The house at 38 Sycamore Street sold in a day. Most of the neighbors were glad to see it
picked up so quickly: The previous occupants, renters, had been drug
dealers—meth mainly, cooked up a couple of miles out of town—but other junk as
The neighbors watched and waited and hoped that a good family
would move in.
Lauren Dimkowitz claimed to be the first person to actually
see the new neighbor. At the time, she was
squeezing a blemish in the mirror over her dresser. She caught a reflection of movement in the
dimming light. She dashed to the window,
watched a man slide a key into the back door and step inside.
Moments later, the kitchen lights at 38 Sycamore Street came
on, filling Lauren with a cozy feeling.
Kitchen lights did that to a person.
For a few moments, she watched him move about the empty room, opening
the fridge; testing the stove; putting something into the pantry.
Suddenly, he looked up at her window. His eyes met hers. Goose pimples rose up on her skin. And then the shades were drawn.
“What’d he look like, Lauren?” Her daddy asked, the following morning. He tried not to look at Lauren’s pimple, now
made much worse by the squeezing.
She noticed his attempts to not notice; leaned her chin into
the palm of her hand and covered the zit with her fingertips, fanning them open
so as to make the furthest coverage. “It
was hard to tell. It was nearly dark.”
His dad shook his head and cut into his stack of pancakes
with the side of his fork. “You never
get the story straight.”
“I didn’t want to creep on the guy, Dad.” Lauren crossed her fingers beneath the table,
just in case God was listening.
“Ancient,” David Stoker told his father that same morning at
breakfast. He’d received a text from
Lauren the night before. “White hair,
white beard. And he had a cane, I
think.” David sloshed milk over his Trix
cereal and began eating.
Two hours later, a U-Haul drove up to the curb. The new neighbor came out the front
door. David and Lauren watched from David’s
front porch; David sucking on sugared ice cubes from the lemonade his mother’d
made that morning. “Why, he ain’t old at
all,” David said. “No cane neither.”
A man emerged from the truck. He shook hands with the new neighbor. He crossed to the front of the truck and
opened the passenger door.
“Look at that dog!” David
stood and leaned forward to get a better look at the dog, who’d just jumped
down from the passenger seat. David had
always wanted a dog. His mother didn’t
approve. “That is one ugly dog,” he said
enthusiastically. “One eye socket empty
and an ear chewed half away.”
They watched the man and his friend unload his truck: A
black table that leaned to one side. A
mirror. Two kitchen chairs. “Looks like the dog used them chairs as a
teething ring,” David said, and Lauren shushed him.
They brought forth a couch covered in vinyl. A thin mattress. Fourteen cardboard boxes and a weary dresser.
And while the men emptied the truck, that mangy old dog sat
there, staring inside the back of the truck.
“Looks like he got all that stuff down at the thrift store,”
And Lauren, for once, was correct.
It took the man at 38 Sycamore Street exactly twenty-seven
minutes to move in and arrange his life into the house. And then, the man did something strange: He
went into the back yard and began digging.
David and Lauren watched from her bedroom window.
“He’s poor for sure,” David told his parents that evening
over dinner. “Ain’t got nothing new and
ain’t got nothing that matches.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, David,” his mother said.
“You ought to see his dog,” David laughed gleefully. “Mangy old half-eaten thing. Probably full of ticks and worms.”
“And rabies, as well.”
Again, his mother.
“And then, the man went to the back yard and started
digging, like he was looking for buried treasure or something.”
David’s father glanced at his wife, eyebrows raised.
David’s mother shook her head. “You stay away from that man, David,”
she said. “You hear?” She sighed.
“Looks like we got another crazy on the street.”
Spring bloomed into summer and all the while the man at 38
Sycamore Street dug. He dug and he
tucked things into the soil. And eventually
things grew: Sweet corn and lettuce.
Tomatoes and green beans.
Lauren watched him stand in his former lawn, pull off a
tomato and eat it, right there!
“I think he’s growing pot, Dad,” she told her father.
