Monday, March 3, 2014

Love Street - Neighborhood Watch

by Liz Zuercher

Marla had trouble sleeping.  Willis snored like a locomotive and no matter what Marla did to him to get him to change positions, the snoring continued.  Lots of nights Marla would find herself on the front balcony in her Adirondack chair wrapped up in the Navajo blanket she had bought from a roadside stand in Monument Valley years ago when the three of them, she, Willis and their son, George, took a road trip in the rented Winnebago.  God, that was a great trip.  They’d done the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde and the canyon country of Utah.  She’d never forget little eight-year-old George at Four Corners monument, bent over so he had one foot in Utah, one in Arizona, a hand in New Mexico and the other hand in Colorado.

“Hey, Dad!” he yelled at Willis.  “What state is my dick in?”

Marla could hardly contain herself, but Willis’s quick-witted response was, “Depends on the state of your dick, buddy.”

Little George didn’t know what to make of that, but the other tourists were cracking up at the whole thing. 

Good memories, thought Marla.  Where did the time go?  Now George was all the way across the country and it was just Marla and Willis.  And lately, Willis didn’t seem much like himself.  Ever since he retired he’d slowed down.  And not in the way a person is supposed to slow down when they retire.  Sure, the pace of life had slowed, but it wasn’t only that.  The Willis that used to joke with her and have a ready comment that made them both laugh had disappeared, or at least he rarely made an appearance.  Now everything seemed so serious and solemn and not at all fun.  They didn’t talk like they used to, and most of the time, even though Willis was around the house all day, he didn’t have much to say. 

They ate in silence, where once there was lively conversation about what each had done during the day.  They still watched Jeopardy together, but Willis might as well have been staring at a blank screen for all the reaction he had to the show.  Used to be he would blurt out the questions to the answers before any of the contestants had a chance to even ring in.  Marla had always been amazed by Willis’s command of obscure facts.  Now the facts stayed buried in Willis’s mind somewhere, or at least he wasn’t sharing them so freely while watching Jeopardy.  Willis always seemed to be thinking about something else, and Marla wasn’t part of whatever that something else was. 

Only one thing seemed to be of interest to Willis anymore.  He had taken to making model airplanes to occupy his time – not the kind that fly, but the kind that just sit there when they’re finished, taking up shelf space and gathering dust.  They’d had to buy a new curio cabinet to display Willis’s planes, and it was almost full now.  Marla imagined soon they’d have to get another one.  Willis was consumed with the model making.  And it wasn’t just the model construction that occupied him.  Each one had to be historically accurate, so Willis spent hours and hours reading about each plane before he built it, studying up on the aircraft’s missions and pilots and paint schemes.  He spent countless hours searching online for just the right kit and decals, and he made the rounds of the hobby stores looking for rare kits and special deals and tiny tins of paint in all the right colors.  The boxes of unassembled model kits were starting to take over the closet and garage shelves, like the finished products were the curio cabinet.  Willis’s modeling desk and accessories had overtaken the office they used to share, too, necessitating the reconfiguration of the guest room so Marla could have a space to do her own desk work without having to breathe in the paint fumes.

The fumes were another reason Marla spent so much time in the Adirondack chair on the balcony.  The fresh air did her good.  She could take a deep breath there without coughing.  She didn’t know how Willis stood being cooped up in that room with all those noxious smells.  Of course, he had bought himself a fancy gas mask that he wore when he airbrushed the models.  It made him look like a creature from outer space.  She wondered if those fumes had anything to do with his awful snoring.  She should find out about that.

Marla had mentioned to Willis that he was spending an awful lot of time on his models, and they didn’t do much together anymore. 

“At least you know where I am,” he said.  “That’s more than a lot of women can say about their husbands.”

She had to agree with that.  She did know where he was.  She just didn’t know who he was anymore.  She didn’t know who they were, or even if they were.  All her adult life she’d taken care of her family to the exclusion of fulfilling any of her own desires.  She didn’t even know if she had any desires left, they’d been buried for so long.  What had her desires been, anyway?  Always she waited to be needed by her family, always ready to help out with whatever they wanted.  She was afraid to get involved in something herself, in case George or Willis would need her.  She’d grown so used to waiting, she didn’t know how to do anything else.

So she sat in the Adirondack chair on the balcony in the middle of the night, wrapped in the Navajo blanket, and tried to imagine what she could do for herself.  And she wondered if she would have the courage to do it, whatever it was, if she thought of something. 

As she stared out across the street, she caught sight of a man’s figure, dressed in dark clothing, the hood of a sweatshirt pulled over his head.  He walked out from behind Emily Wilson’s house, made his way past Eddie’s house and around the end of the cul de sac.  Then he disappeared alongside the Grissom’s side yard toward the hillside.

Who the heck is that and what’s he been up to, she wondered?  And where’s he going now?  Marla gathered the blanket around her shoulders and went into the house, down the hall to look out the master bedroom window.  Sure enough, there he was, sneaking along on the other side of the fence. She thought about waking Willis, who had just growled out a loud snore, but he’d tell her she was nuts and to mind her own business. So she went back to the Adirondack chair and kept her vigil on the neighborhood.  If that wasn’t her business, what was? 


Nancy Grossman said...

I love these pieces. Can't wait to see how they all come together! I'm really curious about the hooded individual. Will he reappear, or will the result of his night time wanderings be known later?

I totally empathize with Marla. I feel like I'm waiting too, and I don't know what for.

I also figure if you're married to a writer - anything you ever did, said, or thought becomes grist for the mill!!! LOVE the airplanes...

Annie said...

Wait....I think I know these people!

Susie C. said...

You are such a master of the tiny details that create believable characters and situations. The Navajo blanket triggers reminiscences about a long-ago family trip, a funny incident; part of the history that all real people have. Add your insight into the dilemmas that real people face, and voila! A writer who creates realistic characters and believable scenarios. More, please.

Susan Matthewson said...

I just love these Love Street stories. And this one has not only lovely details and great characters but the elements of a neighborhood mystery. Who is that sneaking around the block and what is he doing? This could possibly add some excitement to Marla's life and get her out of that chair and into poking around to find out what's going on. A new detective series, starring Marla? A real possibility.