Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: NEIGHBOR (06/01/17)
TITLE: They Are The Same
By Jan Ackerson
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Liza misses them, but she’s excited to see who the new neighbors will be. She’s hoping for someone youngish, with a child or two near her Jeremiah’s age. The neighbors on her other side have children, but they’re older—teenagers who seem to always be driving in or driving out, carrying duffle bags and cell phones. They wave at Liza—so does their harried mother—but the relationship is only cordial. Liza really hopes for a new friend.
She watches every day, and her heartbeat quickens when, after a few weeks, the moving trucks arrive. Unabashed, she observes the movers and tries to gather what information she can from the items they unload. The boxes aren’t helpful at all; it’s obvious that the new neighbors gleaned them from grocery stores—unless they’re actually bringing a gross of Corn Flakes and six dozen double rolls of paper towels to their new home.
There are mysterious items draped in blankets and wrapped in towels—smaller pieces of furniture, Liza supposes. Perhaps electronics or tools. But she’s frustrated that she can deduce very little about the people from their belongs or their furniture. The first truck is unloaded, and Liza has yet to see the neighbors themselves—only movers and boxes. Then Will pulls in with Jeremiah, having picked him up from kindergarten, and Liza has to re-enter the world of lunch boxes, crayon drawings, and the sweat of little boys and their daddies.
She doesn’t have time again until the next morning, when Will and Jeremiah are gone for the day, to look across the yard at the neighbors’ house. The movers are gone and there are two cars in the driveway, a light in the kitchen window. They’ve moved in, then.
Liza feels faintly ridiculous as she gathers the ingredients for her mother’s molasses cookies, but the cliché of taking a treat to the new neighbors has taken over now, and she’s powerless to do anything else. While she rolls the balls of dough in sugar and dribbles a few drops of water on the top of each dough ball to give the cookies a perfect crackle, she actually rehearses what she’ll say when they answer the door. Later, with a plate of cookies in hand and her hair brushed into a fresh ponytail, she walks across both lawns and rings the doorbell.
When the door opens and Liza sees them—smiling at her, clearly waiting for her to speak—all of the words she had so carefully scripted skitter away like sparks escaping a fallen log. Her eyes widen and her hands tremble; she nearly drops the plate of cookies. It dips, though, and a few cookies fall onto the porch. She stoops to pick them up and her hand brushes another hand; she jerks away as if burned, stammering.
These are cookies, she says stupidly, and leaves the plate on a wicker porch chair. She swivels her shoulders toward her house, then back to the neighbors, who are still standing in their doorway, watching her. I’ll just…She flutters a hand vaguely in the direction of her driveway and walks leadenly away.
So there’s Liza, trudging disappointed back to her house. Her story is unfolding at this very moment, but for now, we leave her standing there, one foot poised to take a step, frozen in time. A grasshopper is close to landing on her jeans, but Liza will never know that. In a moment, she’ll take a stumbling step, and the grasshopper will land behind her. For now, though, Liza is frozen, thinking. Who did Liza see in the doorway?
Someone whose skin color did not match her own … someone wearing a turban or a hijab … two spouses of the same gender … a person with an obvious disability …
A man with nail-scarred hands.
They are the same. They are the same. Think, Liza, think. You wanted a friend.
Liza is almost to her house when she stumbles, her sneaker unlaced. She hears the whir of insect wings, then turns around and looks back at the neighbors’ house.
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