Short Story: A Good Neighbor is Hard to Find

The people who annoy us the most in our youth are usually the people we end up having the most admiration for, sometimes we just need a little help appreciating them.

Amos has lived on the corner of Fifth Street and Franklin place for more than fifty years. He’s seen more than his fair share of families come and go. He watched the neighborhood kids grow up and move away, too busy with their own lives to come back to visit the lives they had before adulthood. His own children included among them.

Amos was the last of the original homeowners in the Bays Creek neighborhood. His 90 years of life have allowed him to see a lot, most of it before it even happened in the physical realm, which only bothered him when he was something bad coming and couldn’t do anything to stop it.

The neighborhood was a sleepy one now, in need of some new blood. When Amos found out the person moving into the old Suddeth home was fairly young, he was anxious to meet her. Every home needed a good shaking out every so often, and the old Suddeth home was no different.

The workers arrived a few months before the new owner did. Watching that old house become young again from his front porch next door stirred up fond memories for Amos. He watched as the workers removed the old metal fence, to install a new white picket one.

He thought of the lifelong friendships built at that fence line while the “womenfolk” tended to the gardens and the “menfolk” tended to the cars. That was how things were done back then. The Suddeths both passed on some time ago. They had one child Ray Jr., who died many years back. Such a tragedy. Amos saw that coming, too. But his efforts to warn Ray Jr. fell on deaf ears.

“I’m going to be fine, Mr. Banks. I have my whole life ahead of me.”

His whole life ended the day after his high school graduation when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver on his way home from a graduation party at a friend’s house. Amos and his wife, Lilly, comforted their friends through that tragic time.

The favor was returned to Amos when Lilly died of a brain aneurysm in her sleep shortly after her 60th birthday. He tried to get her to see a doctor when the vision came to him, but she refused. “Now Amos,” she said, “you know I don’t believe in changing the fate God meant for me to have. If that’s the way the good Lord sees to take me, then that’s the way I’m gonna go.” He was furious with her for that. Thirty-eight years wasn’t enough time with the love of his life. He wanted much more.

Amos watched every day as the construction workers dutifully stripped memories away from the old Suddeth home with every window, door, and wall they replaced. Even in its sad and abandoned state, that home kept him company like an old security blanket. Seeing the home get a new life was bittersweet for him.

The Suddeths were long gone, but the empty house was full of good times that brought smiles to his face when he gardened or washed his car. Sometimes he would go and sit on the front porch and reminisce of the evenings spent drinking sweet tea with his wife and the Suddeths. It comforted him when he got lonely, which he tried not to let happen too often. But that porch belonged to someone else now.

After three months the house was finished and ready to welcome its new owner. Amos was glad when the construction crew left for the last time. He had his fill of the constant noise and ever-present reminder that his friends didn’t live there anymore.

The newly remodeled home gave his children the desire to tell him he needed to spruce up his own home and let go of “all that old stuff in it.” “Well,” he said, “since my children don’t come around except on my birthday, I’ll just keep my home the way it is. The memories here are good company for me, thank you very much.” He didn’t mean to sound harsh but he had let go of enough memories over the past few months. He didn’t need children who were never around telling him what to do with his own home.

Amos was up early that morning to make his famous peach cobbler. When he moved into his home, he was welcomed by the lady across the street with an apple pie. He was touched by that and returned that kindness whenever anyone new moved into the neighborhood. He would always bake a peach cobbler for the newcomers. He became famous for them.

He opened the kitchen window to let in the cool morning air. The shotgun-style houses in his neighborhood were somewhat close together, which allowed him to hear more than his fair share of conversations he’d rather not be privy to. Amos heard a car door slam and female voices talking. He put his peach cobbler in the window and overheard the conversation.

“It’s a cute little neighborhood,” said a young woman’s voice, “and I bought this home for a song. The folks that lived here died.”

“In the house?” the other young woman’s voice said.

Amos knew the answer to that question and nodded.

“Well, I hope not,” the first woman said again, “but I didn’t feel anything creepy during any of the showings.”

“Yeah, but you had the place completely redone. That always disrupts sleeping spirits,” the other woman said.

Amos tilted his head, shrugged his shoulders, and nodded, acknowledging her point.

