05 May 2009

Our First Spring in the Wilderness

The house was a duplex surrounded by an acre or so of palmetto scrub. It was a quarter of a mile from the library but still nicely secluded. Gas and electric were paid.

My neighbors, the Vinges, were both deaf. The landlady made a point of telling me that when I first came to look at the house. They rarely came in contact with me; they always went directly from the bus stop into their side of the house. Sometimes I would see them walking sideways down the road together so they could talk to each other with their hands. I could play my stereo as loud as I wanted anytime.

Once, I got a catalog from the Walter Drake Company addressed to the Vinges mixed up in my mail. The postman had made a mistake. I had not intended to do anything other than slip the catalog into their mailbox until I saw their crudely installed doorbell. I just had to push it.

Mrs. Vinge looked through the window at me. I smiled and held up the catalog for her to see. Mr. Vinge, however, opened the door. I tried to speak clearly and slowly so he could see my lips move. I didn't shout.

"I found this in my box. It is addressed to you and I've brought it over." Mr. Vinge watched my mouth closely and then stepped back for a broader view. Nodding, he reached for the catalog vaguely smiling and, I assumed, vaguely saying thank you. As he closed the door, it appeared to me that there was nothing but a single folding chair in their living room.

The next morning, long before the postman ever came, I found a letter from the registrar, a postcard from my friend Matthew, and the previous tenant's final phone bill in my mailbox.

Late one night, about three weeks later, I heard a noise from next door. I had been drowsing in bed trying to finish off Beowulf when I heard a noise like glass sliding across glass and then I was extremely awake because I heard a voice.

"Aaaooo." The voice was very soft, only just carrying through the common wall. I couldn't tell if the voice belonged to a man or a woman, to Mr. or to Mrs. Vinge. I could hear it for a long, long time that night and I couldn't stop listening to it.


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