♦ ♦ ♦
I was sitting on the bed in my walk-in basement apartment one summer night with some light reading, Godot or some such thing, when the phone rang.
“Steve, this is Marilyn,”
“I don’t think I know who you …”
“Mrs. Woodruff, next door!”
“On the south!”
“What do you want?”
“You know, I’m the lady with the rabbits.”
“Rabbits? … um …My name is Steve Nichols, are you sure that you’ve got the right number?”
“Yes, I’m sure!”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the lady next door. At 452 N. Mississippi St., the house next door.”
“What is this about? What do you want?”
“Well, being as how we’re neighbors and all, I was just wondering if you might like to come over for a nightcap.”
“A night cap?”
“Yeah! You know, a little drink to warm you up.”
“How did you get my unlisted phone number?”
“Off the phone.”
“Your telephone, silly. The label on the phone. With my binoculars.”
“What?” My voice cracked.
“It’s right there on the telephone. It has your phone number right on it.”
“Huh? You what …”
“Oh, the binoculars?”
“Well, I watch things.”
“Just who the hell are you, really?”
“Look out the window.”
I looked out the window and up on the second floor of the house next door, looking back at me with a phone receiver pressed to her ear and her nose pressed to the glass was this old broad.
That was Mrs. Woodruff!
She smiled and winked at me.
“Ah, what in the hell do you want?”
“Well, I think that you could really be a little bit more neighborly and come over for a drink.”
She had on a nightgown.
“Ah … I don’t drink.”
“Bull shit! You drink Budweiser by the case. You have a bottle of Southern Comfort on your kitchen table right now.”
I looked over on the table. She was right.
“I watch you, you little devil.”
“With the binoculars. I can see everything. I even watch you play with yourself, and I think that’s a crying shame.”
I looked out the window in a panic of embarrassment. She smiled and waved.
She was at least forty feet away, but even at that distance I could see the gaps where she was missing her canine teeth as she smiled.
“I watch you come out of the shower every morning when I mix orange juice for my kids at the kitchen sink.”
“You betcha! Ever since you’ve moved in, every morning.”
I managed to get myself under control and anger began to replace the embarrassment. After all, this was my house and she was invading my privacy.
“Well, Mrs. Woodruff, or whatever you call yourself, I’m impressed. But I don’t think that I’m interested in a nightcap. Thanks anyway, but you see there’s something that I need to do right now.”
“I’m going to pull down the shade, then I’m going to call the law and have you locked up, you Peeping Tom!”
I hung up the phone and walked over to the window. She was watching me. I pulled down the shade and went back to the phone. Then I stopped to think. What in the hell would I say to the cops? – “Say, this lady next door has been peeping in my window watching me whack off?” Ah forget it.
Jesus…the lady next door. What an old bitch. Until this very moment I had never paid her any mind, but there was no doubt in my mind now as to who she was. I had seen her around. Her hobbies included gardening, porch sitting and breeding white rabbits. She kept the poor things in a cage on my side of her house. And now, God, the truth comes out as to why she was always milling around over there. A full Technicolor image was suddenly coming into focus.
Mrs. Woodruff, married, four children, was indeed my neighbor. I was a college student living on a limited budget in a rather seedy part of town.
She was stone country, the kind of person you’d look at her and wonder how she found her way to town. Mid to late forties, short, thinning hair, beady little black eyes that followed you around. She was always milling around the north side of her house where she kept a number of white rabbits in a cage.
Hell, I thought she hated me. Imagine my surprise at this revelation.
Occasionally I could see her outside my window filling an aluminum pan with water. I often saw her pouring rabbit pellets out of a 100 lb. Sack, which she picked up like a ham, and emptied into a trough.
From the waist up, she looked like an oxen bull with two massive briskets. She would always stare at me when I came out of my apartment, scanning me up and down with her black eyes, but I never looked back.
I don’t like to provoke people in this area of town.
Thinking about it now, there must have been something more than coincidence to her being out at the rabbit cages every single time I cam home from my afternoon class.
Actually, I was confused as to her sex. At first I thought she was a dumpy old man – the way she wheeled around those 100 lb. sacks. From behind, she appeared to be one of the missing links. On hot summer days, after she fed the rabbits there were always little beads of sweat on her wispy black mustache that glistened in the sunshine.
I remember watching her chop her back yard up with a roto-tiller and planting a vegetable garden back in the spring. She would squat and scratch down the rows of beans and tomatoes in a gray long sleeved sweat shirt sporting rings of perspiration under her arms that were the size of watermelons.
Mrs. Woodruff spent her evenings sitting on the porch drinking out of a gaily-colored aluminum glass.
