It’s not every day that a peeping Tom was actually named Tom. Isabella sashayed in front of the kitchen window, wearing hubby’s threadbare T-Shirt and nothing else. Alfie lounged, as usual, in the adjoining family room, the plasma television too loud, but okay with her now, drowning out her uncontrollable giggles. Okay, sure. She was standing there in Alfie’s T-Shirt, but the shirt was way off her shoulders.
Nine months ago, on their twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, they had sized down to this ranch on less than one-eighth acre (she could practically see the color of her neighbors’ eyes.) Starter homes mostly. Other than the old widow to their right, who hosed down her white clapboard as if she were washing a car, mostly young couples. Old in attitude not age, she’d told Alfie when he’d suggested the widow was younger than they were. I don’t see her in spinning class, she’d added, roughing up her handsome hubby’s full head of dyed brown hair. Yes, mostly newlyweds. They curiously welcomed her. It was all very friendly. She made good margaritas. They could all use a free drink.
She pulled the T-Shirt down, tied it around her waist. Isabella-Bella style. She dangled car keys, dropped them in a glass bowl. The Peeping Tom watched. Chink, chink. Clink. Isa raised the bowl to the window and swirled it around. Had Mr. Hunkie ever seen Ice Storm? Did he even know how to read? Who cares? Wife Swap. Bet Tomcat boy saw that show. A girl could dream. She could still sling her hash. So what if he spent his days on that stoop, smoking and stroking his Ducati Monster 696. He was sexy in that rough around the edges sort of way and he was interested. She leaned over the toaster, peering in though no bread was toasting, her breasts swinging.
What was this? Peeping Tom pointed to her. He flicked his cigarette and strutted over. She creaked the side door, a finger to her mouth. He was in the kitchen corralling her by the microwave, caressing her nipples. “Bella-Bella,” he whispered into her cleavage.
And then a blasted miracle occurred. Alfie decided to heave himself off the couch. There was, as always, a lowering of the TV volume before he slowly pounded into the kitchen.
“Hey, Tom!” Alfie said, the usual pleasantry in his voice. “Didn’t know you’d come.”
“Changing for the impromptu guest, Alfie,” Bella-Bella called as she rounded the corner. “Sweetness,” she said, flinging off his shirt. “Would you like some fresh guac? I could make.”
“Awesome.” She heard Alfie taking out the tortilla chips. ‘She’s on her way over, too.”
The doorbell sang out its singsong. Alfie and Tom went to answer as she clipped on a padded bra and matching panties from Walmart, flung a red-checked cotton dress over her head.
“Surprise,” Tina chortled in that silly way of hers (known privately as Teeny though there was nothing teeny about her jugs.) She had forgotten how naïve the twenty-somethings were. How sweet. Mrs. Peeping Tom shifted her weight, one hand on her tremendous hip, the other holding a dilapidated peach pie.
“T & T? What a terrific surprise.” They all laughed. Isabella-Bella handed Alfie the pie, squeezed Teeny’s tiny waist. “Come in, lovely. Just mixing up a batch of margaritas, how about it?”
Isabella waved to that couple from two doors down, the stoners. They’d apologized last month for the loud music. They were tripping they’d admitted when she’d had them over. She’d never done acid, but could imagine any wild excursion and she was fantasizing a group assault right now. “Stop by for a drink,” she yelled, hoping their window was open.
Thick, acrid smoke filled the small living room as a thin, wiry man who kind of looked like Iggy Pop, minus the lucrative punk rock career, took an impressive pull off a clear blue glass bong and exhaled loudly. He handed the smoking piece to his equally thin and wiry girlfriend, Constance, and she performed the same ritual, wrapping her Bonnie Belle lip-glossed lips around the opening. She exhaled and coughed as she set the apparatus on the coffee table.
“That…is some good shit, Ash,” she said through more fits of coughing. She sunk back into the plush leather couch and howled at thoughts that rampaged through her brain as the effects of the weed began to take hold.
“That woman from down the street is waving at us,” Ash said matter-of-factly.
“Well, wave back. Don’t be rude, Ashy,” Connie sat upright on the couch and waved at Isabella through the giant picture window. Isabella made the “come here” gesture with her hand.
“She wants us to come over, Ash. Let’s go.”
“But we just started this bowl, Connie.”
“Let’s bring it with us, Ashy. They look like they know how to have fun.”
“Okay, but I’m not putting a shirt on. It’s fucking hot outside.”
Ash and Connie gathered up more weed and smaller glass pipes, headed out the front door and walked the few steps down the sidewalk to Bella and Alfie’s house, where Bella greeted them warmly and with a bit too much enthusiasm as they came to the front door.
“Oh, welcome!” she cooed, reaching out and running a perfectly manicured finger up and down Ash’s impressive abs–for a stoner. Bella gave a wink to Connie and beckoned them inside.