The man dug his way all the way to the front of the house,
his mangy old dog sitting close at hand, watching.
“I don’t trust that man,” David’s mother said, as she
watched him dig. “Don’t trust that dog neither. Barks his skinny little ass
off whenever anyone walks by. You know
he’s raising up chickens in his back yard.”
David’s father raised his eyebrows. “That legal?”
“Course it's not.”
“That ain’t nothing,” David said. “Lauren told me he’s got hive of bees in his
David’s mother paled.
“Come with me, David.” They
walked out the front door, crossed the street to where the man was digging in
his front yard.
The dog barked.
“Hey!” David’s mother yelled. Her hands were on her hips.
The man at 38 Sycamore Street set down his shovel and wiped
the sweat from his brow with a dingy rag.
He put out a hand. “I’m glad to
meet you, Ma’am. You’re the first…”
“Your damn dog bit my kid.”
The man stared; dropped his hand to his side.
“Don’t you understand me?
I said your dog bit my kid. Show
David stood there, not quite knowing what to do. His mother nudged him. David held out his arm. “Well, you can’t really see it anymore. But…”
He searched his arm for a mark—any mark—that could be passed off as a
bite. He found nothing. “There it is.” He pointed.
The man squinted.
“I’m reporting you to the police. And I have it on good authority that you’re
growing drugs in your back yard.
The man at 38 Sycamore Street laughed long and hard; David
could see the teeth in the back of his mouth.
But the day the dog catcher came to take away the dog, the
man stopped laughing. That day, the man
stopped digging. For a time, he stopped
going outside at all. For a time, he
shades were drawn the entire day.
Summer faded and fall crept in. The leaves slowly turned yellow and orange
and then, finally, blood red.
“Why do I got to go school?” David groused for the fifth
time that week.
His mother pointed across the street. “So you don’t end up like him. Don’t forget, I’ll be late this afternoon. I got Bible Study. Take your keys.”
Billy Westlawn was waiting on the front sidewalk after
school. “Hey, Shrimp,” he said, nudging
David with a bony elbow. “I got a errand
Lauren walked up, poked Billy hard in the chest. “David don’t got to do no running for
you. ‘Sides, he’s supposed to head
straight home after school.”
Billy laughed and shoved her aside. “It’s on the way.” He handed David a baggie; gave him an
address; gave him a shove. “You ain’t
out of here by the time I count to three, I start hurting your girlfriend.”
David slipped the baggie in his front pocket and began running. He looked at the address on the slip of paper
in his hand. He was surprised that the
address was on his own street; was surprised, in fact, to see that the address
The address belonged to him. He paused, catching his breath, considering
the craziness of the situation. He
pulled the baggie from his hand; studied it intently. There had to be a mistake.
“Hey, kid. You
selling on my turf?” A man stood on a
porch. In his left hand, he held a knife.
David started sprinting.
He ran down Oak and across Aspen.
He followed Tulip for awhile before looking over his shoulder. The man was gone. David slowed.
He caught his breath. He circled
back to his own street. He reached for
his key, then reconsidered. What if the
man could still see him? He crossed the
street and pounded up the stairs at 38 Sycamore Street. He banged on the door.
The man let him in.
David noticed the bags beneath his eyes.
His hair was truly now showing signs of gray. “I got a dealer on my heels,” David panted.
The man stepped back and let him in. “Follow me.”
“Ain’t you gonna’ to lock that?”
The man nodded.
“Perhaps I should.”
“You talk funny.”
The man walked into the kitchen; opened the
refrigerator. “Do you like eggs?”
“Yeah.” David watched
him crack five eggs, one-handed and scramble them with a fork. The kitchen was mainly empty. Besides the table and the two worn chairs,
there was a small radio, tuned to the news.
A cat clock marked time from its post on the wall; tail swishing one
way, eyes the other, counting off the passing seconds. “You ever gonna’ decorate this place?”
The man shrugged. “I
like it plain. He took a chipped plate
from the cabinet; dished up the eggs and buttered two slices of toast. He set the plate before David and handed him
a fork. “Eat up now, before it gets
David picked up his fork.
