Neighbors


By Susan Palmquist



The funeral of Jenny Crawford took place at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Her killer was present.

I sat four pews behind her husband. His cries were heard all over the church. No one could keep a dry eye as each of Jenny's family and friends reminded us what a kind and generous person she'd been. A dear friend, someone you could always count on...even in bad times. She'd been a volunteer and had often worked with the homeless.

I hadn't known Jenny or her husband that well but I felt devastated about his loss. They'd moved into the house next door about six months prior to her death. He travelled a lot; she worked in the garden...sometimes at the very same time I was mowing the grass. I always meant to ask her if she needed any help around the house while her husband was gone. But as a man living by myself, I didn't think it would be appropriate. What if she'd said yes the faucet's leaking or a window's stuck? It meant I'd have to go inside the house. It wouldn't have looked very appropriate with the husband gone so often.

I can imagine what the neighbors would have said about me, especially Mrs. Anderson who lives across the street. She's always peering over at me. Sometimes I see the outline of her body behind the drapes. She forgets she's on the heavy side.

Never misses a thing, that woman. In fact, I'm wondering if she saw anything unusual the day Jenny died. Maybe I should ask her.

And let's not forget Mr. and Mrs. Skerrit who are Jenny's other neighbors. Both are retired and always working out in the front garden.

* * *

After Jenny was laid to rest, everyone was invited back to the house for refreshments and sandwiches. I took a cheese and ham sandwich, a cup of coffee, and sat on the couch next to Mrs. Anderson.

"Beautiful service." She balanced a plate of pastries on her knee while sipping her tea.

"I was thinking, you're always looking out your window, did you happen to see anything strange the day Jenny died?"

"Strange?" she asked.

"Anyone suspicious hanging around the neighborhood?"

"The police asked me that too. What you turned into a detective now? I told them I didn't see anyone or anything out of the ordinary." She stood up. "I think I'm going to try some of the Danish pastries before I'm on my way."

I downed the rest of my sandwich and stood up. Walking into the hallway, I glanced into the kitchen where Jenny's husband sat at the table being consoled by some of his friends. I was about to leave when he called after me.

"Mr. Evans, please wait. With everything that's been going on I haven't had time to visit with you, and to thank you."

"I really didn't do anything."

"I know, but if you hadn't noticed that Jenny hadn't been around for a day or so, she would have..." He paused for a second or two. "She would have been at the bottom of the stairs like that for days."

"I'm just sorry I didn't realize sooner that something was wrong. I mean I might have..."

He shook his head. "The police have assured me...she died quickly...she didn't suffer in any way."

I couldn't stand it any longer, listening to the poor young man's voice breaking up like this.

"If there's anything else I can do for you, remember I'm just next door."

I went home, the house was cold, or maybe it was me. Shivering, I walked over to the kitchen table and looked at the letters and magazines sitting there. It reminded me of everything that had led up to Jenny's death.

I came home from work and I'd been in the middle of making dinner when I heard the doorbell ring. It was Jenny who stood on my doorstep holding an 8 by 11 inch brown envelope.

She hadn't been to my house before and this was the first time I'd seen her up close. I hadn't realized she was so young. She couldn't have been more than 22 years old.

"Mr. Evans, I'm Jenny Crawford from next door. The new mailman still isn't sure who's who and what houses we live in. Well, he put this through our letter box. And silly me, I didn't check the name first so I mistakenly opened it. The envelope is ripped but your magazine is still intact."

"Thank you." I took it from her.

I could feel myself coloring up with embarrassment.

"Thank you," I said again, this time shutting the door.

I didn't want to seem rude, but I was too upset to look her in the eye. I tore off the paper surrounding my magazine. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, hoping everything would just go away.

The publisher always sends my magazine in a discreet thick brown envelope so no one knows the sort of publications I favor. I threw it down on the table. The photo on the front suddenly repulsed me. Jenny would probably tell her husband. He'd march over to my house to have a word with me, maybe shout at me about his wife having to look at that type of filth. And soon the whole neighborhood would know about my reading preferences. No one would ever talk to me again.

"He's never had a girlfriend or a wife; I'm not surprised looking at smut like that."

In my head I could hear them all talking about me and judging me.

I felt the sweat breaking out on my face. I needed to speak to Jenny and apologize.

I waited until her husband had gone on his next business trip. I could tell when he was going away because I always saw him load up his car. When I came home from work that evening I went straight over to Jenny's house.

"Mr. Evans," she said as I stood on her doorstep.

"Can I come in?"

"Well, I was just about to..."

She was definitely hesitating about letting me inside.

"Okay, but I have to run an errand in about five minutes."

I followed her into the hallway. We were standing by the stairs.

I somehow knew what she was thinking and feeling. I'm alone in the house with a man that looks at women in those dirty magazines. I could see the contempt in her eyes.

"Mr. Evans, what are you doing?"

I didn't know why she was asking me that, but then I realized I'd taken off my tie and had both ends wrapped tightly around my fists and was walking toward her.

I was the last person to see her alive. I called the police a couple of days later and told them I suspected something was wrong. I hadn't seen her around, and as her husband was out of town so I thought someone should go to the house and check on her.

They found her slumped at the bottom of the stairs. She'd been strangled. So far they haven't come up with any person of interest. And they haven't found a murder weapon because I put it back on and wore it home. I even wore it to work the following day. And the irony was I was still wearing it when I spoke with the police officer when he interviewed me about Jenny.

But they will find it very soon.

It will be hanging around her killer's neck when he takes his own life in the garage.


SUSAN PALMQUIST is both a freelance writer and author. Her short stories have appeared in US and UK publications including Woman's World. She writes both mysteries and romances. When she's not writing she's teaching online writing workshops and is a tutor for an online writing school. Her favorite pastimes are getting lost in a good book, cooking and gardening.


Copyright 2012 Susan Palmquist. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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