No matter how dark I make the house tonight, the papers on the kitchen table seem to glow. This night, like all of my nights, like all of my mornings, I watch the dark street from my front window. In the row of lit-up homes, the Martin house is, as always, dark. I call Marlene’s sister and leave messages so that Marlene will know how I feel about her papers and her St. Louis lawyer and Bob Martin. What irks me is the thought of Bob, Marlene, and Marlene’s sister, around the machine, laughing.
Once again, I try to sleep in my bed, but I’m kept awake. That dark house is across the street. That missing window is black. That house is empty and fills me with sadness. No matter how I lie, how I turn, what the time, what the day, it is there, out my bedroom window. Even with the shades drawn, after tossing and turning, I give up every night and take a blanket to my son’s room at the back of the house. His bed is short. I have to curl up to sleep.
This week’s captain meeting at Joe Melendez’s house goes as usual. We eat tepid lasagna and discuss any troubles lurking in our neighborhoods. Chip Gossett shows up late, then flashes his perfect teeth and tries to make a joke of everything to compensate for his tardiness. When I hand out additions to the captain’s folder, he makes the offhand comment, “Great, my family’s low on toilet paper.” We end with everyone watching reruns of Seinfeld. I hate the show. It’s not that funny. While everyone watches, I take this as my cue to head home and call my wife.
Outside, Chip strides up to talk with me. “You move pretty fast there,” he says.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“What’s going on with the Stuben lady and her scouts?”
“I don’t know yet. When I tried to give her the paperwork, she marched off.”
“Mr. Regulation,” Chip says. “She was over at my house, crying that you wouldn’t get the roadblocks. You know,” he points to the folder in my hands, “that’s more a guideline than a step-by-step how-to manual.”
“If that’s how you see it, that’s how you see it.” I quicken my pace. This is none of his business.
Unfortunately, Chip keeps up. He stutter-steps beside me as I make a sudden turn across the street to keep my distance from the Martin house.
“Where you going?” Chip asks.
“Home,” I say. “Why don’t you do the same?”
“You don’t have to be so hard on people,” Chip says.
I stop in the middle of the street, with my house in view. I’m cold, and I’m tired of Chip. “This is what I get for doing my job the right way. Everyone against me.”
“Nobody’s against you,” he says. “You’re just more committed than some of us. Truth be told, I didn’t come to talk about this. Me and the missus wondered if you would come by for dinner. We haven’t had you over for a long time. You must be lonely since the family skedaddled.”
“They didn’t skedaddle. They’re on vacation. We have money you know. We can afford to do things like that.”