“Rachel, will you just shut up? I knew I shouldn’t have brought you with me. Little sisters are always so annoying!”

Amos covered his mouth, stifling a giggle.

“I’m not your little sister anymore, Joyce. I’m almost 23.”

“A whole 23, Rachel? Wow.”

“Look, just because I’m not pushing my way to forty doesn’t mean I’m a baby.”

Amos raised his eye brows. Big age difference, he thought.

“Excuse me, but I am 34. Not forty.”

“Okay…so…still middle-aged.”

Joyce unlocked the door to her new home and went in. She slammed the door in Rachel’s face.

“Oh that’s mature.” Rachel knocked on the door. “Are you gonna let me in?” A window to the right of the door opened. Joyce looked at Rachel through the screen. “Am I still middle-aged?”

Rachel put her hand on her hip. “If I lie will you open the door?”

Joyce started giggling. “I hate you sometimes.”

“Don’t get mad at me because your glory days are gone!”

“You know what?” Joyce closed the window and locked it. Now Rachel laughed. She knocked on the door. “Don’t have me make a scene out here. You know I will.” She knocked again. “Joyce! Stop playing!”

Joyce was inside leaning against the front door laughing silently to herself. After a few seconds she opened the door.

“You play too much, Joyce.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so old it took me a while to hear you knocking.”

Amos went into his living room so that they wouldn’t hear him laugh. Living next to her might be fun, he thought. The cobbler looked delicious and smelled even better. He wrapped it with a red and white checkered linen napkin and took it to his new neighbor. The sidewalk was busy with people unloading things off a U’Haul truck. He waved as he approached.

“Morning to you!” Amos said.

An older man and woman turned who looked to be in their sixties turned around.

“Good morning, sir, how are you?” said the man.

“I’m doing well this fine morning, and you?” said Amos.

“I can’t complain. I’m Daniel and you are?”

“Amos Banks,” he reached out and gave Daniel a sturdy handshake, “I live next door,” he pointed to the house behind him.

“It’s nice to meet you. This is my wife Annaliese.”

Amos tipped his hat at her. “Pleasure, ma’am. Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Oh don’t welcome us,” Annaliese laughed, “it’s our oldest daughter moving in, not us.”

Amos shrugged his shoulders and smile. “We’re all neighbors in one way or another.”

Daniel and Annaliese laughed. “Do I smell peach cobbler?” said Annaliese.

“You have a very keen nose. I always welcome new folks to the neighborhood with a cobbler.”

“Your wife must be a very good cook. That smells divine,” said Annaliese.
“Well, she was a great cook, but she passed on some years back. I made this myself. Special recipe my granny taught me how to make when I was a youngin.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me,” said Annaliese.

Amos waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t be silly. Nothing to forgive. ..nothing to forgive at all. May I present this to your daughter?”

“Oh! Certainly. I’ll take you inside,” said Annaliese.

Annaliese walked with Amos into the house. She noticed his sprite walk.

“Joyce? Sweetheart you have a guest.”

Joyce and Rachel came out of the back bedroom arguing over colors for the blinds.

“Joyce. Rachel. Please act like you’ve been raised properly. This is Mr.–I’m sorry I forgot your last name.”

“Amos is fine. I live next door. Made a peach cobbler to say welcome home to you.” Amos removed the red and white striped cloth napkin to reveal a perfectly done peach cobbler. Joyce breathed in. “Oh that smells so good! Thank you so much. That’s so kind of you.”

“So, I take it you’re the new owner?”

“I am,” a wide smile spread across her face, “My name is Joyce.”

“Lovely to meet you miss.” He shook her hand and bowed slightly. “And this bold and determined young lady must be?”

“My annoying little sister, Rachel.” Rachel slapped Joyce’s shoulder. Amos chuckled as he shook her hand.

“Rachel. You remind me of my youngest granddaughter. She’s got a mind of her own, too.” Amos winked at her. Joyce took the cobbler into the kitchen. Amos looked around at the house. He hardly recognized it. Joyce came back in and saw him staring.

“It looks a lot better right?” she said.

“It’s very different. My good friends, the Suddeths, lived here for years. We spent a lot of time here in this living room. It look so different now.”

