Monday, August 22, 2011


We have new neighbors.

The house in question has been empty for the better part of two years, bringing all the usual things that go along with vacancies -- towering weeds, telephone books tossed onto the porch, and foot traffic in and out the backyard gate which was always, always open.

Will and I had been in the house years before -- in one of the long periods of vacancy sandwiching its brief period of occupancy. We were with our realtor, riding in his impersonal, neat-as-a-pin sedan, and we parked across the street at another house for sale.

"It looks like they've converted the garage to a den," our realtor said, snapping on light switches as we trailed behind. It had been converted, indeed -- into a strange, wood-paneled room with built-in stone benches lining three of its walls. It was the perfect arrangement for a hunting lodge in the mountains, or the meeting of a secret society that required a password, special handshake and torchlit votes.

I shivered.

Our realtor, walking ahead, discovered a burnt patch in the hardwood floor. (Animal sacrifices????) "Um, guys," he said, holding out both arms as a barrier, so we wouldn't go a step further. "It's a no. Believe me, you'll thank me some day."

We nodded, defering to his wisdom. It was sobering to realize exactly what was in our price range.

We ended up buying the home down the street -- a solid little house that proved a blank slate for our lives. But I've watched that other house, feeling somewhat reassured when it was occupied and vaguely uneasy when it was not.

Then one Friday a For Rent sign was posted in the front yard. Within a week, the new neighbors were moving in. I watched the scene from the kitchen window. It was difficult not to stare, the way it would be difficult to sit in the stands and not watch the circus perform. People and furniture spilled out of trucks, no fewer than twelve children ran circles on the yard, a horse-trailer was parked on the street, and a boat was parked diagonally across the driveway.

"Looks like the whole family is helping with the move," Will remarked, joining me at the window.

I nodded grimly, beginning to suspect the truth.

By Sunday night, there were still six pick-up trucks parked along the block. I counted eighteen people crowded onto the front porch, in the sort of temporary seating that I feared would be permanent. The sheer number of people was overwhelming, as was the way those people stopped and half-turned in my direction whenever Baxter and I walked by. What about the hunting lodge? I wondered. Why couldn't they all gather in there, maybe raise a glass of mead and sing of the adventures of a hero?

"Have you met our new neighbors?" asked D. from the house on the corner, watering his lawn.

I confessed to only watching them from the window. "What about you?"

I observed him closely. D. is the most upbeat, positive person I have ever met, but he struggled to get this one out. "I think they have thirteen kids," he said, and his smile, although still a smile, was bleak.

I'm a neighborhood watch coordinator; it's my job to shake hands and make friendly, and eventually, that's what I'll do. I'll suck it up, I'll get over my snobbishness, I'll back away from the window, cross the street and extend my hand. Eighteen times, if that's what it takes.

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