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Housekeeping

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"Sorry," Will says, inching the door closed between them. "I'm not interested in Jesus."

            He cannot close it for the wrist in the way. Held out strong, sure. He thinks he might shut it on her, if she were not a woman. As she continues to speak, he thinks he might do it despite her gender.

            "–misunderstanding," she is saying, beaming through square white teeth. The slight heated breeze tosses yellow strands of her hair about. The brochure in her hand limpens, bends to Will's stomach. "This isn't about Jesus; this is the Neighborhood Association. I'm Kade Prurnell, the president."

            Will looks at her. He feels his own face pull to a frown.

            She continues to smile. Points down to the right, near the bowled top of the cul-de-sac. "That's my house, in the middle. Please feel free to come by with any questions. And of course, attend meetings. All the information is inside." She shakes the flapping and glossed thing at him now. "Right in here."

            One more inch shut. "Thanks," Will says, "but really, I'm not interested in joining any groups. I just–"

            "Pardon me–"

            "Listen–"

            "Sir–"

            "Just–"

            She groans aloud and somehow manages to retain her smile, which startles Will. She says, hurriedly, "Where is your husband?"

            Will pauses and, as if on instinct, allows the door to fall as open as it was upon Kade's arrival to his doorstep. This opens the vista behind her: the sandcrete step stones that lead from the sidewalk and mailbox. Those which she traveled on high-heels, in business-blue skirt. The other side of the street and the houses identical to this, to that, to the one over there, and from which the door opens – a man pops his head out, shuffles down his driveway to capture a bereft morning paper. He is staring at Will and Kade, lingering for a moment, then returns. The door shutting echoes in the late morning.

            Will's eyes refocus on Kade. Then narrow. "What does that mean?" he asks.

            "Nothing– it's just, perhaps I could better explain it to him. Is he at work?"

            Kade is batting a thousand. But Will does not plan on letting her know. He figures the band upon his finger has given him away, or maybe she – like the man across the street – has simply been watching. Will snatches the brochure from her thin fingers and holds it gently at his side.

            "Thank you, Mrs. Prurnell."

            "That's Miss."

            "Whatever."

            "So, you don't have any questions?"

            "Nope," Will says, and smiles, and slams the door in her face. He can hear her startled grunt on the other side of the door and through the clouded glass panel, can see her figure persisting. She turns for the step stones, then glances back once. "Please do let him know," she calls. Will bristles further, clenching the brochure in hand. At length, she leaves; the clicking of heels in her wake.

            Will stands still within the cavernous foyer; he watches the door as if Kade might return, bang again as she had moments prior. But she is gone. Perhaps already back at the house she indicated further down the row. The light heat that touched his face from the sun, the rangy scent of freshly-shorn lawns, and the bright light caught in her hair, all of these are gone, and Will is left alone with this brochure.

            Will swallows. He folds the thing in half, again, and once more, and tears it to small, beautifully laminated pieces. They fall to the marbled floor, and he walks back into the depths of the house.       

*

The movers arrive late – 1:05 PM. It is barely five minutes but Will has spent the small chunk of time counting the seconds, saying Mississippi one syllable at a time, and thus coming up short. When the truck pulls into the smoothly paved driveway, and Will goes out to greet them, he realizes that he has no idea what to say, and he wishes they had been later. He is disagreeable to the emptiness of the house but even more so to expediting.

            The men, of which there are four, look hot and tired. They stand before Will with the back of the truck opened up. One, a thick and hairy man of Will's height, says, "You got anywhere special in mind for all these?"

            Will sighs. He opens his mouth to speak and, in his periphery, catches sight of the house to the immediate left of his own. Out of the front door walks a man of ashen hair; his gait is long, even, and he travels his own step stones to his own brick round mailbox. Will's eyes follow him down and back, and he does not look over. From this distance, Will cannot see much, and the cab of the moving truck obstructs what little there is. Through the windows of the cab, he sees the deep sun upon the man's forearms, as he shuts the front doors behind him.

            "Sir?"

            Will jolts. He looks at the movers. "No," he says. "Anywhere is fine."

            As they set to task, traveling in and out of the back of the truck, and into the house – Will has had to prop open both of the double doors to allow for couches, loveseats – Will finds his one instruction was not enough. The men shuffle up to him at intervals with questions, beleaguered complaints.

            "This stuff is marked kitchen; is it okay to put it in the front room?"

            "Where do you want this statue?"

            "Which room is the master bedroom?"

            "My shoe kind of scuffed the floor. Is that all right?"

            No, anywhere, second floor and last on the left, I don't care.

