The Old Man in My Backyard


He shot out of the bushes like a bullet—that’s what the neighbor says. Close all your blinds, all of them. Close them all.

The man is older. And brown, the neighbor thinks, because he’s white. Probably one of the weirdos that lives a few blocks away hoping for a little peek-a-boo. A minute passes before he says, “I would have kicked his ass if I could,” and we’re off to the races. We’ll bring our porch chairs and ashtrays and tennis rackets inside. We’ll park our lightly used cars elsewhere as if to say, Please move on, sir. We have nothing to offer. We are no fun here, sir. But look at that street, that driveway there. Oh, look at that. We lean into our game plan hard. We decide to call the landlord and have motion sensors installed in our shared backyard and that will be that.

As we’re talking, I realize I’ve been meaning to take the trash out for weeks, but my cans have stayed in their designated spot between our houses for three now. So I wheel them out one by one to the curb, creating what appears to be a clear exit path for our strange spectator, if ever he chooses to return.

The day after I leave the trash by the curb, flies begin to encircle the window in my kitchen and I wonder if it’s my fault they’ve decided to take refuge inside. At first there is one that I fail to kill and now, more days later, there are too many to care for. I stop swatting and the mail remains in its rightful place, still unread. When I walk past the dining table, the flies don’t even budge anymore. I avoid the kitchen, so as not to disturb them.

The blinds stay open and I know the neighbor can see I haven’t put much effort into our safety. But that’s how I like it and I can’t help but marvel at the thought of geometry and light working in tandem—how they must compromise so that I can be happy, so that my plants can continue to grow. I’m fortunate to have lots of windows: a big one in the living room, one at my kitchen sink to look out of while I massage lipstick off my drinking glasses, and a small square one in my bathroom, my favorite. Sometimes on the toilet, right before I stand to finish off the job, I wrap around and stare up through the thin blinds. For what, I don’t know. What do I hope for? The glimpse of a passing bird, a heavy grey cloud filling up the blue frame, a plane. Often there’s nothing, but the chance at a sighting is always a thrill, with my ankles bound by fabric, my hand resting on my thigh, my body as open as this window.  

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