Robert Boucheron

Posted on June 12, 2017

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Do You Want to Talk?

I’m here to listen. An open ear and a shoulder to cry on, if need be. Nonjudgmental, as silent as the grave. You know me. After all, we’ve been friends for gosh knows how long, six or seven years? Or if not exactly friends, neighbors.

The morning after the moving van unloaded, I trotted over. It was spring, and a fine mist fell. I stood on the concrete stoop at the front door, held a covered dish, and wore a clean chef’s apron over a freshly ironed dress shirt and slacks. I could see through the picture window the place was a wreck, furniture and cardboard boxes piled every which way. You didn’t have time to unpack, let alone hang curtains. In the background, a pair of bare buttocks beat a hasty retreat. Your husband’s, I later found out. Herb will never live that one down!

You blocked the door, not that I had any right, but the mist was soaking in. You wore an old college sweatshirt that came down to your thighs and nothing underneath. A delightful bohemian touch, like an actress in a 1960s French film. You thought I was trying to sell something door-to-door. You could not for dear life imagine why a total stranger would arrive on your doorstep at nine o’clock in the morning to deliver a casserole.

“Who are you?” You were curt and dismissive. I was intrigued.

“I’m a friendly neighborhood bachelor and a darn good cook. I live in the beige number across the street and one house over. Cattycorner, see? With the dark red shutters. Burgundy, if you prefer. My name is Greg.”

“Hi, Greg.”

“This will be a busy day for you, and the last thing you’ll need come five or six o’clock tonight is to think about dinner, not to mention the fact that you won’t have the kitchen set up yet, so I brought a little something to tide you over. Careful, it just came out of the oven and it’s still warm. Got it? Here, take the oven mitt, too.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re more than welcome! Now if there’s anything you need, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call. I wrote my telephone number on a slip of paper and taped it to the lid. Or just come on over. I’m home most of the time, except when I take Darby for a trot around the block. Darby is my miniature poodle. He had a mate named Joan, but sad to say, Joan had a run-in with a speeding convertible and is no longer with us.”

“Sorry.”

At that point, Joan had been in doggy heaven for almost a year, and here it is six or seven years later. How time flies! Poor Darby can hardly get around the block any more on his four little legs, and he trembles so! It looks like he’s shivering, but it’s the middle of summer. I hate to say it, but Darby may find himself in the company of Joan before long.

Since we pass your house two or three times a day, I couldn’t help but notice it’s been quiet lately. There’s one less vehicle in the driveway, the grass and the bushes are getting unkempt, the bird feeder is empty, and the grill is permanently parked in the carport.

After our initial encounter, when all I really saw was two lumps of pale, rounded flesh, I used to wave at Herb from the street. He would smile and nod, with a barbecue fork in one hand if it was evening and a bottle of beer in the other, but I haven’t seen him for ages. I hope he’s all right. We never spoke two words, but I’m sure he knew who I was, the neighbor from across the street, the beige house with the burgundy shutters, the man with the nervous little dog on a leash. I liked Herb, to the extent that you can like someone you’ve never actually met. He appeared likeable. If something happened to Herb, I’d be sorry.

Herb got on your nerves, you once told me, but at one time or another doesn’t everyone? If he’s on an extended business trip, or working on a top-secret international assignment for the State Department, or supervising an archaeological dig, or whatever he does for a living, then that’s all right. It’s okay to miss him, and when he gets back, what a wonderful reunion you’ll have! Like a second honeymoon. But what if he’s not coming back?

It can be hard sometimes to put what you’re feeling into words, to admit that something awful has happened, something that makes you wince with pain every time you think about it afresh. But telling your story to another person can help. You’ll feel better afterward. And who better to confide in? Slightly daft, a little unplugged for this day and age, but definitely a sympathetic soul. You can always talk to Greg.

Drop in anytime for a cup of coffee and a chat. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Some people might wonder what a fussy old bachelor could have in common with an attractive young woman, a hot model who has appeared in magazine ads and a few independent films, but they’re not using their imagination.

While it is true that I never had to deal with the challenges of a former Miss Appalachia who has more exciting things to do than dust knick-knacks and sort laundry, I came by my gray hair honestly. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here waiting. If you want to talk

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Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, NY. He has worked as an architect in New York City and Charlottesville, VA. His short stories and essays appear in Bangalore Review, Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Oxford Magazine, Pennyshorts, Poydras Review, Short Fiction, and other magazines.

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