            Their footsteps lead over the bits of brochure in the foyer. One of the men nearly slides on them, rights himself, continues on. Will peers into the back of the truck; he doesn't remember packing up this much in Boston. Where has it come from? He sees his own scrawled hand in black marker upon the boxes. Misc, Kitchen, His, Mine. Yet the memories in which he did these things elude him; as if they happened in some other dimension separated from his own by the thinnest of veneers. The sun is very bright. He leaves the truck to the men and returns to the cool cave of the house.

            It is almost 3 PM by the time they are done, and the house looks to be the smallest bit more furnished than it was before. Will has thought it a thousand times over since first having photographs of the place shown to him: It is too big. Much more furniture will have to be purchased to not have it resemble some kind of aseptic museum. The high ceilings, the vastness of floors that bend to eyesight like horizon. The gilt scrollwork upon the columns in the foyer. Small brown hills of boxes amidst the glossed valleys. It stands before Will in cold taunt. The movers have left behind their toil and the scant scent of sweat. Their truck leaving the dip of Sol Terrace and roving down into Baltimore proper.

            Will leans back against the front doors. He looks at the brochure bits, the scuff along the floor. The ring on his finger. He exhales.

*

The task before him is foreign and daunting, yet he must try.

            He rips open a box from the kitchen and finds a paring knife. From there, he goes about the house, slicing boxes from their duct bindings. He thinks it like setting free slaves or prisoners of war, long held bereft of freedom or human kindness: once liberated, they sit still and unknowing of what to do or where to go.

            Will the Merciful, Will thinks, and goes along each room cutting open boxes. The only room that looks to have any sort of rhyme or reason to it is the master bedroom, which is befitted with the downy king-size bed. Platform sable. Two nightstands on either side, and boxes around them like attendants. Will frees those as well. He looks aside to the great wall of windows, the sun pouring in.

            He goes to the sill and realizes, looking at the neighboring home, that the windows are all placed exactly the same on these sides of the houses. Thus, this bedroom window looks directly into the bedroom of that house. Will squints. Their curtains are open, allowing in sun by choice. Will's windows have no curtains yet; only basswood slated blinds, spaced unevenly. He makes a mental note that he will have to acquire curtains, and quickly.

            The prisoners are free of bonds. He knows he should set to unpacking properly, but convinces himself he has earned a shower in the hollow luxury of the master bathroom.

            This is one of the things he loved about the home on sight:

            Above the marbled twin sinks is a grand, silver-edged mirror that reflects to one standing in it all that is behind them and to either sides. Will's hair is but wild dark curls and his eyes are tired. Yet he takes his time in front of it; languidly removes his t-shirt, unties the belt from his waist. From outside, he hears a car down the street. It is still mid-afternoon and he will be alone for hours yet.

            Standing bare upon the cold tile, he sighs. Places his hands in the mass of his hair, pushes it back, up, out of his eyes. He tugs at his cheeks to pull taut the skin beneath his eyes. Rubs at the stubble upon his chin.

            The shower is squared and surrounded by frosted glass. He stays in until the water turns tepid, and all the while, he attempts not to cry. He thinks he has enough fortitude to avoid it; and knows that giving in to weak urges will only slow his pace when he does return to his tasks.

            "You did this to yourself," he mumbles into his wet hands.

            The words ring true and not without a degree of self-loathing. It is unequivocally his fault, yet can he say he is not in turn, in some way, blessed by this strange outcome? He imagined something like this when he was but in his early twenties, drifting through days heavy with the oppressive and oft-sickening aromas of Arabica and Robusta, the ever-present hum of conversation, machines whirring and acoustic music sifting down from overhead speakers. He imagined a house much like this, wide and deep and too big but all he deserved, all he could want. He imagined not having to work, to slough through days as one dead. Though delicious things ill-gotten taste off. Burnt. Or too much salt.

            Will turns the water off when he is drenched in cold. He shivers stepping onto a towel strewn to the floor. Sees himself through the dissipating steam on the mirror. Cheeks red, lips pink. The sodden line of hair below his navel.

            He squints, and sees beyond himself. Into the mirror, into the window that is behind him at the left of the shower. And over the ravine of grass, to the bathroom window of the neighboring house in which stands a stiff shadow, unmoving and shaped unmistakably like a person.

            Will gasps and whirls around, nearly slipping on wet tile. He bends, grabs the towel from the floor and stuffs it in front of him as he flails to the window. Throwing the sash up with one hand, he sticks his head out into the flower-scented day.

            "Hey! Hey, you! Fucking– what's wrong with you?"

            The shadow does not move, and Will grits his teeth. A droplet of water falls from his nose down into the rosebushes below.

            "I can see you," Will shouts. "You're not slick!"

