It’s You I Adore ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(I posted a different version of this story previously.)
Roland Finney is a mystery. He is forty-two years old and lives with his mother. He’s quiet and unassuming, keeps to himself, mows his lawn, picks up his morning newspaper, shovels the snow after a storm, never speaks to anybody. At seven-thirty every morning he leaves quietly for work and gets home at four in the afternoon and hardly ever goes out again. Nobody knows where he works or what kind of a job he has. On weekends he takes his mother on errands.
Carmen Giles lives next door to Roland Finney. She also lives with her mother. She is nearing forty years old, has been married and divorced two times. After the second divorce, she moved “back home,” as the saying goes, “to get her life in order.” She and her mother get along fine together as long as they avoid discussion of certain topics, such as Carmen’s choice of boyfriends.
Over a period of a year or more, Carmen Giles has developed an unhealthy interest in Roland Finney, amounting almost to obsession. It maddens her that he is single, she is single, they seem compatible in every appreciable way, and their paths never cross.
She watches him out the upstairs window with her binoculars as he cuts the grass in his back yard. He wears a sleeveless undershirt, khaki pants and tennis shoes. She likes the play of his biceps as he pushes and then pulls the mower. On his face is a look of concentration. She likes the neat, straight rows of his cutting. A man who cuts that precisely and evenly must have a lot of good qualities. He would hang up his own clothes and rinse his own dishes and not leave it for somebody else.
He shuts off the mower and sits in a lawn chair and picks up a newspaper and opens it. He is a man who likes to read and wants to know what’s going on in his world. He’s not the kind who would lay on the couch in front of the TV all the time. His mother comes out of the house and brings him a bottle of beer. She is a troll-like woman with stooped shoulders and hair dyed an awful red that hangs down to her shoulders. He takes a drink of the beer and holds the bottle between his thighs so his hands are free to turn the pages of the paper.
In the year-and-a-half that Carmen has lived next door to Roland Finney, she has never heard him utter a single syllable. He is possibly the quietest, most maddening man she has ever encountered. She has thought on occasion that she will go over and introduce herself, begin a friendly conversation with him, but somehow she just doesn’t have the nerve. Maybe he doesn’t speak, or maybe there’s something wrong with him, like mental retardation, and she would only embarrass him and herself, too.
When a letter is misdelivered to her mailbox, a letter that belongs to him, she sees it as her chance to engage him in conversation. She takes the letter and knocks on his door assertively, but he doesn’t answer—nobody answers, not even his troll-like mother—so she drops it through the mail slot in the door and leaves. She is certain he is at home since his car in the driveway and believes he might have come to the door if he had wanted to.
At night she lies in her upstairs bedroom and thinks about him and imagines him lying in his own bed in the room just across the yard from hers behind the heavily curtained window. When his light is off, she’s sure he must be asleep. He’s the type who would wear pajamas. His mother would take them out of the clothes dryer and fold them neatly and put them in his dresser drawer for him. He’d wear them for a few nights and then take them off and put them in the laundry and get out a clean pair.
One Saturday night she is watching TV with her mother when she hears a car stop out front and the honk of a horn. She goes to the front window and pulls back the curtain a little and peeks out. The idling car is stopped at the curb in front of Roland’s house, taillights gleaming in the darkness. The horn honks again and in a minute Roland comes running out of his house and gets into the car and it speeds off.
Where is he going on a Saturday night and who is he going with? With this question burning in her mind, she can no longer concentrate on the TV programs. Here she sits with her mother, while she should be the one going out having a good time on Saturday night. She feels lonely and left out, maybe even a little jealous.
“Aren’t you feeling well?” her mother asks.
“I feel all right,” Carmen says. “It must be something I ate.”
“Want an Alka-Seltzer?”
“No, I’m going to bed.”
“Don’t you want to watch the late movie? It’s Joan Crawford.”
“Joan Crawford gives me nightmares.”
Lying in her bed in the dark, she realizes she is in love with Roland Finney, or close to it. That’s why she feels so unhappy and jealous to know he left in a car with somebody else on Saturday night. Yes, she loves him. There can be no other explanation. Absolutely she loves him, in a way she’s never loved before. She knows deep down that he would love her too if only he was given the chance.
The next morning is Sunday. She sleeps late and when she wakes up she begins drinking vodka martinis instead of eating breakfast. While she’s enjoying the lightheaded feeling alcohol always gives her, she goes into the kitchen and begins making oatmeal raisin cookies. She prepares the batter and, while the cookies are in the oven, she washes her face, puts on clean clothes and makeup to make herself look better than she feels.