Joyce looked at her mom, her eyebrows raised. Her mom looked at Amos. “Are you okay, Amos?”

“Oh yes, ma’am. Just an old man’s case of nostalgia. Don’t mind me.”

“Nonsense. Amos you look my age,” said Annaliese, “and I’m certainly not old no matter what both of my dear daughters might think.”

“Well, I probably have a few years on you,” Amos smiled, “I’ll be 92 next month.”

Joyce, Rachel, and Annaliese all looked at him and said in unison “Ninety-two?”

Amos smiled. “Oh yes. Ninety and two.”

“Amos, that’s not possible,” said Annaliese, “you don’t look a day over 60 and you walk faster than most twenty-somethings.”

“That’s mighty kind of you.”

“She’s not being kind,” Rachel said, “you seriously don’t look anywhere near 92.”

“Well, thank you young lady. I try to keep myself busy.”

“I need to be your kind of busy,” said Annaliese. Everyone laughed.

“Well, Amos, since both of my daughters have taken leave of their manners, can I offer you some of the lovely cobbler you brought over?”

“Oh! Right,” Joyce said, “I’m so sorry. I have some paper plates and plastic forks in the kitchen. Would you like some cobbler?”

“Thank you kindly for the offer, but I don’t want to keep you. I know you’ve got a lot to do. But when you’re all settled, do stop by. I’d love to tell you all about the neighborhood and take you for a walking tour, if you’re up to it.”

“She’d love that!” Annaliese said. Joyce raised her eyebrows at her mother. Amos took the hint and chuckled. “Well,” he said, “if you ever have the time, the offer stands.”

“Thank you so much, Amos,” Joyce said, “and thank you for the cobbler, too.”

“My pleasure. It was wonderful to meet you all.” He tipped his hat and left.

Joyce Marie Jones,” said Annaliese.

“You’re in for it now,” said Rachel, “she used the full name.”

“She certainly is in for it,” said Annaliese, “that man made you a cobbler and offered to take you on a tour of the neighborhood.”

“Mom, I really have better things to do than go walking with a 92-year-old man.”

“I will never get used to the way you treat senior citizens like their age is contagious. You could stand to be a little more gracious, Joyce because one –”

Joyce interrupted her “one day you’ll be old yourself,” she said.

“Well, you will. And you’ll wish you had been a lot nicer to us older folks.”

“Mom, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m standing in my own home. I think I’ve outgrown the lectures.”

“You are standing in your own home, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not your mother anymore and you need to show the respect you were raised to show, young lady.”

Rachel stifled a laugh and walked back into the bedroom. Joyce walked out to the truck.

“I met your neighbor, Amos. Seems like a nice guy,” said Daniel.

“I guess,” she said as she snatched a box from the back of the truck.

“What’s the tone for? You and your mother have another fight?”

“Apparently I have no manners since I don’t want to do a walking tour with some 92-year-old guy.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” he said.

“Not you too, daddy.”

“Well, the man is 92.”

“And?”

And that means he’s lived through Civil Rights, Jim Crow, and a host of other things that paved the way for you, young lady, including being able to buy a home in this neighborhood. He deserves to be called mister, not guy.”

Joyce sighed and turned to walk in the house. Her dad put his hand on the box. “I’m not trying to start a fight, sweetheart.”

“Sure sounds like it.”

“No, I just think you could stand to be a little more gracious when it comes to the elderly. We’re still people and we don’t like being discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.”

“Now you sound like mom.”

“Well, maybe you should listen…to both of us.”

Joyce stared past her dad. He kissed her on the top of her head and gave her a side hug.

“Come on, now, Joycie,” he said, “let’s not ruin the day with anger. You’re a homeowner now…and we’re so proud of you.”

Joyce smiled and batted away a tear that tried to run down her face. Daniel looked up to the sky. “Just be patient with her Lord, she ain’t never had much time for anyone past the age of 60.” Joyce shoved her father playfully with her shoulder. They both laughed.

Several weeks passed and Amos barely saw his new neighbor. She made it a point to be in a rush whenever he tried to make conversation. He was on his porch with his daily glass of green tea with crushed ice when he saw her leaving for work.

