by Amy Kiger-Williams
My new next door neighbor knocked on my front door. I looked through the peephole at him, as I had when I’d seen him moving in the week before. The fish-eye lens allowed me to see the rental van, my neighbor’s friends hauling boxes from the curb, and later, the neighbor, drinking a beer alone on the sidewalk after the friends had driven the truck away. I didn’t much like the fact that he drank on the sidewalk. I wondered if there’d be wild parties, reasons to call the police, but there hadn’t been anything yet. There was just the one time, dusk falling around him on late August evening, a beer in his hand, and I figured it didn’t hurt much to let a man break an open container law after he’d just spent a sweltering day moving.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but may I borrow your lawn mower?” I heard him shout from behind the door. “I ordered one, but it’s on back order. I just moved in next door. I’m your neighbor, Jimmy,” he said. I hadn’t yet opened the door for him, and I wasn’t sure that I would. I was a woman living alone, retired at that. I wouldn’t open my door for a stranger. Since he was my neighbor, though, I let him talk. He looked clean cut enough, a blue Oxford shirt, khaki pants, like he’d come to the door straight from casual Friday at the office.
“You might have better luck up the street at Mendenhall’s,” I said. “They’ve got a nice lawn mower. They’d let you borrow it. Mine is rusty, I’m sure. I haven’t used it much. My nephew Curtis comes by to mow my lawn.”
There was a silence behind the door, then a clearing of the throat. “Back when I lived out west, it was a charitable thing we did amongst neighbors, borrowing each other’s gardening implements. A common tradition amongst my fellow Mormons.” A pause. “Neighborly, you know?”
This gave me pause. He had been drinking a beer outside just the week before. Had he lapsed from his faith? Was he not a strict rule-following Mormon? He looked clean enough. I wondered whether this was a ruse to get me out of the house. Maybe I’d been wrong. It could have been a can of Sprite. I looked out the peephole, past him, no friends in the street this time. Just my new neighbor Jimmy looking to cut his lawn. It was growing awfully tall, I had just thought that morning. I’d wondered whether he’d be the type to shirk his neighborly responsibilities, lawn mowing and garbage can retrieval and shoveling the snow once December arrived, but now he was out here on my front stoop, ready to mow, if it hadn’t been for those damn supply chain issues, I imagined.
The lawn mower was in the shed out behind the house. I kept the shed secured with a padlock. There was nothing in there that anyone would really want besides the lawn mower. Hedge trimmers, some chicken wire, a shovel and a hoe. I had the thought of Jimmy taking that shovel and starting to dig my grave. He looked so nice. I doubted he’d do something like that. He was just a neighbor. That didn’t mean he’d be homicidal.
“Hold on a minute,” I said, and padded back to the kitchen. I rifled around the junk drawer for the key to the padlock. I found it, a small thin key with a single coil of delicate wire dangling from where a keychain should be. I brought it back to the front door and slipped it through the mail slot. “It’s in the shed,” I said. “Put the key under the doormat when you’re done.”
I saw Jimmy bend down to pick up the key, then rise up, leveled his eyes with the peephole, and tipped his head as if he were doffing a cap. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll do just that.”
“You know, I don’t know if the lawn mower has any gas,” I shouted at the door as I watched him descend the front steps and walk behind the house. He didn’t hear me. He kept walking out of view. I returned to the kitchen and gazed out the rear window at the backyard, where he was fiddling with the padlock, then wheeled the lawn mower out of the shed, across the lawn, maneuvered it around the bushes, then stopped in his yard. He bent down to pull the rope, and I heard a distant rattle, then the familiar hum of the engine. He slowly pushed the mower through the rangy grass, and eventually, I breathed the smell of green fresh cut grass. I wondered if the grass felt any pain for a moment as I watched Jimmy push the mower across the lawn like a baby stroller, and I briefly regretted loaning him the mower. But if I hadn’t lent him the mower, his lawn would be a weedy wreck, a home for vagrant and unsightly animals, not neighborly. I felt unsettled and strange. I never talked to my old neighbors. They were a busy couple, and I only saw their cars as the garage swallowed them up at the end of the day and regurgitated them out again in the morning. I couldn’t tell you what they looked like. I had a moment of fear that Jimmy would return the favor I had extended to him, that he’d turn the mower to my yard and start to cut my grass. Curtis was due to come any day, and my own grass looked a little scraggly and unkempt. It’d be a neighborly thing to do. I didn’t know Jimmy at all. I was unnerved. So I stood at the kitchen window, watching Jimmy cut swaths across his brand new lawn, my brand new neighbor, and dreading the prospect of seeing just how neighborly Jimmy could be.
Amy Kiger-Williams holds an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers-Newark. Her work has appeared in Yale Review, South Carolina Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Normal School, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. She is at work on a novel and a short story collection. You can read more of her work at amykigerwilliams.com and follow her on Twitter at @amykw.
Image: Andres Siimon/Unsplash