The neighborly thing

Here’s the fourth installment of my 2011 weekly flash fiction project.

And you’ve probably noticed my website is once again in transition. I was getting used to the other theme I was trying out, so it was a shock to see this plainer one, but I believe it’ll get more interesting in the next couple of weeks.

I will welcome your feedback, both on the story and the website design.

The neighborly thing

By Laura McHale Holland

It started on a Wednesday in March, about 1:30 in the afternoon. Mary Sanchez heard it first, the country music blaring from Fred and Lula Hentzel’s garage on Maple Street. Fred loved country music. And since he’d retired back in January, he’d been tinkering in his garage most afternoons, crooning along to the likes of Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood. But the volume reached a new level that afternoon, one Mary found intolerable.

Then Brady Freeman heard it. He was walking his retriever around the block like he always did at that time of day, and he heard it as soon as he rounded the corner onto Maple. He thought maybe some tattooed, drug-crazed teenaged truants were throwing a party in one of the empty, foreclosed homes on the block. But as he moseyed along, he realized the music was coming from Fred and Lula’s and he knew a rowdy party was out of the question. About all Fred and Lula ever did for fun was drive to the casino up the hill and play the slot machines for an hour or two. Their kids had all grown up and moved out years ago, and they never had anybody over.

Brady slowed down as he approached Fred and Lula’s driveway. He thought for sure he would see Fred in the garage, but when he looked up the driveway in passing, he saw the garage door was wide open, and there was no sign of Fred or of his beat up Chevy truck.

Mary was weeding around the succulents in her front yard when she saw Brady passing. “Hey, Brady, what’s up with Hentzel? Is he gettin’ hard of hearing or what?”

“Don’t know Mar. He’s nowhere in sight.”

“Probably went inside for something.”

“Yeah, probably. Maybe for some lemonade.”

“Yeah, it’s a scorcher for March for sure.” Mary rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead.

“Uh huh, I’m panting, just like my dog.”

“I’ve gotta go over and tell him to turn it down though. There’s only so much of that country garbage a person can take.”

“I hear you, sister.” He tipped his Giants cap and shuffled off.

Mary threw the weeds in her compost bin and walked across the street. Since she was friends with Lula, she felt comfortable walking up the driveway, through the garage and into the house. She knew Lula was still at her reception job at the community credit union nearby, but she thought she’d just have a look to see if anything was amiss. On the kitchen table she found a legal pad with a note scratched in Fred’s sprawling hand: “Dearest Lula, I’m so sorry about last night, my love. I can only imagine what you must think of me, lying to you all these years. I hope you have it in your heart to forgive me. If so, meet me out at The Golden Cup tonight. I’ll be waiting with open arms. If not, I’ll just push off,  and you’ll never have to bother with me again. Always yours, Freddy”

Mary sat down at the table, re-reading the note several times. Then she ripped it from the pad, folded it several times and put it in her pocket. Lula would be bewildered and sad at Fred’s disappearance, of course, but Mary figured it would pass soon enough.

She turned off the music and closed the garage door on her way out. Back at home, she unfolded the note and put it through her shredder. Then she went to the kitchen, pulled her favorite knife from a drawer, grabbed some lemons from a bowl on the counter and started slicing. She figured she would take some lemonade over to Lula later on. It would be the neighborly thing to do, to see that her friend was hydrated while she kept vigil through the night, waiting for her husband to walk through the door.

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