Fred’s wife died in the night. He had tried to give her mouth-to-mouth, but her lungs were made out of iron, fossilized black from smoking two packs of Cools each day for decades, and they wouldn’t inflate. Her stomach was full of alcohol and acid; Fred tasted it bubbling up like soda, trying to keep his fifty-year marriage alive.
It was the summer after I graduated high school. I was around long enough to know that when old dogs die, their mates die too, but it usually takes a couple of months. So, you could say I was waiting for Fred to die. Sounds morbid, but it’s the truth. He was my next-door neighbor my whole life. And during that time, I cut his hedge, and he complained about how I mistreated my dog, but that wasn’t true. Fred was ordinarily clean shaven, and when he walked, he had a meddlesome look that glanced from side to side. He frequently walked onto our property to make sure the property line hadn’t moved. You could say, he was a neighborhood soldier doing his duty. And then he actually started carrying a shotgun, which was more amusing, than anything. He grew a mustache, and in that moment, he became a bachelor again. Fred was a career man. His house was designed in the 60s, with lime-green wallpaper, a glass coffee table, and a dish of hard candy.
I watched his house late at night, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, but it never did. He kept living there, day after day.
He’s still living there. His family visits, once a year, to make sure there isn’t a body. I wonder if living is a curse, if you never leave your house. Maybe, he watches black and white films. Some things are so horrifying, they make murder pleasant.