One night I was walking to my car and she belched and spoke to me. It sounded like someone had farted while scratching a blackboard, but I didn’t reply. Like I said, I don’t want to provoke people on this side of the tracks.
Now, to my amazement and disgust, this woman has called me on the phone and asked me to come over to her house for a drink! I couldn’t believe it.
I thought about what she had said.
“With binoculars. I can see everything. I even watch you play with yourself …”
I was mortified all over again.
I charged up to the top of the stairs and pounded on my landlady’s door.
“What is it?”
“Can I come in?”
“Did you bring your own beer?”
“Just a minute.”
After I went down and got a six pack of beer out of the refrigerator and exposed it to her through the peephole, she opened the door.
“I’ve been dying for a beer, wonderin’ if you were ever going to come up,” she said, “And when are you going to clean up that god damn mess downstairs? I went down there the other day and that refrigerator is the awfulist thing I ever seen.”
“Oh, I’ll get around to it. Listen, Flo, do you know Mrs. Woodruff?”
“She called me up on the phone a minute ago and wanted me to come over for a nightcap.”
“Horny old broad. Woody, her husband, he’s out of town. She wanted to get you to come over and hop in bed with her.”
“Fornicate! That sort of thing. You do you know what that is, don’t you? Give me a beer and sit down! You know, Steve, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that very thing.”
“Sex! I’ve known you for about six months now and you don’t seem to do any fucking.”
This conversation was blowing my mind. I felt as though someone had to be playing a trick on me. I felt like circus music should be playing. When was the clown going to pop out with the balloons?
I dove into my best defense and started laughing.
“No, Steve. Now, I’m serious!”
“Well, that’s a crazy thing to bring up,” I replied.
“Me bring up,” Flo said. “You brought it up.”
“Me? I…uh…just said that Mrs. Woodruff called me to come over.”
“See there! So why don’t you go?”
“Why don’t I go?”
“Sure, have some fun for a change.”
I was aghast …
“Jesus, you must be nuts. That’s the ugliest old bitch I’ve ever seen.”
“There you go being picky. You know, I’m really worried about you.”
I went back downstairs to my apartment and got out my history book to start studying for the mid-term test that was at 8:00 in the morning, but it was no good. I kept thinking about what my landlady said.
“You don’t seem to do any fucking.”
Why on earth would she say a thing like that?
I called one of my buddies. I had to talk to somebody sane.
“Matt, it’s Steve, how you doin’ man?”
“God damn you Steve, why do you have to call when I’m ballin’. You asshole. It seems like every time I get a chick in the sack, you …”
“Sorry man, carry on.”
Maybe my landlady had a point, seems like everyone’s out there fucking someone except me.
I hung up the phone the instant that it rang.
“Hi! Marilyn again. Mrs. Woodruff, remember?”
Did I remember?
“What is it now?”
“Your phone was busy.”
“Thank you, I know.”
“Ready to come over now?”
“God damn it…”
“Boy, I can’t figure you out. There must really be something wrong with you.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Woodruff.”
Jesus Christ. I sat there for six months with my shade up, perfectly at ease, and she was watching me with binoculars.
I couldn’t concentrate on my studies, so I thought I would go to the all-nighter for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. (A piece!) God. I simply had to think of something else.
I peeked under the shade to see if Mrs. Woodruff was watching. Her light was out, so I opened the door and walked outside.
But there she was! She was checking her rabbits.
“Well hi there, honey. I see you changed your mind after all.”
She was standing there with a flashlight watching her rabbits mate.
“No. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go.”
I took off walking for my car. I could almost feel her seize me by the scruff of the neck and throw me down on the ground and rape me, but fortunately she didn’t. I got in my car and drove off.
When I returned from the truck stop café, I drove past her house once to see if she was still watching her rabbits. I drove around the block and parked. Naturally, the only space available on the street was in front of her house. It was dark.
I got out of the car and glancing on her porch, there in the darkness of the shadows I could see the glow of a cigarette.
“Sure you don’t want to take me up on that drink?” she asked.
“Just one drink. I won’t hurt you.”
“Sure beats playing with yourself.”
I didn’t reply.
As I walked down to my apartment I couldn’t find the right key. I kept looking over my shoulder. Finally, finally, I got inside and locked the door behind me.
I couldn’t study. I was too wired to sleep. I just sat there in the dark.
The morning broke and I took my shower. Even though the shade was down, I was apprehensive about coming out of the john undressed, almost like Mrs. Woodruff would be standing there with binoculars and a gym whistle hanging around her neck.
I made it to my history class, and I flunked big time. The reason I was in summer school was to try to pick up that three hours for graduation. I just wasn’t pulling it off, and would be facing another semester in my career as professional college student.