“Morning there, neighbor,” he said.

“Hi, Amos. I left your pan on the porch last night. I hope you got it.”

“I surely did. Thank you for returning it.”

“No problem. The cobbler was delicious.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Happy to make another one for you any time.”

Joyce waved and hurried into her car. Amos tipped his hat to her and sipped his tea. When she waved at him, he saw the air around her vibrate: a vision waited for him. He finished his tea and walked down to the fence to weed his garden. He needed to find a way to get Joyce to open up to him so he could find a way to touch her shoulder or her hand so that he could see her future.

That was the way visions worked for him. They informed him they waited for him by making the air around a person vibrate, like a water mirage on the road on a really hot day. To see the vision he had to come in contact with the person. With his family and friends this wasn’t a problem. He just touched their shoulder or arm in a natural way during a conversation and the vision played in his mind like a commercial. No one except Lilly ever knew about his gift. His grandmother told him when he was young: “folks’ll either hate you for telling them the future or they’ll try to use you for their own selfish gain.”

Lilly was the only one other than his grandmother who understood him. That’s what made him fall in love with her. He never had to tell her about his gift. She knew just from looking at him because she had a gift of her own: seeing what gifts a person had even if they didn’t see it themselves.

It made her a great nurturer. She always knew what to do and say with her own kids that helped them walk their own paths. She did in a way that made them come to their own sense of self. Amos wished Lilly could help him with Joyce. Amos could see he troubled Joyce and he didn’t know why. But there was a vision waiting so he had to find a way to get close to her.

Evening came and Joyce pulled up in the driveway. Amos was wiping down his car. He saw her shoulders drop when she pulled up. Even the sight of him seemed annoyed her. She got out of the car. The air around her vibrated stronger than that morning, which meant whatever was going to happen was not too far off. “Evening, neighbor.”

“Hi, Amos.” She slammed her car door. What in the world is that old man doing with a car like that, she thought.

Amos saw her doing a double-take of his car. He chuckled. “Her name’s Lucille. Ain’t she a beauty?”

“Seems like too much car for your type.”

“Someone’s having a bad day.”

“What makes you say that?”

Amos pointed at the car. “The way you slammed your car door…and the way you just insulted me.”

“Oh. Is it an insult if it’s the truth?”

“That depends on whose truth it is, little lady.”

“Do you ever go in the house, Amos?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I haven’t been outside yet without you being out here. I can’t get a moment’s privacy in my own yard because you’re always…here.”

Amos put the towel over his shoulder. “Well, now, I spent my whole life working indoors. I earned the right to be outside in my own yard for as long or as little as I like. If my presence annoys you, I reckon you can put up a taller fence. But I have no intention on staying inside to please you.” She stared at him. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head telling her that she had stepped way over the line.

Amos turned around and finished wiping down his car. He hadn’t meant to be curt but the moment called for it. He didn’t take that tone from his own children, he surely wouldn’t take it from a stranger. He let out a sigh. I messed that one up, Lilly, he thought. He could almost hear her gentle laugh and feel the kiss she would always give him on his arm.

Lilly was only four-feet-ten inches to Amos’ six-feet-four inches, so she would always kiss his arm after one of their talks about how he was being too pushy. She never had a harsh word for anyone. Lilly, you have to help me with this one. She’s as stubborn as Mattie, he thought.

Mattie was his youngest child and the most obstinate. Maybe she could reach Joyce. Or maybe she’ll just make things worse. He laughed to himself. He shifted his thoughts and admired his car, a royal blue 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake. His every day car was a little Honda Civic. But it took him ten years to restore Lucille. When he needed to forget about life he got in and took it for a spin.

Amos still waved to Joyce each morning but his greetings were received with a cool response. Joyce didn’t have much to say to him since he put her in her place a few weeks ago, but he as no stranger to the silent treatment so it didn’t bother him. Mattie, his youngest daughter, was the same way. She would spend weeks giving Amos the silent treatment when they bumped heads. Lilly was the one who would finally demand a truce between them.

