“Famous Neighbors,” by K. Marvin Bruce

Dec 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The Swamp Monsters’ barbecue was to die for. We’d been neighbors just long enough not to ask about the particular provenance of the hunks of meat they served. There are, after all, things you just don’t do in polite company.

A few, understated, worries scurried like skittish rats across blasé, unperturbed faces the day they moved in. Most of us had never awoken to lawns decorated with moist, white bones before, and a few association members wondered where Archimedes or Rumpleteezer had disappeared to, and it had never been like him or her to run off in the night. But who knows about the inner life of purebred dogs and cats? The Swamp Monsters were neighbors, not beasts.

This is an exclusive community, after all. After the president of the neighborhood association telephoned the realtor’s office, ever so politely, he appeared just a touch humbled before us the next day. “They’re movie stars,” he explains. Well, it all makes sense. Thornfield Heights has certain earnings platforms that all the realtors know by heart. Artistic types like actors do settle here. Look at me—I’m a writer. Who am I to criticize the neighbors just because they have certain, ahem, grooming issues?

The population of the neighborhood has declined a little, by natural attrition rather than relocation. And the demographic has skewed a bit older. Charles, the president of the neighborhood association, recently commented on just how few well-behaved, cultured children appear regularly on their prim bicycles or with their freshly pressed ball uniforms any more. Some of the association with less-than-optimal community spirit insist that the Swamp Monsters be taken to court for their alleged offenses, a course of action to which I vigorously object. “You mean to say that they should be judged because of who they are?” I ask, incredulous. “In this day and age!” But the Trumps would listen to no reason, and our spotless streets and immaculate gardens were besmirched by the blight of a common police cruiser parked out front of our famous neighbors’ house. In broad daylight, no less. A group of the curious nonchalantly assembled at my home, which is next door to the Swamp Monsters, but not too close to be obvious. We stand on the uniformly green and military-cut front lawn with Manhattan ice teas and highballs, chatting ever so casually about the wondrous recovery of a bull market after too many bearish months. I’m afraid my sigh of relief is actually audible when the police emerge with no neighbors in custody. Think of the decline in property values! Mrs. Trump just can’t prevent herself, striding up to the officers and risking to make a scene. The police, jovial with a tint of jungle juice still titillating their on-duty breath, laugh aloud. “Monsters will be monsters,” they reason, and who can argue with logic like that?

Charles, however, could see potential trouble down the trail. He is the president of the association, after all. “Bic, you’re a writer, why don’t you talk to them?”

I demur politely. “I live next door to them, Chuck. If they take offense, I’ll be the one who has to face them day after day.”

“But you’re tactful, being a writer and all. People like what you say—that’s why they read your books.”

“Well, you’ve got me there! People do seem to enjoy the way I play with words. They do buy my books.” My gorgeous house implies that. Exclamation point.

“Just try to use language that the Swamp Monsters can understand. We’ve just got to keep the Trumps happy, old boy.” I take his affectation good-naturedly, although I know Charles has never been to England and was raised by a rubbish collector and his wife who put him through school, at great sacrifice. They never visit the neighborhood.

As a writer, I research everything. I turned to books to figure out how to be a good father. Before that, on how to become a father. How to buy a house. How to keep a wife happy. How to choose a good school. Swamp Monsters, swamp monsters. My library seems a little thin on the fictional creatures end. Of course, the internet has plenty on movie stars, so I Google my neighbors.

“Mr. Monster?” I presume. It’s not polite to stare down there, no matter what the species.

“Glurft.” S/he doesn’t really understand why I’m here. I shift my weight from foot to foot, nervously. I’m dressed casual, Levis and an Izod. Loafers. Just an average guy next door.

“I’m Bic Cross, your neighbor?” Surely they recognize my name from the best seller shelf. You can even find my novels in airport bookstores. “Do you mind if I come in?” The spotless door opens into an unimaginable vault of filth. I try to smile politely as the stench hits my face like the concussion before a speeding garbage truck. Piles of unidentifiable trash glom in no pattern or order. Great gobs of sickly green-gray slime hang from the textured ceiling, and puddles of odiferous muck naturally pool on their brand new Innovia. Bones jut out rudely from a mayhem of detritus that resembles nothing so much as a cyprus swamp gone bad. Home is where the heart is.

The one I deduce to be Mrs. Monster slithers in from another room—God, I hope it’s not the kitchen!—with an unwashed glass of jungle juice in her appendage, or hand. It seems to be thrust toward me, and I can only assume that I’m meant to take it. “Flunplet,” she explains. Is it for me? Tentatively, I reach out for the cup clouded with lord knows what kinds of microbes.

“Thank you.” I try to hold it like an Old Milwaukee at a redneck yard party, not bringing it to my lips. At what I can only take to be her expectant stare, I slowly raise the tumbler to my mouth. I know the glass has never been washed, and who knows what vermin they’ve had for dinner. The film on the rim is thoroughly opaque. I close my eyes and sip. The effect is immediate—fiesta muchas gracias! No wonder those cops were smiling! “Skol” feels like an appropriate ejaculation in these surroundings.


“So, you’re in the film industry,” I remark casually. We are all sanguine and nonchalant about our stellar success in this neighborhood.

“Thoobna aeiiia r’lyeh wewejdetl.” It is the one who opened the door speaking—the man of the house? I’m buzzing so hard I can’t really even remember why I came. Something sad. Something angry. Something subtle.