            Still, nothing. Then: the shadow moves the slightest bit, closer to the window, and Will can see him, as clearly as he saw him through the windows of the moving truck.

            Will bristles immediately, his eyes widening. He cries, "That's it!" and turns, wrapping the towel around himself securely as he thunders down the hardwood stairs, and into the foyer. His feet still minorly wet, he steps into the brochure bits on his way out and one catches to his heel. Front door standing open behind, he rushes out onto the lawn, the lush green grass beneath his feet. The heat of the driveway, around the front of his Mercedes, to the No Man's Land of grass betwixt his house and the neighbor's. Before Will can venture further, the door to the house opens, and the man is produced, he who went to the mailbox earlier in the day.

            At approaching close range, Will notices: the crop of his hair, the wine-colored flecks in his dark eyes. The motion of his body as he walks across the grass, the roll of his shoulders, glide of his legs. The button-up rolled to his elbows. Fabric straining at his chest and the countenance with which he regards Will – the sliding of which, from placid to loose and rounded.

            Will's toes curl in the grass. He clenches one fist at his side, the other continues to grip at his towel. He feels something strange beneath the flats of his feet. Is the earth quaking? These small tremors travel from trampled foliage to the top of Will's head, stopping to fray briefly in his stomach on the way up.

            Will shakes these things away.

            "The hell is your problem?" he asks when they stand a foot apart. "Do you really think that's appropriate?"

            "Forgive me," says the man, his lips moving with a full accent. Will narrows his eyes at this, wondering if he plans to play the foreigner card. "I was simply looking out of the window. I happened to–"

            "That's the worst lie I ever heard."

            "Yet it isn't a lie."

            "How long were you watching me?"

            "I did not see much," he says and lowers his voice in a placating way.

            Will frowns. "That's not what I asked!" He pauses. Much. Will tightens his grip on the towel and looks down, aside, into the grass. A beetle wanders from undercover of a sugar maple leaf, off towards Will's house. When his gaze rises slightly, he sees at the man's left hand a simple wedding band, similar to Will's own. He groans. "Oh, Jesus."

            The man releases a soft sigh, and Will bristles further. There is a sound about it as if he is attempting to calm a riotous child, and as such has figured he can only weather the storm until reason settles. But Will is not the unreasonable one on this patch of lawn.

            "Listen, uh–"

            "Hannibal," he supplies. He catches Will's gaze again, and Will watches the way his lips move as he says it: "Hannibal Lecter. And you are?"

            "I am moving," Will shouts, a threat which has no real meaning or force behind it. "I hate these stupid houses and their windows. Whose idea was this?"

            "A housing developer, presumably."

            Will opens his mouth. Shuts it.

            "It seems there's been a misunderstanding," says Hannibal Lecter.

            "No, there really hasn't." Will pauses. "I'm calling the police."

            "Because I looked out of my window?"

            Will puffs up, his mouth scrunched into one jagged, small line. He hears something that is not summer ambiance and turns his head back; all along the curve of the cul-de-sac are doors opened, faces popping out to stare down in their direction. The man from earlier, across the street, he who's brown face is obscured in the shadow of sugar maples in his front yard. And further at the head of it all, pinch-faced Kade Prurnell whose expression Will cannot tell but he imagines it to be judgmental. Will feels all of himself heat, and he takes one foot back towards his house, his open door.

            Flies are probably going in.

            He says, not looking back at Hannibal, "I'm going to invest in curtains. Thick ones. So you can get your jollies elsewhere."

            As he walks away, ignoring the multitude of gazes upon him from every direction, he hears Hannibal once more: "Then, I take it you are not moving after all."

            Will looks back at him after he has reached his door. Hannibal stands motionless, the sun illuminating the ornate designs on his shirt. The thin creases of his slacks. The smooth curvature of his cheekbones. Will rolls his eyes and shuts the door.

*

He has spent far too much time awry. The only thing that matters is that he shows his capability in this area. Will, once again, sets to task; this time with a frantic hurry in his step.

            The sun outside dips low over the verdure and rooftops similar to his own. Rose and lilac mist the sky, and stars blink to wake in the east. Along the sidewalks are post lamps that burn softly in the oncoming dusk.

            Will decides that in the time he has left, he cannot possibly unpack all of the boxes littered throughout the house. As such, he prioritizes. The master bedroom, the kitchen and the living room are sure bets. It sounds doable in his head, but as he begins in the master bedroom, taking out carefully folded and boxed bedding to make the bed, he finds himself looking aside towards the wide window, through which he can see Hannibal Lecter's house and what must be his own master bedroom. He and his spouse.

            As Will rushes about the bedroom, he looks up again to find that familiar shadow in the room. Will's ears begin to redden and he feels a thudding heat in his stomach.