Amos was in the kitchen pouring his green tea when he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He turned to the kitchen window but didn’t see anything. He shrugged his shoulders and took his tea out onto the porch. He saw Joyce leaving for work and waved. She didn’t wave back. Soon after she left, a tall white man walked up onto her porch and looked in the window, but he didn’t knock on the door. Amos sat very still and stared. The man walked off the porch and started for the backyard.

“Can I help you with something?” Amos said.

The man jumped and turned toward Amos. “Did some work here and left a few of my tools behind. Wanted to get them back.”

Amos stared at the man, taking in his features. The man pulled his hat down over his eyes and turned to walk away.

“I don’t expect you left anything behind. Don’t let me see you around here again,” Amos said. The man stopped walking. He turned around and looked at Amos. “Are you gonna stop me old man?”

“If I have to.”

The man let out a snort. “You couldn’t if you tried.”

Amos stood up to let his stature be known. He was not only tall, but still very muscular. He turned one of the empty bedrooms in his house into a workout room, and lifted weights every day. The white man was taken back by Amos’ stature. He turned and walked away, trying not to look as scared.

Amos watched him walk up the street and called the police. He told them everything that happened and described what the man looked like. He left out the deep, vibrating haze he saw around the man. He could guess what vision he might have seen if he touched the strange man’s shoulder. The police said they would send a car to patrol the neighborhood, but told Amos not to worry since there hadn’t been any crimes reported recently.

Bays Creek was a quiet section of town but that didn’t give Amos any peace of mind.He sat on his porch for the rest of the day and watched Joyce’s house closely. He walked up and down the street several times in search of the prowler.

Amos was on his porch when Joyce got home. He didn’t care if she was mad at him, he had to talk to her. He got up and waved. She put her car in park and rolled her eyes. As soon as she got out of the car he told her about the man that he saw skulking around her house and that he called the police. He warned her to be careful and keep her doors and windows locked. She didn’t take him seriously.

“Amos, do you know why I bought this house?”

Amos furrowed his eyebrows. “Joyce, listen I –”

Joyce interrupted him. “No, you listen,” she said, “I used to live in an apartment near my parents and they were always worrying me to death. They were constantly checking on me. It got annoying. I moved two towns away so that I could have some space.”

“I’m not trying to be in your space I just –”

She interrupted him again. “Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of–”

This time Amos interrupted her. “I’m not sure why your heart is so full of intolerance for people who are just trying to look out for you and I don’t care to find out why. I just want you to be careful. That man that was here wasn’t up to any good. He had a glint in his eyes and it wasn’t the starry kind. He’s looking to hurt someone and you’re at the top of his list.”

Amos could see the haze around her. It was so intense he wondered if she could feel it, sometimes people could. He wanted to ask her if she felt anything, maybe touch her shoulder, but he knew it was no use.

“What are you staring at?” Joyce said.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Joyce studied Amos’ face for the first time since she moved in. She saw the concern in his wrinkled forehead. It was the same wrinkled forehead her dad had when he was really worried about something.

“Look, I know you mean well, but I’ll be fine. Thank you for your concern.” That was all she could muster.

Later that evening Joyce was in her backyard enjoying the cool evening air. She remembered she left her laptop in the car. She hadn’t been on Facebook since she moved and decided it was time to catch up with friends. The kitchen had a sliding glass door that let out onto the backyard deck. She left the door open when she went through the house and out the front door to get her laptop. She normally didn’t leave it in the car, but was distracted by her little chat with Amos.

She peeked out of the front door to see if Amos was on his porch. All clear. She walked out to her car. She went to grab her laptop off the passenger seat. When she opened the door it wasn’t there. Shit. She left the car unlocked. If that old man hadn’t distracted me I would have locked my car. She closed the car door. She walked back in the house and looked in the living room and her bedroom for her laptop. It wasn’t there. She thought back through her day and thought she must have left it at work. She headed back the deck to grab her phone and call work. She stopped cold in her tracks.

“Tsk. Tsk. You shouldn’t leave your car unlocked. A nice laptop like this could grow wings.”

Joyce couldn’t move. She swallowed and tried to steady herself. “What do you want?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the man said.

“No. And you need to leave. Now.”

“Is that any way to talk to the man that helped fix up your house?”

Joyce squinted her eyes trying to place his face. Her eyes widened.

“Ahh. She remembers me now,” he said.

