I’d find the Barter kid creeping around my property, or the damning evidence. A glove. Ball. And when Nancy Barter would come around to claim her boy’s belongings, I said, if he doesn’t care for his stuff, then he doesn’t need it.
The boy is careless, spoiled, a disgrace to his dad—Troy Barter’s the man’s name. He’s a good man that Troy, compassionate, coming around and helping with my lawn after Maggie was gone. He would listen to an old man’s stories over drinks, late into the night, of friends lost in war a lifetime ago, sacrifices forgotten by some and neglected by most. Yeah, the man’s all right, even if at times his lawn looked like he was waiting for cows to graze. Not that it’s gotten any better since he left—it’s more weed than grass, but it still ought to be tamed. You’d think Nancy Barter could get that short man she’s been fucking to mow her lawn. I told her as much and she threw a fit. I should have expected this sort of hysterical reaction from a woman who once yelled obscenities at her husband, from her front porch, without a care for what she looked like or what others might think. No wonder Troy Barter left her.
She’s raising a criminal next door and the big fat excuse is that the kid’s acting out because his dad left. Well, if she can’t handle the boy, she should just remarry. Not that it would be an easy task, with all the weight she lost after Troy moved out. Skinny might work for some women but Nancy’s not one of them. She looks a decade older than she is, and has the figure of a 13-year-old boy. I may be exaggerating a bit, but truly her ass is flat, her chest even flatter, and her legs look like Popsicles, except for there’s nothing I’d like to suck on her. She wasn’t even foxy in her prime. I always said Troy could’ve done better, like Betty Woodbridge at twelve twenty three, and the Zimmerman woman at twelve twenty five, she isn’t bad either. Yeah, I bet Troy knew he could have done better. That’s probably why he left—trying his luck elsewhere.
But she should have been the one to move out. How come she got to keep the house if he was the one with the job? She cleaned and took care of the kid, only in theory, because there’s no way a woman with a car as filthy as hers could be a good housewife. She’s nothing like Maggie. My Maggie was a lady. My Maggie took pride in our home and our family and wouldn’t have left the house without doing her hair and putting on her face, while the Barter woman runs errands in sweats. And when my Maggie made a roast, I bet Troy could smell its aroma from his own dinning room, where he had to sit night after night with his whining kid, unremarkable wife, and takeout, at best. I bet the entire neighborhood could smell Maggie’s roast. It was marvelous. Maggie’s cookies were fantastic as well. She baked enough so when neighborhood kids came knocking, and they did, they wouldn’t leave empty handed.
Maggie was a wonderful mother to our boy. Once upon a time she used to read him stories that began with once upon a time, and still she didn’t raise a crybaby like the Barter kid. She raised a soldier. As soon as our boy was all grown up, he went overseas to fight for our country. A patriot—that’s the kind of man my Maggie raised. A hero. When our boy first went off to the academy, she went through mothering withdrawal and wanted to hearten them all. Had she still been here in this moment, in which I caught the Barter kid digging up her yellow tulips with a plastic shovel, he would be leaving with a cookie instead of the mark of my palm on his face.
Shell-shocked, the boy stares at me. The next thing you know, he’s going to parade my damn handprint up and down the street like a war wound. Neighbors are going to cross the street to politely avoid me, as if my Maggie had never existed, never walked the same streets, baked for their kids, for Nancy’s kid. Their children will dare each other onto my property. I’ll see them through my shutters, cracked open enough to let me peek out but not enough to let the glare in.