The neighbour lady beckoned hello at me with her wave and smile as I was slinking out of my car. I tried not to look at her as I nodded acknowledgement.
I slid the few steps into my duplex and went inside.
I had never really felt like knowing my neighbours, and it wasn’t going to change now. I just moved into the duplex and, well, the idea of sharing my walls with someone already seemed like too much information.
My dad always told me that you should never know your neighbours too well, because you can never get away from them. They are just always there. Permanent fixtures with their weird smelling food and loud suspicious noises.
I kicked off my shoes and flopped onto my couch. I looked at the holes forming in the top of my sock, ripped slightly by my toe-nail – just pushing against the fabric.
One time I was having a day off and in the middle of the day I spied the neighbour lady watering my plants. At first she just sprayed liberally with the hose across the invisible garden boundary. Then, as though the now-happier plants compelled her, she stepped forward and started watering them all.
I didn’t think much of it – just the way some people are, I guess. People who just want to feed the world and water all the plants.
I mean I wasn’t doing much about them. Not that it mattered to me, they weren’t my plants – I rented the place off a sinister looking agent, so why should I care?
After a while of living at the duplex, I noticed my cat started getting fat. She didn’t eat more than usual, and I thought maybe she was just stressed.
I had a boss who used to get fatter when he was stressed. It was always about his wife. Every time they had a rough patch I would watch him eat his feelings. I liked those months as he gave us less work. I grew attached to that fatness, fond misery and slow office days.
I think being fat suited them, my old boss and my cat.
Then one day I saw the neighbour lady with my cat. She fed her sardines. I couldn’t believe it, what was she playing at? I couldn’t compete with that. I asked her to stop feeding my cat. She said with a thick smile that she would.
But you know she never did, and I saw my cat less and less. So I let it go, my fat cat was probably better off anyway.
Over the summer, around Christmas I went home to see my family. They were over stimulating and overwhelming as usual. Mostly I didn’t mind them, but I hated that siblings could steal food right off your plate, and really you were powerless to stop them. Living alone I had forgotten the ways of war.
When I came home, the neighbour lady had been painting her walls. Her side of the duplex was now turning green, it was creeping up the sides like a sponge.
Then when her side was done she started painting mine too. It was a bit odd, but I thought maybe she had talked to the agent about it. I liked the green anyway and I guess it would look silly if both halves weren’t the same.
She would talk to me on the weekends. I would sit on my back step smoking cigarettes and she would comment on the weather, while she planted seeds. I didn’t have much to say to her, what did we have in common? But she still talked and I listened. I didn’t mind anyway. She was my first annoying neighbour, but at least she was mine.
In the spring she started giving me vegetables. Apparently I looked in need of nourishment. I didn’t turn away her kindness though, even though her carrots were crooked. I guess she was just lonely.
She brought over my mail one day. It had been delivered to her by accident. I invited her in for some tea and she was ecstatic.
When I sat her down at my table, and pushed away a pile of dirty dishes and newspapers she looked at me. I could feel her eyes trail over me. She did not judge, nor pity, rather she was compelled.
The next week she started cleaning my house. I let her because she seemed like she wanted to help. I don’t know when I made her a key, but I must have, because after a while she was over all the time. My neighbour lady.
She would pop by in the morning to take in the newspaper, and she would be there when I got home from work. Sometimes she would have cooked dinner and other times she would have organised my bookshelf or restocked the pantry.
It wasn’t long before she was helping me dress for work. She would pick out the shirt and pants and lay them out on my armchair each night. I liked her choices, so I didn’t mind.
Her cooking was good too, though sometimes adventurous. I guess we ate almost every meal together. After a while I couldn’t remember what it was like to not have her there all the time.
She was a great help really. She helped me with all kinds of things, helped me make choices: what movie to watch, what colour towels to buy, how to cut my hair.
I remember the day when I first realised that she had been thinking for me. At least I think I remember. There was a time when I seemed to no longer need to care about that anymore. She was just there in my thoughts, in my mind all the time.
It was a funny feeling to one-day notice that my heart now beat twice, like a thud-thud, thud-thud, thud-thud. A bit off-kilter but mostly a nice feeling.
I was warm all the time now, because she was there. She thought my thoughts and chewed my food and had my conversations for me. My limbs moved because she made them move and I watched my arms and legs fly on her command.
I couldn’t remember what it was like before, but I didn’t need to, because she was there. My neighbour lady was there.
She and I were there, always. What’s mine was hers and she was mine. She looked through my eyes and she spoke my words. I didn’t need them anyway so I let them go.
Then one day I saw that she was talking to the new person across the street. She looked at them, compelled.
I knew it was over when she offered the neighbours’ dog a steak.
Image: Spencer Means