Ash lit a pipe and passed it to Bella, who took a hit before passing it to Alfie, then Tom and Tina, then to Connie and back to Ash. Bella looked at Ash and Tom, and realized her wildest dreams were about to come true.
“What’s going on in there?” came a voice from outside. Bella opened the door to find her widowed neighbor, Agnes, dressed in a flowered housecoat in slippers. “Is there some kind of party going on in here?” Agnes asked. “Because”—she sniffed at the air, and may or may not have recognized the sweet smoke—“I love a good party.”
Bella poured Agnes a margarita, watched her guzzle the green goo, and moved to the kitchen to make another batch. And there she found Alfie, becoming very friendly with Connie and Tina. Very friendly.
“Don’t mind me,” she said, “I’ll be out of here in a flash.” Off she went to find Ash and Tom while Alfie was preoccupied. She found them, all right, leaning over the Widow Agnes, who lay face down on the sofa in the living room.
“What the hell happened here?” Bella demanded, the pitcher of fresh margaritas sloshing on the carpet.
“I think she’s dead,” said Tom.
“But she just got here,” said Bella. Her words were drowned out by the approaching siren. “Thank God you called an ambulance.”
Tom looked at Ash and then looked back at Bella. “We didn’t call anyone. We’ve been right here the whole time.”
Bella, Tom and Ash looked out the picture window as a squad car squealed up into their driveway.
All of sudden everyone was rushing around the house, hiding pot, paraphernalia, spraying air freshener and carrying an old dead lady off to the bedroom.
There was a pounding on the front door. “Police! Open up!”
Isabella took a deep breath and straightened her dress. She looked back one more time. The group was now sitting around the living room sipping on margaritas, straining to be relaxed.
“Yes?” Isabella asked, “Is everything okay, officers?” They blasted past her into the living room.
Everyone lurched up. Ash’s face had drained to the color of Ash’s face when he was either assaulted by fear or a visit by his parents.
“We got a call that there was a party going on here, possibly illegal drugs on the premises,” said the shorter of the two cops, both looking around for anything damning that would give them probable cause to search.
“Just a little happy hour with some neighbors, that’s all, officers,” Bella raised her plastic margarita glass and leaned over to show some cleavage. “Just who was it that called this in?” Bella asked.
“I did,” a raspy voice started giggling as old Widow Agnes shuffled out of the bedroom.
“Holy Jesus,” yelled the taller officer. “MOM! What the hell are you doing here? Damn it! You’re going to get me fired for this. I told you to stop calling in false shit every weekend. This is really getting serious!” He looked over at his partner and rolled his eyes. “And who the hell is taking care of dad while you’re over here?”
Now everyone stared at Agnes, who had been raised from the dead, intact, snorting to herself, and no longer a widow.
“Oh hell, the old bat has one foot and arm in the grave anyway. What do you expect me to do, cater to his endless dribbling needs, just cause he’s paralyzed? I’m sick of hearing about his goddamn fat speech-bloated hero, Winston Churchill, and checking the TV guide for baseball games. How many strokes is it going to take to kill him off for chrissake!”
“MOM! Stop!” Her son put his hands to his ears. “What the hell is with you? We need to talk outside.” The cop started stuttering. I’m I’m…I’m so sorry to bother you nice folk,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyebrows. “Please go back to your party. We apologize for the intrusion.” The officer grabbed Agnes’ arm and started steering her toward the door praying he wouldn’t hear about this at the station later on.
Agnes hung on to Bella for a second before he pulled her away. “I’m a real fan of gin martinis, honey. They really liven up a dull crowd. And maybe some strip poker, next time? Not bad tits for an aging old broad.” Agnes started cackling as Isabella’s eyes widened in horror. “Saw you shaking it up for peeping Tom. Flaunt it while you got it, baby. I’ll be back next weekend.”
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet:
Deborah Henry attended American College in Paris and graduated cum laude from Boston University with a minor in French language and literature. She received her MFA at Fairfield University. She is an active member of The Academy of American Poets, a Board member of Cavankerry Press and a patron of the Irish Arts Center in New York.
Her first short story was published by The Copperfield Review, was a historical fiction finalist for Solander Magazine of The Historical Novel Society and was longlisted in the 2009/10 Fish Short Story here.
Erin Zulkoski resides in the state of Nebraska and when not busy toying with peoples hearts in a cardiology clinic, she writes. Her work has appeared in Pure Slush, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Negative Suck, and The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology.
Clifford Garstang, a former international lawyer, earned his MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. His award-winning linked story collection, In an Uncharted Country, was published in 2009 by Press 53. A novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, is forthcoming in 2012. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Bellevue Literary Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. He is the Editor of Prime Number Magazine and lives just outside of Staunton, Virginia.
Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She is fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. She is the author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press and has edited and co-authored The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011, stories from her monthly column, Exquisite Quartet published in Used Furniture Review. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.