“My Neighbor Betty,” by Eric Suhem

Apr 20th, 2013 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

My neighbor Betty had become my nemesis. I’m not sure how it all began, but over the last 13 days, things had escalated into an intolerable state. Though we love our neighbors, somehow I knew that today it would end, resulting in the end of Betty or the end of me. I looked back at the 13 days, trying to figure out how it had gotten to this point.

Day 1

The skate wheels turned as the animals glided about in our neighborhood. “Arf-arf, meow-meow,” the inserted tape recorders brayed from inside the carcasses of the stuffed animals. Betty’s pet beagle was barking repeatedly, the tape was stuck. They were filling the streets, gliding stuffed pets everywhere. I saw Betty walking by, pulling a leashed television on wheels, a dog being broadcast on the television’s screen. On the other side of the street, Betty’s husband Bill was running on a treadmill, as it rolled along the pavement. Feeling neighborly, I offered to fix the stuck audio tape in Betty’s pet beagle, and she graciously accepted the offer. However I only succeed in making it worse, the tangled audio tape ending up strewn on the hot pavement. I apologized to Betty and she laughed good-naturedly, telling me not to worry about it, these things happen. As she invited me and my wife Miriam to her house to play bridge, I felt a shiver of darkness.

Day 2

Miriam and I went to Betty and Bill’s house to play bridge. After about 45 minutes, Betty brought some baked goods from the kitchen. She was always giving bread, pies, and cakes to the neighbors. “I work at the bakery, so come by some time and I’ll get you a discount!” she said, setting raisin bread on the table, returning to the kitchen for more. She brought out doughnuts, muffins, biscuits, and croissants. It went on and on, the food piling up on the table toward the ceiling. I asked Betty about her stuffed pet beagle, and she pointed to the floor, where it lay with some other stuffed animals. “Bill fixed the audio tape,” said Betty, pointing at Bill, hidden by the pile of baked goods. While she daintily adjusted the little pink & red ribbons on the furry, cuddly stuffed bears & rabbits, Betty snarled, “Did you know that I stuffed these animals myself after bagging them? I skinned them, gutted them, and dried them. I have a full degree in taxidermy from the university!” The bridge game went on a few more minutes, until Betty informed us that she had been to ‘Rent-A-Smile’ that day, but it had only been a six-hour treatment, and now the smile was starting to wear off.

Day 3

At a seafood chain restaurant, Miriam and I noticed the velvet lobster. In the lobby, the velvet lobster sat in an unkempt tank, amidst porcelain lead-lined tortoise shells, looking for a light of its Tareyton 100 cigarette. The tourists dropped their cigarette butts into the filthy water of the velvet lobster’s tank. Not finding any other shellfish holding their lighters in sublime supplication, it busied itself with its plans for the day. Looking at its shell-encrusted calendar, the velvet lobster noted that all its days for the next month were free, which would give it a good opportunity to pursue the 30-day weight loss program it had noticed on late-night television. The velvet lobster had used its little claws to somehow dial the phone and enroll in the 30-day weight loss program, though personally the velvet lobster felt that it would take much less time to achieve his goal. It was then that we saw our neighbor Betty pry the lobster out of the tank and throw it onto the floor. The velvet lobster made its way out of the restaurant, crawling past the occasionally-stuck double doors, into a nearby canal, where it quickly achieved its 30-day weight loss goals. When we asked Betty why she did this, she yelled, “Mind your own business!”

Day 4

I went to Betty’s house to ask about the velvet lobster. I approached the yard and saw two Doberman Pinschers. As one barked, a Technicolor bubble emitted from its mouth, floating into a nearby parking lot and attaching itself to the top of the radio antenna of the first car it encountered. Both Dobermans kept barking, bubbles finding one antenna after another. The bubbles eventually popped on the antenna of a Dodge Dart at the northeastern edge of the parking lot. Looking out of the corner of my eye, I saw Betty’s face in the window, screaming the word, ‘ATTACK’.

Day 5

I went to the hospital for treatment of the wounds incurred by Betty’s Doberman pinschers. Falling asleep in the waiting room, I woke up buried under a pile of dead bodies, as the flies buzzed overhead. The doctors and nurses twisted about spasmodically as they stabbed each other with hypodermic needles. The intensive care patients on gurneys careened down the halls, out the double-doors, and into the streets. They fell down manholes, and floated through the sewer. I am negotiating my insurance bill.

Day 6

Returning home, and sensing more attacks from Betty, I contacted Uncle Mert (MERT standing for ‘My Ears Ring True’) He had been crafting porcelain weasels in his apartment, and preparing his army of potted plants to enter the field of battle. “My army of potted plants will strike via the element of surprise!” he was fond of saying. “Now I’m not sure whether I need Philips Milk of Magnesia, or if I should be at the Philips 66 gas station located at the center point of Oklahoma, clipping the little weeds growing at the edge of its concrete service bay!” Uncle Mert continued his observations, “There are those living the life of cloth puppets & brightly colored trousers in the rustic village boutique. They shut the door and large needle pins were stuck in all of us, because the death of Kennedy had not been righted.” I was beginning to doubt whether Uncle Mert would be of much help.

