by Debra Levy
The Braddocks were moving.
Brenda Hanson stood at the upstairs window, spying through parted blinds. Down on the street, Melissa and Bill Braddock oversaw three young, shirtless men who were easing the Braddocks’ covered furniture and boxes into a moving truck. The sun was bright and the reflection off the sparkling cement hurt Brenda’s eyes.
At least, she thought, she had eyes to hurt. Melissa Braddock had been blinded in a car accident years ago – long before the Braddocks had moved into the resort. But Melissa was the independent sort. She hardly ever needed her husband to escort her around – like a blind person, Brenda was thinking.
The movers had smooth, dark tans, muscled arms. Two of them Brenda recognized as former high school football stars. They’d been minor celebrities in the small town. She didn’t recognize the other one.
“Do you want croutons?” Jim yelled up from the kitchen. The Hansons had screamed at each other like this for years. They never seemed to be in the same room at the same time.
“No,” Brenda said.
“Well, lunch is ready then.” Since his retirement last year, Jim had become the Chef de cuisine, which was fine with Brenda. She’d never been much of a cook anyway.
Melissa Braddock was a gourmet chef. She had an expensive, professional chef’s kitchen and knew where every fork, knife, spoon and spatula belonged. She even sliced her own onions.
“Should she be doing that?” Brenda whispered to Bill the day she’d gone over to welcome them to the resort. The three of them had been standing in the kitchen. Bill Braddock had said there was nothing to worry about, his wife had never once cut herself.
The Braddocks’ townhouse was a mirror image of the Hanson’s, except for the layout, which was flipped so that Brenda had had a slight discombobulated feeling when she’d first walked in. She told Bill she liked the way they’d decorated with nautical adornments, and Bill told her it was all Melissa’s doing.
“Yes, despite her handicap my wife has a wonderful eye for decorating.”
“You’re making me blush,” Melissa Braddock said to her husband, dumping the onions into a pot on the stove.
“And cooking,” Brenda added. She wondered if Bill had realized he’d used the word “eye.”
“That too,” he said, and then flicked his tongue at Brenda once, and then again. The gesture had so surprised Brenda – she’d just met him! and here, right in front of his wife! – she was certain she’d imagined it and rubbed her left eye. But a few seconds later Bill Braddock did it yet again, this time the sexual provocation undeniable.
Brenda excused herself, told the Braddocks she had to get home, that Jim was waiting for her so they could go to the marina and wash down the sailboat. Just then Melissa pulled a cherry pie out of the oven, holding the steaming pastry with fireproof gloves. The pie filling bubbled up through the slits in the golden crust. Melissa said, “Why don’t you take a couple slices home with you, we have plenty?”
But Brenda had lied.
She said her husband was diabetic, dangerously so. “He has absolutely no willpower,” she said. “He’d eat both pieces, and there’d go his sugar, spiked to heaven.” She said he’d done it before and had ended up in the hospital.
Melissa frowned, told Brenda how sorry she was to hear that. Her eyes focused straight-ahead, on the kitchen wall, thought Brenda. Melissa’s eyes had a far-away look, brown and dull.
Brenda let herself out and hurried home.
She knew she hadn’t done anything to provoke Bill Braddock’s advances, but just the same from that day forward she never went down to the Braddock townhouse without Jim at her side. A couple of times the Braddocks had invited them to come down and play bocce ball, which Melissa was evidently quite good at, but Brenda had given the excuse that she was no good at games, which was not altogether a lie.
They had begged off, so what?
Now the Braddocks were moving and Brenda watched Bill Braddock guide his wife back into the empty townhouse. She saw the woman’s blank face, her dead eyes.