The Voyeur Next Door(3)

By: Airicka Phoenix


Earl whistled through his teeth. “That’s fancy.”

“Four years,” I confessed.

“And they didn’t teach that here at the schools in Canada?”

I laughed at that. It was the same comment I got from my sister when I initially got accepted to the University of Portland. But at least she had known the real reason behind my need to get as far away from home as possible. Earl didn’t need to and I didn’t need to tell him.

“It was a growing experience,” I said, using my fall back response to most things.

“So you’re good with the books and things of a business.”

I shrugged. “Yes, and marketing and finances.”

“Interesting.” He scratched his jaw again. “Do you know anything about filing?”

“Filing?”

“Organizing,” he corrected.

I had to shrug at that. “I guess. Depends on what it is.”

We turned a corner and started down Pine Street. For a split second, I almost stopped, thinking I was inadvertently leading the poor guy back to my house. But Earl kept shuffling onward and I hurried to keep up.

“I just moved to this street,” I said. “My apartment is further down.”

“Yeah? My grandson did, too,” Earl said.

I started to ask where, when Earl veered left, hobbling his way towards a large, badly painted building that was impregnating the whole street with a powerful stench of motor grease, metal, and sweat. The rusty sign bolted over the trio of wide garage doors spelled, Madoc Auto Body Repair. The bay doors were all open to the bright afternoon. Two were empty. The middle one had a car hoisted on a lift. A man in a blue jumpsuit stood in the trench underneath with a handheld work light.

“It’s all right,” Earl called out to me when he realized I wasn’t following him. “This here has been in the family for near four generations.”

Curiosity perked, I knuckled my glasses back up the bridge of my nose and shuffled after him. Up close, the smell did not improve.

The man beneath the Pontiac banged on the underside of the car with a wrench; the sound swallowed the hum of jazz spilling from the boom box perched on the red toolbox next to the car. I watched him even as I followed Earl up a set of stairs built into the side of the garage, leading into what appeared to be an office cut out of gray stone slabs. It was impossible to tell what was hidden beneath the towers of paper that were layered over every available flat surface. There was another set of doors straight across, painted a harsh yellow that led to what looked like stairs going up. Earl stopped at the bottom, gripping the railing bolted into the side and leaned against the wall, his face flushed.

“The kitchen is straight up,” he panted slightly. “I’d show you, but that heat just about did me in and I can’t trust myself on them stairs right now.”

Concerned by the sheen of sweat glistening across his brow, I tossed a frantic glance over the room. I caught sight of a swiveling chair poking out from beneath the papers and hurried over to it. The wheels grated against the concrete as I shoved it to where Earl half slumped against the wall.

“Here.” I guided him into it. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you some water?”

Earl smiled at me. “You are such a sweet little thing.”

“Will you be okay if I run up?”

He waved me away as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Not wanting to leave him alone for longer than I had to, I hurried up the stairs, grocery bag in tow. At the top, I paused as the loft-style space came into view. The layout was straightforward with a bedroom set in one corner beneath a grand, bay window. At the foot of it, was a sitting area equipped with a leather sofa, recliner and TV. Across from that was a kitchenette and a bathroom on my right. I moved towards the kitchen. I ran the tap and occupied myself by shoving the groceries into the fridge while I waited for the water to get cold.

“Who are you?”

The pack of chicken breasts slipped out of my hands with my undignified squeak of fright and hit the top of my sandaled foot. I whirled around to confront the sudden explosion of words from behind me. The booming voice was male, but it was the volume of it, the sheer weight behind the sound that prickled the skin along my spine. My hand trembled as I fidgeted with my glasses, shoving them back into place so the dark, blurry shadow looming mere feet away could come into focus.

I wasn’t blind. I could see most things without my glasses. They just weren’t very clear. Everything had a fuzzy hue around the edges. Kind of like a smudged pastel painting, exaggerating the shapes and size of people.