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Neighbors at the Gates

by Charles C. Cole

Audie Andantino stood in his mother’s kitchen, counting the casseroles left by well-meaning neighbors. He sighed wearily and scratched his day-old growth of beard. Holding his cell phone in his other hand, he repressed his irritation and told the caller, “It’s not the right thing to do, but it’s the only thing to do. For once, you could take my side.” Someone knocked on the front door. “More visitors. I gotta go. I’m done; I’m all out of good manners.” He pocketed his phone.

The Dyson family let themselves in. Tippy, the father, carried a casserole. Behind him, his adult children, twins Petri and Poodles, wore dark clothes and sunglasses: mourning attire. Poodles carried flowers. They were clearly overwhelmed.

“You must be Audie,” said Tippy.

“In the weary flesh. You can leave the food on the table. As you can see, I’m kind of behind, but there’s a definite madness to my method.” The twins peeked at the casseroles. “You’re welcome to take some home, maybe make a swap. I’m not planning on being here long. Sorry you went to the trouble.”

“That’s Poodles and Petri. I’m Tippy. We’re the Dysons. We live in the house kitty-corner to yours.”

“We’re here about your mom,” Petri blurted.

“It’s shocking,” said Audie, “but life goes on.”

“Please bring her home,” said Poodles.

“My kids have a way of cutting through the pleasantries,” said Tippy. “We came as fast as we could, after making the casserole and getting flowers.”

Audie glanced over at the twenty-somethings. “Your kids?”

“They still live with me,” Tippy explained.

“We want to see Mrs. Andantino,” Poodles demanded.

“She’s not here.”

“Did she mention us when you took her away?” asked Petri.

“She wasn’t talking much. I don’t know if it was due to the medicine or her condition or if she was mad at me.”

“You were already grown and married when we moved into the neighborhood,” said Tippy. “You probably don’t know us.”

“Please bring Mrs. Andantino home,” said Petri.

“I can’t do that,” said Audie. “She was a danger to herself, living alone in her condition. She was frail and absent-minded – and that’s sugar-coating it.”

“Pay for somebody to stay with her,” said Poodles.

“You knew her when she was healthy,” said Audie. “She’s not that woman.”

“Do something, Dad,” said Poodles.

“We’re trying, honey,” Tippy said. “My kids don’t do well with change.”

“Our mother died when we were in junior high,” said Poodles. “Mrs. Andantino let us sleep-over sometimes.”

Audie gasped. “You’re the twins! You got older.”

“You need to sit down,” Petri said, pushing Audie gently but insistently into a chair.

“Dad,” said Poodles, “did you bring the duct tape and the gag?”

“I told you that won’t be necessary,” said Tippy.

“We had a safe neighborhood growing up,” said Poodles. “We knew everybody and we loved each other.”

“Nobody’s ever moved,” said Petri. “The kids grew up, but the parents are still here. The neighborhood’s the same, more or less.”

“Your mom was our oldest neighbor,” said Poodles. “She made cookies for all the kids for years.”

“What they’re saying is,” Tippy explained, “she was a part of their childhood, and it’s important for the community to keep things the way they were.”

“The community elected you three to come over and threaten me?”

“It was our idea,” said Petri.

“I couldn’t carry two mortgages, pay for round-the-clock care and pay for my kids’ college. Sometimes, you have to be a little coldhearted to do what’s necessary.”

Poodles noticed the house key on the counter and played with it. “Did you already contact an agent?”

“That’s none of your business. And, no, I haven’t,” said Audie. “I think you should go home before things get more uncomfortable than they already are.”

Poodles chanted, “I’ve got the key. I’ve got the key.”

“Is that a food disposal unit in the sink?” asked Petri.

“Please don’t,” said Audie. “I don’t think there’s a spare.”

Tippy held Audie in his seat. “It’s best if we humor them for now.”

“Drop it! Drop it!” Petri cheered.

When Poodles didn’t respond fast enough, Petri tried to grab the key from her. They dashed briefly about the room, playing keepaway.

“As you can see, my kids are a handful,” said Tippy. “But you have to appreciate their energy.”

Petri grabbed the key and dropped it down the drain. “Turn it on! Turn it on!”

“Perhaps we could talk this over,” said Audie. “I don’t want to call the police, seeing as your friends of Mom’s, but I will.”

“You don’t want to do that,” said Tippy. “We’re almost done, I think.”

Audie jumped up. “I’m going to grab the key, and we’ll all visit Mom, so you can see for yourself.”

“She’d like that,” said Poodles.

“I’m not a bad guy. There are no bad guys here. We can agree on that, right?”

“You’ll rethink selling the house,” said Petri. It was not a question.

Audie stepped to the sink. “Absolutely! You’ve gotten my attention. I’m a reasonable man. We’re all reasonable people. My key isn’t really in there, is it?”

“It’s in there,” said Poodles.

“Dare you to grab it,” said Petri.

“That’s what I’m going to do. And then we’ll all visit Mom and settle our differences. And life can go back to the way it was, for all of us. I’m just going to grab the key.”

“It’ll be like Dad’s college ring all over again,” said Poodles.

“That was an accident,” said Petri.

The house phone rang. Everyone froze as the answering machine picked up: “This is Annabeth Defresne, Mr. Andantino. You’ll never believe this: the stars have aligned. Your mother lived in the perfect little neighborhood with buyers waiting in line. I think I can bring someone by in the morning.”

“If you could back away from any switches,” said Audie, “I’m going to grab the key.”

Tippy shook his head slowly, sadly. “And everything was going so well until now.”

Copyright © 2015 by Charles C. Cole

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