            "Because I looked out of my window?"

            It takes a moment, but Will calms himself. Returns to rummaging in boxes and tells himself the man has a right to be in his own rooms. He tries not to think on the spectacle he has made of himself and instead wonders what color drapes would suit the house. He wonders if that is his alone to consider.

            From the bedroom to the living room, which is vast and sparsely furnished. Will sits on the suede couch and digs through things. Places a ceramic statue on an end table nearest the couch, then rethinks it. Places it on the mahogany coffee table. Picks it up. He goes to one of the empty back rooms of the house, one which is small and he cannot think of what to make with it.

            He looks to the side and finds, once more, Hannibal. Standing in the room equivalent in his own house, which is softly lit. There is a wide and thickly-packed bookshelf at the far end, where Hannibal travels to replace one in his hand. Hannibal looks to turn, and Will does so first at such a speed he gets a sharp pain in his neck. Rubbing it, he departs.

            It is nearing 7 PM when Will is depositing the last of the flatware and utensils into the kitchen cabinets and drawers respectively. The long counters and isle in the middle of the floor are black granite and smooth to the touch. The sink a stainless steel basin over which is a vista window which looks into the identical kitchen across the grassy ravine. Will sighs raggedly. He is going to get tired very quickly of this unchanging view.

            Hannibal is there, his back turned to the window. Will squints. On the isle surrounding him are vegetables which Will cannot make out for the distance. There is a large copper pot on the stove, and clouds of pale steam rise from it. At the sight, Will's stomach makes a sound of longing and his eyes widen.

            He's forgotten about dinner.

            What to do? He had not thought to go to the store all throughout the day; has been running himself on some strange liquidized sustenance that occurs when dismay and determination are mixed. He realizes he is ravenous and hurries to find his cell phone.

*

By the time the delivery boy arrives, Will thinks he might expire from hunger. As he is paying the young man in front of him, and taking into his possession one large pizza – the box holding which is lukewarm – he sees headlights rolling quietly down the street. The darkness obscures the view of the vehicle and for a moment Will thinks it is a black Escalade, and his heart seizes minutely.

            Over the top of the delivery boy's cap, Will sees subsequently that it is in fact a silver Audi, and it pulls in directly beside the Bentley next door. Will watches as the car slowly shuts off, the lights dim and diminish. From the driver's side exits a blonde woman, wrapped tightly in a dark blue dress. Her heels click along her driveway, and before she can finagle house keys from her purse, the front door opens for her. Will sees Hannibal's profile, and then it disappears with the shut of the door.

            Will snorts lightly and thinks, Hope you know your husband's a pervert, lady.

            When he looks back to who stands before his own front door, he finds the delivery boy staring at him empty-eyed. Will feels the heft of the pizza in his hand, the temperature, and on these grounds feels he is shorn of any tipping duties. He shuts the door.

            Scarcely has he placed the pizza box on the isle in the center of the kitchen does he hear another car arriving. This is another false alarm, he sees, peering through one of the street-facing windows. It is a Lexus and bypasses the house for one of those in the dip of the street.

            Will finds himself staring down at the bits of the brochure on the foyer floor. He frowns and begins to pick them up. At the island in the kitchen, he works with a roll of clear tape and his own struggling mind to piece it back together. A few of the scraps are lost; to the movers' shoes, to Will's own wet feet fresh from the shower. To the gulf of ether. By the time he is done, the front door is opening and Will turns around in enough time to see Frederick step into the house. He shuts the door and looks up, around, as if evaluating, though there is little to see in the foyer.

            Will comes to him softly, a smile upon his face.

            "Hey," he says. "How'd it go?"

            Frederick is eyeing the high ceilings. He cranes his neck back into the living room, then turns fully to Will. Deep circles under his eyes, matching Will's. Wrinkles at the corners of his grey suit. "Oh, you know. Insane people. They're all the same, really."

            "Even there?"

            "Even there."

            "Well, I ordered pizza."

            Frederick tries to look pleased; Will can see it's forced. It's okay, he tells himself. I'll get the hang of it.

            He tries to think of it like witchery. Tasks completed parallel ingredients for a potent brew. Enough of these things, the right things, and the spell will be completed. Enough arranging done, enough dinners cooked, enough proof that Will is properly repentant and all will be well. The scales of dubiety will fall from Frederick's eyes. Will can walk properly and not as if upon eggshells. The newly-wedded bliss from seven years' prior will re-descend like a plumeria-scented haze.

            Presto.

            "Here you go," Will says, handing the taped and fractured brochure to Frederick in the kitchen. "You'll probably get it better than I do."