When I got home from the test I parked my car and walked down the steps to my door. Mrs. Woodruff was again outside with her rabbits. I was tired, too tired to put up with her, but she turned and spoke.
“I’ve made up a little surprise for you, Steve.”
I didn’t want any surprises. I didn’t want to know what it was and just turned and opened the door to my apartment. She walked in behind me carrying a large brown grocery sack. She handed me the sack.
“A little something just for you, Steve. Fresh from my garden.”
After she walked out, I locked the door and peeked inside the sack. I had no earthly idea what I was going to do with three heads of lettuce, but I put them in the refrigerator drawer after I removed two black tomatoes from a few months back and threw them into the toilet.
Maybe Mrs. Woodruff would enjoy defrosting my refrigerator, I thought. I was planning to do that back in April, but instead, I discovered that you can just chop away enough of the frost with a knife for the door to close, and what the hell.
All I used the refrigerator for was beer, and because there were some things in there that I was afraid to touch, I really liked getting in and out as quickly as possible. One dish had a greenish blue powder that had grown out of the lid and spread across the bottom shelf. I was afraid to defrost for that matter. The stuff grew fast enough in the cold. I could just imagine what it would do if it were exposed to room temperature and daylight.
I put two bunches of celery and the radishes up where the milk goes behind a six pack of beer, and thought since I had to move it anyway, I’d just go ahead and drink one while I figured out what to do with the onions, green beans, parsley, cantaloupe and rhubarb.
Then there was a knock on the door.
I didn’t want to look out, but I did.
It was she. She had a Benson and Hedges dangling out of her mouth and saw me look. She knew I was home anyway. She was just here.
I saw her smile through the glass. Her teeth were jagged and brown.
I opened the door and she lumbered in dropping cigarette ashes on the floor as she walked by. She had on a pair of black rubber soled tennie loafers, a tight pair of puce nylon stretch pants, a gray short-sleeved sweat shirt, bright red lipstick and curlers.
She was carrying a chafing dish and walked directly past me to the kitchenette table. She put down the chafing dish, turned and faced me.
“P-U!” she said. “Smells like a compost pile in here.”
Spoken by someone who was always smoking a cigarette, I took that as an insult.
I was standing there holding the door open just staring at her. She patted me on the cheek on her way out saying, “Enjoy it honey!”
Now what the hell could she have in that chafing dish? I walked over to the table and took off the lid. Lasagna! For breakfast! And it looked wonderful. It smelled fantastic. It was the best looking, best smelling lasagna I had ever seen and I was starving.
I got a fork out of a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and wiped off the dried egg with the mildewed beach towel I used to dry off with after my shower. I sat down at the table and looked at the lasagna. It was steaming and tempting – the cheese, the pasta, the meat, the tomato sauce. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the marvelous fragrance and sensual taste in store. I cut into it with my fork. It was so tinder. I brought it to my lips, and then I dropped the fork back into the chafing dish with alarm.
My God, I thought. If that crazy woman made this, no telling what she put in it. My mind began to race on all of the possibilities. I looked at the beautiful dish disheartened.
“Shit, shit, shit!” I started screaming and my landlady opened the door at the top of the stair.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” I said. “Nothing! It’s just that Mrs. Woodruff brought this lasagna over here and I can’t eat it.”
She came down the stairs to look.
“Ummm. That smells good. Not hungry, huh? You can’t eat it? Well I’d hate to see that go to waste. I’ll eat it.”
She sat down, picked up the fork and deeply inhaled the lasagna. I went over to the couch and listened to my stomach growl as intently watched her for some sign of ill effect. None appeared.
“You don’t happen to need any lettuce, do you?” I asked.
“I can always use lettuce.”
“I have three heads in the fridge and some other stuff that you can have if you want it.”
“What on earth did you go out and buy three heads of lettuce for?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly …”
“And look at all those onions and things. You know something Steve, I know that you’re more than a little strange.”
She went upstairs and left me with a dirty chafing dish. I figured that Mrs. Woodruff would be back for the dish about bedtime, so I put it outside by my door on the steps.
I sacked the vegetables back up and carried them up the stairs to Flo’s place. She invited me in for a beer.
Digging through the sack, she said, “I know what we can do. While I make up a big salad, you go down to the grocery store and buy some dressing and more beer. Ummm, Ummm. I sure wish I had a big salad to eat with that lasagna.”
So in my red-eyed stupor of having been up all night, I complied. I hopped in the car and drove to the store to pick up a case of beer, Italian dressing and some deli-fried chicken for me to eat.