“You know your dog didn’t bite me.”
The man nodded. “I
know. Dog never hurt anyone.”
“He shore was ugly.”
The man laughed. “That
he was. I took him in when no one else
The man shrugged. “I
“Seems a woman might have been easier on the eyes and less trouble, too."
The man ran water in the sink; squeezed in some soap.
“My mother made me lie.
She didn’t like your dog.”
“I guessed as much.”
“I ain’t nothing like my mother,” David said.
“Be sure you keep it that way.” The man went to the window; peeked out the
curtain. “Do you have any homework?”
“There’s a dealer on my tail and you want…”
“All the more reason to get your homework done.”
David sighed. He opened
his backpack and took out his math book.
“You like juice?”
“Yeah.” He pulled out notebook paper and a pencil;
tested the point on his index finger.
The man poured a glass and set it before David. “What are you working on?”
“You like it?”
David made a face. “I
“I don’t get it.”
“What some help?”
David eyed him; narrowed his eyes. “All you do is dig round in your dirt. You ain’t got no job. Your house looks like a piece a’ shit. Don’t take no genius to figure out you never
went too far in school. And you want to
help me with my math? ”
The man at 38 Sycamore Street never got a chance to respond:
There was a shot. Then another.
The man yanked David from his chair. The plate of eggs went sprawling. The glass of juice spilled over David’s math
book. The cat clock fell from the wall.
The man shoved David to the floor; he dove over David to
cover his body with his own.
The front door blasted open.
The shots continued. David felt a
scream tear through his chest; felt the man’s body give a sudden jerk.
The house grew quiet.
The street grew quiet.
And then, the man grew quiet.
David could see a tiny sliver of light from beneath the man’s
elbow. He could see the twitching eyes
of the cat as it counted out the seconds remaining to the man.
The boy’s wounds were superficial. He would survive. He lay there beneath the weight of the man;
felt the life slowly drain away.
The street grew noisy; it filled with voices and sirens.
“I’m sorry. You can’t go inside.”
“My son is in there.”
David heard his mother scream. “I
know he is.”
“Why would he be in there, Ma’am?”
“He killed my baby,” David heard his mother scream. “Because of that dog.”
He heard footsteps; heard another scream.
The house grew noisy.
“Oh my Lord. David! David! Get him off of my son!”
David felt the weight of the man rolled away. He took a deep breath. And then, he felt the world go black.
The boy woke in the hospital. Lauren was there. His mother was not.
Lauren handed him the newspaper, folded open to the
He scanned the words:
Doctor Ian Hall, PhD in mathematics…year off from
teaching…community service…wife and baby daughter died tragically eight months
The boy folded the paper and set it on the bed. He turned to the wall; drew his knees to his
The body of Doctor Ian Hall was flown home for burial.
When he recovered, the boy was arrested for
trafficking. His mother watched with
hooded eyes as the judge sentenced him to two years.
Eventually, she found a new dealer.
Every Monday, she attended Bible Study and pretended
“Do you need
anything?” Lauren asked the boy whenever
Every time his response was the same. “I want his cat clock.”
Fall turned cold.
Winter melted into spring which circled back again to summer.
Doctor Ian Hall’s house was cleaned up and emptied. The possessions were taken to the curb where
the neighbors dug through them freely: Lauren took the cat clock and put it away for the boy.
The people with the new baby took the kitchen table.
An antiques dealer carted off the boxes of books and sold
them on eBay.
Even the tired dresser was taken away.
The chickens were scattered.
The bee hive was poisoned.
Fresh sod was put down neatly.
And then, the house at 38 Sycamore Street went on the market
The boy watched the seasons pass through barred windows.
Whenever a realtor brought prospective buyers to the house,
Lauren watched from her bedroom window.
Occasionally, she sneaked over and picked a tomato from the
plant that had somehow, miraculously, reseeded itself.
This was written in response to the Trifecta Challenge: 333-3333 words on anything at all.
Labels: fiction Trifecta Writing Challenge