“Look, take the laptop. Just leave.” Joyce looked at him, calculating if she could get to the sliding door to close it before he could reach it.

“Ah, ah, ah, Joyce,” he said as if he could read her thoughts, “I wouldn’t try that.” He put the laptop down on the patio table. He stared at her and then lurched forward a little. A fake-me-out move. Joyce jumped. He breathed in deeply through his nose. “I love the smell of fear on a lady. It’s such a turn on.” He licked his lips and wiggled his eye brows at her.

“You sick son of a bitch.” Joyce ran for the door. She grabbed the handle and tried to slide it shut. The man ran and jumped and put half his body inside the door. He grunted and pushed the door. It flew with a force that threw Joyce to the ground. She got up and tried to run. He ran up and grabbed her from behind. She bent forward fast and threw him over her back to the floor. She tried to run but he grabbed one of her legs and pulled him to the floor with her. “Someone’s had some self-defense classes.” He sniffed her hair. “I like a fighter.” he said.

He turned her over and pinned her down. Joyce spit in his face. “Bastard! You won’t get away with this!” He reached for his pants to try and undo the zipper. Joyce wiggled under him trying to break free.

“Be still now, brown sugar. This won’t hurt a bit.” Joyce kept trying to wiggle herself free. He took her arms and slammed them above her head, pinning them to the floor. He sat straddled over top of her. She couldn’t move.

“Now just stop right there,” a voice said from behind.

Joyce thought it was the man on top of her. Her hands suddenly felt free. She started slapping and scratching the man’s face. He wasn’t fighting back. It took a few seconds before she realized what was happening. Amos was behind the stranger with a shotgun pointed at his head. The man had his hands in the air.

“Stand up,” Amos said. The man complied. Joyce scooted back on her butt and kicked the man in his groin. He doubled over in pain and fell to his knees. Joyce sitting on the floor leaning against the cabinets crying.

“Joyce, you’re okay. The police are on their way. Look at me, sweetheart,” Amos said. Joyce steadied herself against the cabinet and let her brain catch up with her eyes.

“Come and get behind me Joyce.” Joyce didn’t move. “Don’t worry about him. If he moves one inch I’m blowing his brains all over this kitchen. Come move behind me now.”

Joyce slid to her right and stayed against the kitchen cabinets staying out of the prowler’s reach. When she got near to Amos, she scrambled her feet and got behind him. She grabbed him around his waste and put her face into his back.

“It’s okay, Joyce. You’re okay. But I need you to go to the front door. The police should be here any second. I need you to tell them what I look like and that I have a gun. Tell them the suspect is on the floor. You got that?”

Joyce didn’t move.

“Joyce? I need you to do what I said so I don’t end up dead on the floor with this loser. Go on now. Quick.”

Joyce let Amos go and ran to the front door. When she opened it two police cars were racing up onto the lawn. “In here! Please! The guy who tried to rape me is on the floor. My neighbor has him at gun point.”

The officers ran up on the porch and called out into the house. Amos answered and described himself and told them he had a shotgun to the back of the intruder’s head. The police approached cautiously.

A few minutes later they came out of the house with the intruder in handcuffs. Amos came out the front door. Joyce grabbed him and hugged him and started crying. Amos put his shotgun down on the porch and hugged her.

“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

She kept sobbing. Amos pulled her away from him and cupped her hands in his face. “Look at me. You’re okay now.”

She nodded her head and hugged him again.

“Amos, I–”

“Shhh. Don’t try to talk.”

Amos held her, relieved he was able to stop this train wreck from happening. Her parents’ car came to a screeching halt in front of the house. The car doors flew open and they ran up onto the porch.

“Joyce?” her mother said, “Baby are you okay?”

Joyce looked up. “Mom? How’d you…”

Annaliese took Joyce in her arms and hugged her. Joyce began to cry again. Her mother stroked the back of her head. “We gave Amos our number the day we met him. Asked him to keep an eye on you.” She pulled Joyce away from her for a minute and cupped Joyce’s face in her hands. “And I’m so glad we did.”

Joyce hugged her mother again. Her father came up and wrapped them both in his arms. He looked at Amos.

Amos tipped his hat, took his shotgun and went home.

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