When the cookies are done baking and have cooled long enough, she puts three dozen in a tin box in a nest of wax paper and closes the lid. After a couple more quick drinks, she makes her drunken way out the door with the tin of cookies and goes over to Roland’s house and knocks on his door.
She is certain Roland will answer the door this time but, no, it’s the woman. She scowls at Carmen as if she’s an annoying vacuum cleaner salesman. The corners of her mouth turn down.
“Yes?” she says.
Carmen smiles but her mouth is suddenly dry. “Good morning! My name is Carmen. I’m your next door neighbor.”
“I know we’ve never been properly introduced, but I just wanted to…”
“Are you selling something?”
“What’s that you got there?”
“It’s some cookies I baked. Oatmeal raisin. I baked more than my mother and I can possibly eat, so I thought you and your son might like to have some of them.”
“My son? What are you talking about?”
“Is he here?”
“Is who here?”
“I’d like to give them to him myself.”
“Who is it?” she hears his voice call from another room. The first words she ever hears him speak.
Carmen pushes past the woman and enters the house uninvited.
“Wait a minute!” the woman says. “You can’t just come barging…”
“Who is it?” Roland calls again.
She follows the sound of his voice into the kitchen. He’s sitting at the table with a newspaper spread out before him. When he stands up, she sees he’s wearing a bathrobe. His legs are bare.
“What?” he says, and that one word is all he can say because she surprises him by running to him and holding him in a tight embrace around the shoulders. Dropping the tin of cookies to the floor, she tries to kiss him on the lips but he deflects it by stepping back.
He takes hold of her arms to try to free himself. “I think you have the wrong house!” he says. “I don’t know you!”
“I’ve wanted to meet you for the longest time!” she sobs.
“What? Who are you, anyway?”
“Oh, I’m sorry! My name is Carmen Giles. I’m your next door neighbor. I see you every day. I watch you out the upstairs window with my binoculars.”
“I think you have the wrong person.” He pushes Carmen gently aside and goes out of the room.
The woman is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, looking at her, wondering what’s she’s going to do next.
“That’s about it, girly!” she says. “We don’t know you and from what I’ve seen we don’t want to know you.”
“Oh, dear!” Carmen says. “I’ve made a terrible mistake, haven’t I? I’ve been drinking vodka martinis all day and I’m not myself. I don’t ordinarily act like this. I hope you can forgive me.”
“I’d like to apologize to your son.”
“What are you talking about? My son?”
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed him.”
“My son? You think he’s my son?”
“Well, isn’t he?”
She starts to say something else, but the words won’t come. She bends over and vomits vodka martinis all the floor. When she is finished, she stands up and wipes her mouth on her sleeve. The woman, the wife, takes her by the arm, escorts her to the door and ejects her with a little shove.
The next day, once again sober, she tells her mother about meeting the Finneys.
“I was feeling generous and a little sentimental, I guess, and I wanted some company. I baked more cookies than I wanted. I put some of them in one of those tins from Christmas and I took it over to give to them. Just a friendly gesture and so innocent! After living next door to them all this time, I wanted to meet them. In all innocence, I swear! When I knocked on the door, that horrible woman answered. She’s even worse-looking up-close than she is from a distance. She invited me into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. He was sitting at the kitchen table practically naked. He stood up and smiled at me. Then he wanted to give me a big hug. I don’t object to an innocent hug, but I could see right away that he was putting more oomph into it than was necessary. He actually groped my backside with both hands until I squirmed loose. I was plenty embarrassed, but I tried to laugh it off. I handed him the tin of cookies and I said, ‘I have all these home-baked cookies, more than I will ever eat, and I thought you and your mother would like some.’ At that, they both started laughing, a sickening, cackling laugh! They were laughing at me! I felt humiliated! Then the old woman said, ‘You think he’s my son, you silly goose? He’s not my son! He’s my husband! I’m his wife! Hah-hah-hah!’ Then the man said, ‘Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun!’ Then he leered at me suggestively and laughed. Well, I got out of there as fast as I could and came home. They are thoroughly distasteful people and when I see them again I’m going to pretend they’re not even there!”
“That reminds me of something I heard in the beauty shop,” her mother says. “Do you remember Arlene Trussell? I knew her all the way back in high school. Her name was Arlene Archer then. She married Benny Trussell. He had a face like a bulldog. I never could see what she saw in him, but I think she had a bun in the oven, so I suppose it was a case of marrying him or giving birth to a bastard child. Anyway, to make a long story short…”
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp