Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part four)
They really had made him be watch captain. Hibbler couldn’t see it rewarding to feel out Mat, knew he couldn’t Todwillow…
But he thought it sometimes.
Spying on people was shady…well, it had to be.
No one was going to knock on the Witticombes’ door—
“Hey, by the way…”
No. The thought was…it meant something to have been…picked out…made party to a secret. Of this kind, not really on the up-and-up. So you couldn’t tell. You’d be telling on yourself.
Hibbler was a reluctant thinker-through; he would like to postpone all this for some later date when things would probably be different, anyway. He had no confidante to search souls with. Back home, on that day, Kate had said, “Just don’t make a career of it, Joe Friday.” Her eyes strayed to the DVD shelf, a twitch at the side of her mouth telegraphed an edit: “Drebin”.
Again, she said, “You can’t afford it, Jer. Farting around with Todwillow.”
He’d won, by virtue of not quitting his job, the late-shift manager’s slot at the dealer’s. He was earning less than his two-thirds, because Petersen had, a month or so after, shut down the clinic overnight. Hibbler, going to work ignorant, found himself mobbed by Petersen’s patients outside the locked door.
Mat crossed the street to talk to Dawn Orse, Dawn the one seen outdoors most often, after the moving-in, prolonged, builder’s vans lining the street…this time, on the Yoharie, not the Busby, side. Word got around Mr. Yoharie had had an accident, was disabled, an amputee.
Busby got around. But Busby was Robin to Todwillow’s Batman.
Maybe…not wholly fair.
“You home with the kids?”
Mat laughed. “So…you’re out of work.”
“No,” Hibbler said again, but felt…uneasy. That was it, seriously—the idea of making Mat ticked off with him, made Hibbler uneasy. He guessed he didn’t like Mat. They went on being friends.
“No, I’m over at Tri-City.”
“Yeah, with the go-karts. Nice work if you can get it. What you know about Petersen?”
A silence, Hibbler racking his mind for small talk. Some friendly word, gratitude for Mat’s attention.
“So come over.”
That day, he met Todwillow. Todwillow asked him, grinning, about the Yoharies. And then, somehow, Hibbler gave all he could about Petersen.
What’d he’d got was, “Wait ’til you see that kid.”
“She says they never talk about it, and she doesn’t care.”
And a joke. Yoharie had one thing going for him, anyway…he knew how to pick the right woman. Jer?
“I get you.”
People didn’t have to be married.
They didn’t have to be “like everyone around here”.
Hibbler preferred both, but he repeated these mitigations, like everyone. The Yoharies, though, seemed to just get more interesting. The realtor’s sign came down for good. The contractors packed up; Dawn stood on the grass and waved. The kid Valentine, moved in, started coming out. On his little bicycle.
Todwillow by then, long since, had got onto his thing.
It was almost sarcastic…or not sarcastic…disrespectful, in a kind of way. Like, Hibbler thought, when you were in school, and you had a new backpack, maybe new sneakers. And someone scratched all over your stuff, some insult in Sharpie.
What for, but that they’d spotted niceness, possession, pride.
Todwillow made things of things. He was like a…
(Hibbler had reasons for not wanting to say predator—)
But like: “Now yours belongs to me”.
He never found satisfaction in these explanatory trials, yet believed what he suspected, that Todwillow, for hearing Cathlyn Burris describe some guy named Cole…and because it bugged her, evidently…had taken up the habit.
Blood in the water…
Cathlyn had to put herself on the list, so did the Witticombes. Their association was voluntary, not formalized, Roberta strong (and by herself, calling up all her powers, as Hibbler thought of it, strong enough to rule) on forbidding dues, on no-waying liens. So the list was the least you could do. If you wouldn’t, what were you saying? I don’t care about my neighbors, not even to read an email? The Yoharies agreed, Dawn always wiftily up for anything to help, “…but, you know, I can’t leave the house for more than an hour or two.”
(Giarma though, later, when: “Do you wanna be on the list? I need your email”, had given Hibbler that struggling-to-grasp-the-weirdness-of-it face. And: “No.”)
So everyone, most, got Todwillow’s friendly news and tips. So they knew…especially…what drugs teenagers were into, what new slang they were using for code. They got a heads-up, white slavery rings were kidnapping schoolkids in Cleveland… And maybe some people didn’t mind being sorrier than safer, but there were signs to look out for—a check-list Todwillow under this subject line passed along—to tell if the pipeline run by illegals in Florida was beachheading in your area.
“Your girls get along? They good friends?”
It was a game day, Kate doing books at one of her salons, and since Tristanne had greeted him by asking, “How are the girls?”, Todwillow’s appropriating the segue seemed natural enough. It was hard for Hibbler, distracted wanting Tristanne not to sit with them, to frame this proposition in his mind. Did they get along? Were they friends? What would Kate say?
He said: “Hey, if you don’t want Beatty in here…”
“Oh, he’s fine.”
He was stinking up the room, in fact. Dog and cheese popcorn together…not a good thing. Hibbler wasn’t even the sort of person who’d bring Beatty, foisting his mutt on friends. Only, going out the door, you couldn’t get rid of him.
And then, it was the dog he was trying to hinge on, in a way…
“So when Savannah goes to school, she’ll have to take Beatty with her.”
Rae had said this, coolly declarative.
“Oh, jeez,” Savannah said.
“Okay, don’t answer.” Todwillow chuckled. Like he knew kids.
Hibbler said, “Savannah’s going to school in a couple years. I guess.”
“Well, then.” Sarcastic.
“I used to hate my sister. When we had to share a room, growing up. But…”
Tristanne’s were always like Reader’s Digest stories; her anecdotes (a word Hibbler had learned from Reader’s Digest) always uplifting. “When she was in chemo, I went out to live with her for a year… I quit my job…”
This was news, to Hibbler and Todwillow. Somehow Tristanne skirted the outcome, and only Mat would know it. Todwillow, thus, while looking keenly interested, said nothing, and Hibbler said nothing.
The Busbys’ theater set-up meant get-togethers, a few of the gang, or people Mat knew (but not often). Super Bowl, Oscars, March Madness, Kentucky Derby, World Series, Ohio State-Michigan…Penn usually out by then, but not always…
Sometime later, Todwillow commented, “Your older kid’s going through a phase.”
Then they’d had a longer talk…and Hibbler, paying attention since the subject had been raised, could offer a little more about the girls’ rivalry.
He didn’t like the word.
There was Zack, for example. He couldn’t recall their basic not-liking-each-other as a competition. Beat your rival, win the championship. But if his brother hadn’t been there somehow, he couldn’t imagine his growing up years happier for it, his dad less hard on him.
That…he’d let himself ponder aloud…wasn’t (he didn’t think it was) the way things were between Savannah and Rae. His face was red, but the lights were out, and the screen was making everyone’s face blue, green, yellow. Hibbler wasn’t hard on his girls. They wouldn’t think so. He was a good dad…an okay dad.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)