Day 7

I went to Uncle Mert’s apartment to confer with him about Betty, though I still had my doubts about his effectiveness. In the lobby of the apartment building, I got into an elevator that was filled with pigeons. They were crapping all over the carpet. I was going to the fifth floor, and it was difficult to push the Number 5 button because the pigeons were obstructing the button console. The elevator was usually manned by an operator, but he had been subdued and covered by the pigeons. I saw his crumpled form in the right-rear corner of the elevator, his tattered gray uniform occasionally appearing from under the pile of busily pecking birds. I eventually managed to push the Number 5 button and the elevator doors closed. The elevator slowly rose to the fifth floor as the pigeons cooed. They basically left me alone, though a few perched on my hat. Upon arrival at the fifth floor, the elevator doors opened and the pigeons flew out. A strange little man in a business suit appeared in front of the elevator doorway, demanding monetary compensation for the elevator operator’s torn uniform. I chose to leave, and took the elevator back down.

Day 8

I decided to observe Betty’s specific actions over the next few days. She had been very open about displaying the activities of her household, and I took the opportunity to look into the window of their living room at night, searching for clues about her motivations. On the first night driving by, I saw Betty’s husband Bill sitting in his Barcalounger, with a seatbelt on. There was a parking meter next to the chair, and Bill was trying to find change to put into the meter, becoming increasingly agitated. An hour later, I saw Bill, in chinos and a polo shirt, exercising with an odd device of ropes and pulleys in his office, while Betty nearby putted a golf ball along a green Astroturf carpet, screaming orders of workout repetition on a megaphone: “56!….57!….58!….59!….”

Day 9

During the day, I’d managed to install advanced surveillance equipment in Betty’s house, and was able to observe her later activities:  She sat her husband Bill down in front of the television, which was showing earnest young, black-leather-studded bands wearing long blonde wigs and warbling their sheltered concern while go-go dancers gyrated on top of giant orange cans of the diet cola that was sponsoring the program. “That should entertain him for a while,” mumbled Betty as she started to arrange her stuffed animals around the room in a sort of occult death pattern. An hour later, Bill was putting his head into the oven, but he was following the instructions of a cookbook, and realized that he didn’t have enough ingredients.

Day 10

We looked across the fence at Betty’s yard, seeing strange flags displaying ancient symbols that resembled baked goods, such as bread, cupcakes, and cinnamon buns. Near the statues was a pile of dead rats. We saw Betty watering rhododendrons. “Hi Neighbor! How’s the yard doing, Betty?” we asked, trying again to be neighborly.

Betty sprayed more water on the rhododendrons. “Fine, though the rats are becoming a bit of a problem.  Sorry about the Dobermans the other day,” she said, holding a rat in her soil-stained hands, crushing it slowly.

“I hear the dead rats work well for composting, minerals for the soil, let’s all recycle!” I said while looking over the fence, glad that Betty was doing something about the rats.

“Thank you, have a nice day,” said Betty, anxious to get back to watering her rhododendrons.

Day 11

We could feel the doom of Betty approaching, and my wife Miriam had been observing those dark ways for quite some time. Miriam dabbled in vague tenets of Hinduism, and had recently earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering at night school, specializing in the design of household appliances, particularly vacuum cleaners. She had a theory that she could vacuum Betty’s bad karma out of her house, and she built a vacuum cleaner to do just that. “Leave it to me,” said Miriam.

Day 12

I went to the local bakery to pick up a birthday cake for Miriam. I noticed a series of fruitcake and toffee bits stacked up and down near the far wall. The pattern of their stacking left a visual image on my cortex that I found spiritually disturbing and upsetting. With a screaming banshee wail that seeped up from my long-buried ancestors, and had no relation to conscious thought, I threw my body at the stack of fruitcake and toffee bits. Through the hail of crumbled toffee and fruitcake falling about me, I could see the saleswoman pulling out a submachine gun from behind the counter and aiming at me. A baking assistant was peering at me from behind loaves of bread. In one hand he held a butter knife, and in the other hand a pair of scissors that were snapping menacingly. Another saleswoman stepped up from behind the counter, clutching a riding crop and staring at me through binoculars, though I was only 8 feet away. She began to pace back and forth on the linoleum, striking her leg on alternate steps with the riding crop, grimacing with pain and pleasure under the hot white bakery lights. I could see it was Betty, wearing a mask of the Pillsbury doughboy.

“Hello neighbor,” I said.

“That’s far enough,” said Betty in slow, measured, threatening tones as I moved toward the door. “Enough frivolity and small talk,” she hissed.

Miriam broke into Betty’s house and started to vacuum feverishly, sucking the bad karma into the bag. As Betty was preparing to strike me with the riding crop at the bakery, I suddenly saw a look of bliss and peacefulness in her eyes, the evil disappearing.

Day 13

Today I see Betty sitting in her backyard chaise lounge, staring at dead grass with a faraway look in her eye, holding her stuffed velvet lobster. Miriam buried the vacuum bag, which was glowing menacingly, in our yard, but the bad karma unfortunately escaped, and affected the neighborhood water supply.


Defenestration-SpacemanEric Suhem dwells in office cubicles and ocean waves. His book Dark Vegetables can be found in the orange hallway (www.orangehallway.com)

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