“You haven’t seen any kids around here, have you?” I blurt out, lapsing on all social convention. The one who handed me the glass is gnawing on something that looks like it’s wearing Paris Trump’s Ugg. I don’t know how my glass got empty, but I feel a sudden, immediate urge to piss.

“Usepthu lissgek hrhrhraeht,” I can’t tell if she’s stuttering or if it’s an affectation. The room is spinning and I’ve really, really got to go. If they’re movie stars they must take direction, and that means they must understand what I’m saying even though I’m deaf to their meaning. If I don’t find a bathroom right away nobody’s going to come out of this looking good.

I hold the glass out to her, in what I think is a universal sign of surrender, muttering a hasty “thank you” and “welcome to the neighborhood.”

They weren’t invited to the next association meeting. I had to protest, affably, of course. It was duly noted.

“Mr. Cross,” I am addressed formally, “what did you learn on your reconnaissance visit?”

“I prefer to think of it as a hospitality check,” I mutter for the record. “Or welcome committee.”

“But what did you find?” insists Mrs. Jones anxiously. “I’ve searched for little Edward all around the neighborhood. He has an unhealthy interest in all those bones on your neighbors’ lawn.”

“In point of fact,” I retort, “the Monsters are neighbors to all of us. Mammon Realtors sold them the property. Their Thanksgiving weekend release was number one at the box office for three weeks running last year. They are respectable members of the Hollywood community.”

“But they’re eating our children!” Mrs. Trump is almost hysterical. I notice the way her eyes flair and her voice rises shrilly. I observe such things.

“That hasn’t been definitively proven, yet,” Mr. Schwab declares with the demeanor of Judge Hathorne. “Did you find any evidence, Mr. Cross?”

“It’s difficult to remember. They serve one mean punch.”

“You mean you got drunk?!” accuses Mrs. Jones.

“I am a writer,” I remind the association.

“And you don’t have any children,” Mrs. Lynch frowns. In poor taste. Not any more, we don’t.

“It was Mr. Schwab who asked me to visit. I did as I was asked. And it seems to me as if we’re making several prejudicial assumptions here. Some children seem to have run away from home, or eloped—you know how young they start having sex these days—and so we want to blame the Swamp Monsters! It seems that some people are jumping to conclusions. The police didn’t press any charges. Didn’t even issue a warning!”

“It’s one thing when they eat their own kind, but these are our kind of people we’re talking about. Children with real potential,” Mrs. Trump sobs. “Oh, where is Paris?”

Mrs. Jones takes up her neighbor’s frustration like contagion. “We must do something! If the police won’t do anything, we will!”

“So we should all become vigilantes in our little paradise here?” I ask, not able to believe what I’m hearing. “What about the rule of law?”

The room falls silent. I notice that the Schwabs have exquisite taste. I could swear that this Fernandez Sound Chair has never been sat upon before. Every association meeting they have different furniture. I love the way the burgundy fabric contrasts with their spotless white carpet. The paintings on the wall this month are Mondrians. Very stylish. Nothing like convention to shut down an angry mob.

“Well, something must be done,” Charles eventually declares. He is the association president, after all.

“Why don’t we do something to make them feel welcome?” I suggest. “You know how temperamental movie stars can be. Maybe they’re just lonely.”

“What? You think maybe we should invite them to an association meeting?” Mrs. Trump looks at the white carpeting with sheer horror.

“They eat human children. And pets!” Mrs. Mellon declares.

“Maybe it’s just their culture,” Andrew suggests. I am glad for an ally at last.

“We can assimilate them to our way of life,” I agree. “If we shut them out, they’re bound to act anti-social.” I don’t add that I’m thinking nobody wants an angry swamp monster for a next-door neighbor. It would sound too parochial.

There’s a great deal of resistance in this room, but if at least two of us can form a front, greater unpleasantness might be avoided. I need peace and quiet to write. The price I’m willing to pay for it is pretty damn high.

The Big Ben doorbell rings. The association collectively turns its head toward the front door. Association meetings have never been interrupted before. This can mean only one thing.

Unrushed, suave, and collected, Mr. Schwab himself saunters to the door. He straightens his tie. Nothing as crass as a peephole mars this neighborhood. We are confident, self-assured.

“BseBseBseglyx,” s/he says, politely holding out a smudged envelope.

Tentatively Mr. Schwab reaches for it, taking it delicately, like a communion wafer. “Thank you.”

The Swamp Monster turns, we think, to go. They don’t seem to be great conversationalists. Charles is holding the pestilential envelope between manicured thumb and forefinger when the downstairs man rushes apologetically in. “Sir, I am sorry sir. I did not wish to eavesdrop on the association’s deliberations.”

“That’s fine, Mitchell. Would you be so good as to open—this?”

He hands his servant the trashy paper and takes a graceful step backward. He keeps the fingers of his right hand widely splayed. It’s an invitation.

So we all find ourselves at the Swamp Monster barbecue. The jungle juice flowing freely, we are all much more at ease now. Our demographics are skewing older, but we have money in common. In any society, there is a price to pay. Especially for having famous neighbors.


Defenestration-K. Marvin BruceK. Marvin Bruce experienced defenestration in his youth when his head was shoved through a closed window. He recovered to become a freelance writer. His fiction has appeared in Danse Macabre, Jersey Devil Press, and Calliope (this piece was nominated for a Pushcart Prize). He (barely) keeps a blog called Reinsurrection at kmarvinbruceblog.blogspot.com. Although he has lived in six states and two countries, he may currently be found in the greater New York City metropolitan area.

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