My landlady and I sat around her living room and she played country music on the piano as I ate salad and chicken. As the day wore long, things got blurrier, and evening hours had come upon us.
About the time she finished “The Great Speckled Bird” for the fifth time there was a knock on the front door.
Unbelievably, it was, in living color, Mrs. Woodruff’s 15-year-old daughter, her friend, and trailing from behind, Mrs. Woodruff herself. She had taken her hair down out of the curlers, ratted it up real big, and pasted it hard with perfumed hairspray.
She was wearing purple satin short shorts, black knee-high boots, a bright Kelly green short-sleeve sweat shirt, and orange lipstick. You might say she was spruced up, like even the hair under her arms was combed. In her left hand she was clenching a fifth of whiskey. In her right hand was a half-eaten banana.
She sat down with a 10 ounce metal glass and filled it with straight whiskey.
“Heh, heh, heh,” she said. “Purty night, don’t cha think?”
“Nice,” my landlady replied, and winked at me.
Flo kept trying to get me off in the corner for some reason, and I went over to see what it was she wanted, she said, “Go for it, Steve!”
“Are you out of your mind? Would you shut up?”
“Why not have yourself a little fun, boy.”
It was then that I realized that women don’t look at other women the way men do.
“No way,” I replied.
I took my turn at the piano and started picking “The Wabash Cannonball” which Flo had taught me to play weeks earlier.
Flo got so excited that she went to the closet and pulled out her dusty accordion case, opened it, and began to strap on her instrument. She played Lawrence Welk-style polkas while Mrs. Woodruff sat on the couch tapping time with her knee-high boots, all the while giving me gitchey-gitchey-goo looks and signaling with her finger various parts of her anatomy that she wanted to draw to my attention.
Her hen-like daughter and friend sat there and cackled at everything.
After finishing the “Beer Barrel Polka” for a third encore on the accordion, Flo went into the kitchen and got a carton of half and half and a bottle of cream de cocoa.
Mrs. Woodruff was finishing off 10 ounces of whiskey. She kept changing positions to pose and expose herself in different ways. She looked every bit like the original lady weight lifter.
My landlady poured the cream de cocoa into little silver demitasse cups and then poured half and half on top. She gave the drink to Mrs. Woodruff who sat down her whiskey glass and stared at the delicate mixture with interest. Then she slammed it like she was shooting boiler makers. She grinned real big. I could see where she had lost molars on both sides, but by her smile you could tell she sure liked chocolate.
Mrs. Woodruff started talking about her breeding program with the rabbits. It was then that she revealed that the lasagna she had brought me that morning was made of ground rabbit meat. She bred them to eat!
I glanced at Flo who made no sign of repulsion – but then what should I expect? I had already seen her with a sink full of dead frogs that she was skinning and planning to fry up in butter along with a big batch of morel mushrooms that she had gathered in the woods.
I started playing “Louie, Louie” on the piano.
“Oh, stop that! That’s terrible!” my landlady honked. “Why don’t you play “Midnight Special,” or “Goodnight Irene,” or something that I can stand to listen to?
“Yes, or “Walkin’ the Floor Over You,” Mrs. Woodruff piped in as she walked over to the piano bench and sat down next to me. She put her hand on my thigh.
“Why don’t you take a turn at the keyboard,” Mrs. Woodruff,” I said getting up from the bench.
“Oh, I don’t play with pianos … only flutes,” she fluttered her eyebrows.
I looked over at her daughter. At 15, she was oblivious, albeit a Mrs. Woodruff prototype through and through. Already this girl could grow sideburns. She looked eight months pregnant and she stood up the of a second string football squad member. Her voice was that of an emasculated baritone.
As I was looking at her, suddenly she popped to her feet.
“Mom, I’d better go over and check on the kids.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mrs. Woodruff said. “I almost forgot about the kids,” she paused a moment then raised her painted eyebrows in excitement, “I know what we can do! Let’s all go over to my house for a while.”
Not on your life, I thought. She was a sly one, but she wasn’t going to get me in her house if my life depended on it.
“I’m tired, I’m going downstairs,” said I.
The daughter’s idea caught fire and the four of them started out the door.
Relieved I was preparing to head down the stairs to bed, but as they stepped outside the door, I heard Mrs. Woodruff fake this cramp on the front porch. She told the others to go on and she’d catch up. The threesome took off. Mrs. Woodruff hobbled back inside, and her cramp was instantly cured.
“Now I’ve got you alone, you little bastard,” she pointed her black eyes at me directly and intensely.
Moving in on me, she grabbed me by the arm and sat me down on the couch. She sat next to me. One arm went around my neck, the other hand straight to my crotch.
I was struggling to get away. This woman was strong.
She nibbled and jammed her tongue into my ear.
I reached up and grabbed her hair from the crown and was trying to pull her head away. I felt a sharp pain come stabbing into my testicles, so sharp I began to sweat. I stopped pulling her hair. She eased up, but her hands stayed busy.
She was munching on the side of my face. She smelled of whiskey and stale cigarettes. I kept trying to pull away. Her left arm came up my back and put me into a headlock. She muscled me down on the couch and was unbuckling my belt. I was flailing and kicking. She jabbed me in the kidney.
We fell off onto the floor and she straddled me with all 175 lbs. my small frame was pinned. I brought my legs up around her waste to put her in a scissor lock and she started humping. I broke the lock and she made another dive for my face. I could feel her mustache against my cheek. She was hot as a fox. Then she started scratching at her shorts to get them down all the while flapping like a fish on the bank.
About the time she got her purple shorts half way down her muscle-beach hips, there was a sound on the porch.
“God damn!” she blew.
Jumping up she heisted her shorts back up and pulled down her Kelly green sweatshirt. I turned to the wall, buttoned my pants, fastened my belt and walked towards the door downstairs.
“I’ll get you yet, you little fuck.” I felt a chill run up my spine. “My old man’s going to be out of town five more days!”
I did not turn around and turned the door knob.
I heard the threesome come back in.
“The kids are all O.K., mom, they’re asleep,” her daughter spoke. “Why’s your hair all messed up, mommy?”
I glanced at Flo. She looked over and winked. I closed my eyes.
The sun was coming up and I had been awake for two nights. It was time I took my body to bed. I made my good bye’s and went downstairs.
Mrs. Woodruff was on the phone again that afternoon. She woke me up.
“How’s about your coming over and finishing what we started this morning,” she said.
I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I went upstairs and told a sleepy Flo I was moving out.
“The hell you are,” she blasted. “You’re not moving ten damn feet until you clean up that god damn apartment.”
I felt trapped. I went downstairs and opened the refrigerator door.
I looked at the green powder. I looked at the crust where milk has spilt when I first moved in. I grabbed a beer and closed the door.
I walked into the john. I looked into the bathtub covered with soap scum. I looked at the mold growing like a gray carpet around the base of the toilet. I turned to the kitchen. I looked at the stack of dirty dishes and watched silverfish scurry down the cabinet. I turned to face my bedroom. I looked toward the crumpled bed and the mound of dirty clothes spiced with textbooks and papers, shoes. I surveyed all of my mess, sat, put my head down on the kitchenette table and sighed.
The phone started ringing. I walked over and took it off the hook.
“Steve … Steve?” I could hear the siren’s voice. I paused a moment and hung up. I took it back off the hook and laid the receiver down.
I began formulating a plan.
When I snuck the last trash bag full of dirty clothes out to my car that night, I went back inside the apartment for a quick check to see if there was anything else of the mess that I wanted to take. I was leaving the dirty dishes, the trash, the refrigerator, the bathroom, and all of those glorious polka-filled nights behind. Convinced I had everything I closed the bathroom door, grabbed the last beer and walked out.
On this, my final trip to the car, I looked up at the Woodruff house and all appeared silent. I guess the old gal had finally run down. I finished the beer, threw the can in her back yard. I walked over to the rabbit cage and opened the door.
The rabbits just sat there and looked at me. They didn’t even try to make a move for freedom.
“You poor little bastards,” I said. I could tell that I was feeling my beer. I was talking to rabbits. “She watches you fuckers mate.”
I reached in and pulled out a rabbit and set it on the ground. I looked up at Mrs. Woodruff’s window again. Nothing.
“No one should have to be subject that that old bitch.”
I pulled out a couple more rabbits and sat them down.
“She’s going to eat you.”
The thoughts of being eaten by that woman made me dizzy.
I pulled out more rabbits and set them free.
“Get the hell out of here. Go on. Get!”
I pulled the last rabbit out of the cage and looked around. The yard was filled with the little white devils.
Some huddled together in the grass, others bumped their way towards the garden.
Rabbits like fresh vegetables, I thought.
I took a last look at my apartment, glanced up at her window one last time and walked to my car.
I was really sorry that I left that horrible mess for Flo to clean up, but what the hell, I was vacating two weeks early and the rent was paid up.
As I pulled away from my former home at 458 N. Mississippi, I saw a liberated white rabbit wander dumbly down the street, pending his fate of being mashed by a car.
Reflecting on those implications for a moment, I drew a bye.
♦ ♦ ♦
© 2001, Lee Rector, Reno, NV, USA, 606 Nebadon
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
All Rights Reserved