We Don’t See The Neighbors Anymore by Abbie Barker

The yellow gambrel across the street is shut – the garage doors and side doors, the windows, the blinds. The temperatures rise and the ground thaws, but there is no movement, no sound. No frozen patties sizzling on the driveway grill.

Our doorbell doesn’t ring anymore because no one comes to the door. Not even the 10-year-old with the chipped front tooth and pale freckles. She doesn’t swerve past our house on her single-speed bike that is glittery pink and two sizes too small. The one her father found for free on the side of the road.

No one asks my kids to play anymore. They stay on our tick-treated lawn. They jump on the trampoline, kick soccer balls into the net. They wave at passing cars. They wave at walkers who smile with closed lips. My kids wave and wave, until someone responds. They scream until someone confirms that they are alive, that they are seen.

My kids wave at the yellow house with the closed blinds, the house where their friend lives with the chipped tooth and pale freckles. Someone tapes a marker drawing of a rainbow to the front window. The next day a cross. The third day an angel. My kids respond with window drawings of their own: a shamrock, a lizard, a silhouetted bird.

That evening, an ambulance parks across the street. The red lights pulse against the yellow vinyl, and flash crimson through our downstairs windows. My kids hold their palms against the storm door, pressing noses to glass. Masked paramedics load the stretcher into the back of the ambulance and drive away. “She’s fine,” I say, “so young.” We close our curtains and make dinner – chicken and potatoes. Homemade cookies for dessert. We play Uno, watch Stranger Things.

We don’t look up when dumping our recyclables at the curb anymore. We stand apart and talk in hushed voices about the bad luck swallowing the yellow house: laid-off, uninsured, ICU. Isn’t the teenaged son working part-time at Burger King? We leave meals by the door. Enchiladas, bacon mac n’ cheese, a side of Caesar salad. We don’t mention the mortgage. We don’t talk about the electricity, the heat, or the hot water. How they need internet to stay connected. Internet to keep the teenaged son enrolled in school.

There is no lapse in my income. No hospital bills. Our pantry is crammed with starches and spices, our fridge full of meats and nutrient-dense produce. Fistfuls of cilantro. I comb through Wayfair for new sheets and fresh drapes. A more colorful rug for our sunroom. A realtor walks the perimeter of the yellow gambrel, keeps her distance, scribbles notes. My kids roll skateboards across our driveway, shoot nerf darts at trees.

There are no drawings taped to windows anymore. The rooms in my house seem to shrink, so I start filling boxes. Clothes that no longer fit, shoes that nobody wore. Books I never read. Towels and pillows and placemats that no longer match our decor. I drag mountains across our lawn. I arrange everything on the curb beside a handwritten sign that screams, FREE! Rain falls. The leaves change. Our unwanted belongings wilt on the side of the road, buried beneath marker-printed signs that bleed and then fade.

Abbie Barker’s writing has previously appeared in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She earned a degree in fiction from The Mountainview MFA, and an MA in Literature from Fordham University. She teaches college English courses and lives with her husband and two kids in New Hampshire.

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