beer and reported that Dwight never missed a lick or spilled a drop.) I do know he always comes outside to smoke a cigarette, just the way he did when his tough adored mama was alive. And I know he drinks a fifth of Wild Turkey every night of his life.
But this kind of knowing is typical of my neighborhood. We all know stuff about each other, but God knows how we do. I guess we snatch it out of the air somehow, or sniff it in the ozone. We’re definitely not your back-fence chatterers, since we believe, as staunch Texans do, in each man’s right to be left the fuck alone or say hey as the spirit moves you..
You can’t just come at us straight on, though, grinning like a fool, holding out your big meaty hand, wanting to be our instant asshole-buddy-neighbor. Not like Joe tried to do.
Last winter, in the same garbage alley, a late model car came to a screeching halt in front of my kneecaps. A jolly-looking 50ish guy sporting a white trimmed beard, a pressed cowboy shirt, and a quilted vest, hung his head out of the side window, grinning a big wide grin. “Hey there,” he said, “my name is Joe Somethingorother an’ I’m surely pleased ta meetcha ’cause I’m gonna be your neighbor here ‘cuz I just bought that l’il ol’ house over to San Juan Street (Note: I knew the house and it was a shitbox by any standards), an’ I’m gonna completely redo it. do it right, by God, yessir, with a real architect who’s designin’ it super modren an’ everything, but you don’t got to worry about assholes comin’ over ta steal shit, cuz I got a big ol ‘guy gonna live in a trailer right on site with his three nasty dogs, so there won’t be no materials just walkin’ off, you get my drift, but if you c’mon over sometime I’d be happy as shit ta show you around.”
I made my polite mooing noises, the ones that don’t mean yes or no, waved, and went into the house, lugging my groceries. One week later, on a raw day, while a slight drizzle wetted down the world, I watched Joe standing in front of his newly-bought crap house, dipping out Kool Aid from a bucket, and handing tiny Dixie cups of it to bewildered neighbors and passers-by, all the while expounding on his shining vision of this avant modren home-to-be.
After that, we all watched the house, as it assumed some sort of shape, although the progress was tedious and often halted. We observed Lurch, Joe’s hired muscle, stumble in and out of his trailer, and eyed his three monstrous dogs standing guard, howling, on hills of dirt.
As I watched smaller structures rise around it like toadstools, saw tricky walkways constructed to connect them into a compound, observed corrugated iron brought in for roofing, and spotted external walls sporting diagonally placed stained boards, I realized Joe really was creating something never seen here before. Not in our little post-WWII enclave.
This house was going to be truly and entirely modern after all.
I wondered if the neighbors would go nuts. Just have to wait and see, I decided.
“So whatta you think it’ll look like when it’s done?” my boy asked me one day, as we drove slowly past the construction.
“Like a ruby in a goat’s ass,” I said, feeling a little sorry for Joe.