Is There Something You Want to Tell Me?

by Robert Boucheron
     Is there something you want to tell me? Not that I absolutely have to know, but if there is, I’m here to listen. A sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, if need be. Nonjudgmental, as silent as the grave. You know me. After all, we’ve been friends for gosh knows how long. Six or seven years! Or if not friends, really close neighbors.
     Remember how I came to the house the day after moving van unloaded? There I stood in a light mist, on the concrete stoop at the front door, holding a covered dish, and wearing a clean chef’s apron over a freshly ironed dress shirt and slacks. The place was a wreck, furniture and cardboard boxes piled every which way, as I could see through the picture window. You didn’t have time to unpack or hang curtains. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of bare buttocks beating a hasty retreat. Your husband’s, as I later found out. Herb will never live that one down!
     You wouldn’t let me in the door, not that I had any right, but the rain was soaking in. You were wearing an old college sweatshirt that came down to your thighs with nothing underneath—a delightfully bohemian touch, I thought, rather like an actress in a 1960s French film. You thought I was trying to sell something door-to-door, and could not for dear life imagine why a total stranger would arrive on your doorstep at nine o’clock in the morning to deliver a casserole.
     Who are you?
     You were curt and dismissive. I was intrigued.
     I’m a friendly neighborhood bachelor and a darn good cook. I live in the beige number across the street and one house over. Cattycorner, see? With the dark red shutters. Burgundy, if you prefer. My name is Butch.
     Hi, Butch.
     This will be a busy day for you, and the last thing you’ll need come five or six o’clock tonight is to think about dinner, not to mention the fact that you won’t have the kitchen set up yet, so I brought a little something to tide you over. Careful, it just came out of the oven, and it’s still warm. Got it? Here, take the oven mitt, too.
     You’re more than welcome! Now if there’s anything you need, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call. I wrote my telephone number on a slip of paper and taped it to the lid of the casserole. Or just come on over. I’m home most of the time, except when I take Darby for a walk around the block. Darby is my miniature poodle. He had a mate named Joan, but sad to say, Joan had a run-in with a speeding convertible and is no longer with us.
     At that point, Joan had been in doggy heaven for almost a year, and here it is six or seven years later. How time flies! Poor Darby can hardly get around the block anymore on his four little legs, and he trembles so! It looks like he’s shivering, but it’s July. I hate to say it, but Darby may find himself in the company of Joan before too long.
     Since we pass your house two or three times a day, I couldn’t help noticing that it’s been quiet lately. There’s one less vehicle in the driveway, the grass and the bushes are getting unkempt, the bird feeder is empty, and the charcoal grill is parked permanently in the carport.
     After our initial encounter, when all I really saw was two lumps of pale, rounded flesh, I used to wave at Herb from the street. He would smile and nod, with a barbecue fork in one hand if it was evening and a bottle of beer in the other, but I haven’t seen him for ages. I hope he’s all right. We never spoke two words, but I’m sure he knew who I was, the neighbor from across the street, the one in the beige house with the burgundy shutters and the nervous little dog on a leash. I liked Herb, to the extent that you can like someone you’ve never really met. He appeared to me to be likeable. If something happened to Herb, I’d be sorry.
     Remember, you can drop in anytime for a cup of coffee and a chat. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Some people might wonder what a fussy old bachelor could have in common with a ravishing young woman like yourself, but they’re not using their imagination. You know me better than that. Maybe I never had to deal with the problems of a model/sex kitten/starlet who has more exciting things to do than dust knick-knacks and sort laundry, but I came by my gray hair honestly.
     It can be hard sometimes to put what you’re feeling into words, to admit that something awful has happened, something that makes you wince with pain every time you think about it afresh. But telling your story to another person can help. You’ll feel better afterward. And who better to confide in than Butch? Slightly daft, a little unplugged for this day and age, but definitely a sympathetic soul. You can never have too many friends.
     Herb got on your nerves, you once told me, but at one time or another doesn’t everyone? If he’s on an extended business trip, or working on a top-secret international assignment for the State Department, or supervising an archaeological dig, or whatever he does for a living, then that’s all right. It’s okay to miss him, and when he gets back, what a wonderful reunion you’ll have! Like a second honeymoon. But what if he’s not coming back?
     Maybe you think I’m nosey, butting into your affairs when it’s really none of my business. I understand. When you’re ready, I’ll be here, waiting. For whatever you want to tell me.

ROBERT BOUCHERON is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His stories, essays, poems and reviews appear in Bangalore Review, Blue Lyra Review, Gravel, Grey Sparrow Journal, Lowestoft Chronicle, Milo Review, NewPages, Poydras Review, Short Fiction, Tishman Review.


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