The Couple Next Door by Miranda Steinway

The couple who lives next door to us owns their home, while my boyfriend and I are renting. We pay 2,000 a month for the second floor of a duplex. Their house is worth 1.5 million dollars. I know this because I looked it up one evening out of curiosity.

There’s an age difference between us and our neighbors, probably a decade, maybe more. They’re married. They have a car, a black BMW SUV. They have an elegant crystal chandelier hanging over their dark cherry wood dining room table, which I can see through their front window. Everything my boyfriend and I own is from Ikea or Wal-Mart and we like it that way for now.

The husband leaves for work at the exact same time as me in the morning. He wears a tie and carries a chestnut leather briefcase. I wear a polka-dot backpack and an array of short, colorful sundresses since my office doesn’t have a dress code. When he passes me on the sidewalk, I smile at him and he nods back at me out of sheer obligation. A gust of frigid air follows in his path.

The wife also works, but I don’t run into her as often. I mostly see her on her porch, fumbling with her groceries or fishing her keys out of her bag. She’s restrained like her husband, yet much more neighborly. She greets me politely and asks me how I am.

Sometimes, at night, my boyfriend and I hear them arguing through the walls. Never in a violent way, but clearly in a resentful one. We can’t hear what they’re saying exactly, but there’s an explicit frustration in their voices. She sounds like she’s close to crying. Other times, we hear them having sex, both of them moaning loudly, especially him towards the end. Occasionally, we hear them do both, one leading to another.

My boyfriend and I both shake our heads. We rarely ever fight. We love each other’s company. He’s never once raised his voice at me and I would expect nothing less.

I stroll past our neighbor’s place on a Friday night. I’m on my way to a bar to meet some people. I see that they’re having a dinner party with another couple, also in their mid-to-late thirties. They’re pouring red wine into their friends’ glasses and everyone’s laughing in unison over a home-cooked meal, even the husband. They look like an advertisement for high-end dinnerware. I realize I’ve never seen the husband express emotion before. His smile isn’t as big as everyone else’s, but it seems like it could be genuine. Still, it spooks me.

Soon after, a package I ordered is accidentally delivered to their place. I knock on their door after dark because I know that they’re home. Their porch light is on and their car is in the driveway. I have my boyfriend come with me for backup. The wife answers the door with a glass of wine in hand. She’s more animated than usual and her cheeks are flushed. She seems delighted by our spontaneous visit. She rushes across their entryway and plucks my package off her white marble side table. As she hands it to me, her husband steps into the doorway behind her. He seems lighter, more pleasant than usual, a little drunk.

“Stop by anytime,” he says, before shutting the door. It’s the first time I’ve heard him speak, other than his muffled yelling on the other side of the wall.

My boyfriend and I walk back to our place holding hands. We exchange an understanding glance on the sidewalk that says, that was weird. We shut the front door and he kisses me. I press my hand against his chest and pull away.

“Promise me we’ll never be like that.”

“I promise,” he says.

Biography: Miranda Steinway is a writer based in California. Her writing has appeared in Across the Margin, Maudlin House, and Expat Press. She is currently working on a novel. Find her on