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My Next Door Neighbor by Margaret Garcia

August 28, 2011

It’s 10 pm on a Wednesday night. I’m grading portfolios to give back to students at 8 am. My husband is pretending to sell things on eBay. The kids have been in bed for two hours. Bam, bam, bam goes the front door and when I go to pull it open––it’s my neighbor that we never see.

She says she has no place else to go. That she’s running away. That he’s been drinking since 10 am and only stopped a little while ago cause he ran out of things to drink. Her kids are asleep she said. Thank god. They are asleep, but they might have heard me screaming. I ask what happened. Who is she talking about? My husband walks away from his computer and sits on the stairs that lead to our bedrooms. He sits there, guarding, I think, this intrusion from infecting the second floor and our children.

She is sobbing and frail. A wisp of a girl. Her daughter and my daughter are best friends and the same age. Only she’s 24 with a 6 year old and I’m 41 old enough perhaps to be her mother. I’m the lady on the corner who peers out her window.

She still wears tight jeans and eyeliner. She says he pulled her pants down and was ripping her shirt. He said he wanted it. She said no. Fought him off. Blocked his fists to her face with cheap DVD kung fu. He pushed her back into the bathtub and she hit her head on the porcelain. Then she ran away––to us.

I give her the phone to call family or police or something. I make her chamomile tea, which she holds, breathes in, but does not taste. She has no family except a grandmother 4 hours away. When she left the house, he was sitting on their bed with a revolver talking about death. Hers. His. He’s a hunter. He has guns. Lots of guns. And my husband shoots me a dirty look from the stairs that means look you were nice to her and let her in and he’s going to come over here with a gun in his hand. She calls the cops. They come out in 15 minutes. One cop to her house, one to ours.

I want to be next to her but they sit on my porch slightly out of hearing distance. She comes back in, her eyes wide. She sits back on the couch and tells me she has no place to go. They are carting him off to jail for the night till he sobers up and quits threatening to kill her. My husband comes down from the stairs and offers to let the kids stay over here with us till she finds somewhere to hide and be. She thanks us. She says ‘sorry’ over and over again until it sounds like a Buddhist chant, until it clears her mind.

She’s going to go back over there as soon as he’s gone. The children are still sleeping. We make plans for the AM. I’ll get a hold of my friends that deal in the domestic violence trade. She’ll pack a suitcase for her and for her kids. I tell her to meet up with me at noon. My back door is open. Come in anytime. Anytime.

The husband and I look at each other as I turn back to his face from closing and locking the front door—-a door we seldom lock. I know her backstory. I’m more sympathetic to her than he is. I dated a domestic abuser once long time ago, but I was smart enough not to have kids with him. But my husband stares at me and pulls apart my calmness.

“SHE LEFT HER FUCKING KIDS OVER THERE?!” He whisper screams to me.

I know where his anger comes from: my husband would have taken a bullet in the back while hoisting sleeping kids to safety if ours had been threatened. I’m already thinking of next week. We don’t own guns and don’t understand their perceived necessity in society. I’ll never be able to let my kids go over there to play again. My husband and I feel too old, too wise, too able to see through disguise.

I come home the next morning from 8 am classes. I haven’t finished grading portfolios. I’m beaten, worn out, and three shots of espresso haven’t helped yet.

My husband says to stay calm; he has something to tell me. They let the bastard out. My husband thought he saw a police car drop him off. Small town. It could’ve happen. I go next door armed with phone numbers on scratch paper on the inside of my coat pocket. I stand in their doorway next to their giant bank size Christmas tree with very little ornaments, two things under the tree, and suitcases and clothes everywhere.

Looks like a shake down. Their daughter and son ages 6 and 2 greet me with smiles. Then he comes to the door glassy- eyed. What do I want? He’s taking off to his parents’ house with the kids for Christmas. My wispy next-door neighbor girl is nowhere to be seen.

Writers make up stories:

Scenario 1— she’s in a safe house somewhere.
Scenario 2—-she was in the house when I was there but too embarrassed and ashamed to open the door.
Scenario 3—-she is buried in the mineshaft behind the houses. No one will ever know.
Scenario 4—-she ran away. She got away. She’s running still.

Later in the day I ran into the town sheriff who tells me that I should probably mind my own business when I inquire to whether or not she is safe. Just a scuffle between a husband and his wife, he says. It happens all the time.

Margaret Elysia Garcia is a writer and professor living and working in the High Sierras of Plumas County, California. Earlier this year a story of hers was a Glimmer Train finalist. In 2008 she won 2nd place in the National/Annual Chicano/Latino Literary Award given by the University of California, Irvine for her short story collection 605 Freeway Stories.


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