I heard them.
But I couldn’t look away.
Her mouth gaped open in a silent scream. Her dead eyes stared in surprise.
Who would have thought it would end like this?
I was as surprised as she was.
It began reasonably enough. My wife and I made a mid-life decision to move to the South with a promising startup. Peg found a house with a rocking-chair porch, and we acquired a dour, drooling bulldog we called “Happy.”
But the startup failed and the local economy went with it. I got a teaching job to pay the mortgage, but Peg went back to New York.
I probably would have gone with her, but she didn’t ask.
I put a For Sale sign on the house, but there were no takers. One day I took down the sign to mow and didn’t bother to put it back. I decided my surroundings, while forced, weren’t that bad. Especially one particular surrounding—the neighbor to the right: Grace.
Grace was a single lady in her late thirties with high cheek bones and perky blonde hair. Her blue eyes rivaled the Southern skies and her complexion made a Georgia peach look like a prune. I was old enough to be her father, but her rounded outlines stirred no paternal urges.
Yet we limited our interactions to chatting across the fence and waving when we pulled out in the morning—until one day, while mowing my front lawn, I noticed hers was overgrown too. On impulse I continued mowing until both lawns matched and then went home and showered.
I was relaxing with a book when I heard a knock at the back door.
There stood Grace with a pitcher of sweet tea and a basket with enough food to feed Grant’s army.
She tipped her head and smiled.
“Ah saw y’all mowin’ mah lawn!” The accent that normally caused me to cringe sounded lyrical from the lovey lips of Grace. She stepped past me into my kitchen and set down the pitcher and basket. She crossed her arms over her chest and waggled a schoolmarm finger. “Ah said, that man’s not gonna have the strength to cook a proper dinner.”
She began to remove dishes from the basket.
“So ah thought ah’d fix up a little somethin’ for you.”
She peeled foil from hush puppies, coleslaw, pulled pork, and a key-lime pie.
“You made all this?”
“Oh my yes! Ah love to cook!” A dainty hand pushed me into a chair.
I looked at her over my glasses. “You don’t look like you love to eat.”
She gave me an impish smile and pointed at the cupboard for my permission to get plates.
I leaned back.
“Take,” I said, “whatever you want.”
And so our friendship blossomed. I did chores around her house, and she rewarded me with Spanish rice. I picked up her mail when she visited family, and she walked Happy when I stayed late at school.
Then one night a storm blew out the lights. She came over with candles and wine and slipped between my sheets like a sweet summer breeze.
From that point we developed quite the cordiality, though we both knew it wouldn’t last. I was New York; she was Old South. I conversed comfortably without saying “Sir.” She worried what the neighbors whispered behind their bulletins at church. Yet we managed to hold our separate worlds at bay—until one Friday night when Grace was too languid to leave. We woke Saturday morning, surprised to be side by side, but showered, made coffee, and sent Happy to fetch the paper.
Poor Happy. How could he know?
Grace handed me the front page, located the local news, and then harrumphed.
“Ya know that new mall they built out east?”
I did not, but nodded and smiled.
“Well some ol’ boy drove his truck through the gas station door, picked himself up a six-pack and carton of cigarettes, and drove away!” She shook her head.
I yawned. “How do you know it was an ol’ boy?”
“The person in the truck. It could’ve been an ol’ girl. You should say he or she drove away.”