The Man Across the Street

The first time I saw him was Halloween. We had just moved in and were taking the girls trick-or-treating. My older daughter was a witch, my younger a watermelon. When we turned left at the end of our driveway, I saw him sitting in his yard across the street with his eight-year old son. A fire was burning between them in a portable fire pit. He was speaking to his son loudly enough that I could hear him from across the street. Couldn’t make out the words, but it seemed like theater. Like he was acting.

We walked down the street in a cold drizzle. Not a good first Halloween. My older girl did fine, but the little one could barely hang on. Too many steps up porches and back down. Too many people, too much stimulation, too hard for me to hold her hand and the umbrella and her plastic pumpkin full of candy. We crossed the street and turned towards home, ringing door bells on the opposite side.

As we approached the man’s house I heard him coaching his son on scaring trick-or-treaters. He said these girls coming up – my girls – were too small for him to do the thing he did with that last bunch. His eyes were on me.

In the spring, I was digging up dead bushes and the girls were playing in the yard when the man decided to fix his front door. The front door he never used. He came and went through the side entrance off his driveway. Never opened his front door at all. Not until that day he decided to fix it. While I was in the yard with the girls. He had a couple of tools. Screwdriver. Wrench. Whatever. He wasn’t doing any fixing. When we went inside, so did he.

My wife suggested he was gay, and interested.

In the summer, I was reading on a couch near the window when I saw him on the roof with a rake. He was clearing off debris from the trees. There was a young girl up there with him. She was wearing a dress and was maybe six or seven.

“What kind of man takes a girl that age onto the roof?” I said.

“You know when you’re sitting there, he can see you,” said my wife. “I always see you when I pull into the garage.”

“Is that his daughter?” I said.

In the fall, as I was raking leaves to the curb and my girls were jumping in the piles, he crossed the street for the first time and stretched out his hand.

“I’ve neglected to make your acquaintance for far too long,” he said. False smile. Sporadic eye contact. He told me his name.

His hand jiggled coins in his pockets. His knees waggled like he was jogging but his feet remained planted. He watched the girls as we talked, but that didn’t seem odd because they were running and jumping and I kept having to say no baby, or be careful honey. He asked if I was a Buckeye fan and suggested we watch a game sometime down at Leigh’s house. He said the girls could play in the basement with Leigh’s kids and his. I said sure, but I didn’t mean it.

In the winter, after putting the girls to bed, I sat on the couch and looked out the window. Police cars were lined against his curb. No lights flashing, but every room in the house was lit up. The front door was wide open. Officers stood in the yard. A plain clothes cop was walking the perimeter, talking on a cell phone. The man’s wife was in the yard, talking with an officer.

I’d only seen the man’s wife outside once before, when she planted flowers around the enormous buckeye in their yard. My wife and I had joked about her being a mail order bride. We were only half-joking. The flowers died after a few weeks.

I called my wife into the room and gestured excitedly out the window.

My wife noticed the van. The nondescript van. My wife loves her tv cop shows. I hadn’t noticed the van (it was nondescript). But my wife, she loves those cop shows.

She crossed her arms. She didn’t like the man across the street. She has a gut sense about people. I have it too, but she has it more. The one time she was in the same room with the man at Leigh’s house, the man left. Not the room. He left the house. Practically bolted. That’s how strong her gut sense of these things is. He felt it.

A plain clothes cop emerged from the house carrying a computer tower. He carried it to the van.

I guessed child pornography. I was only half-joking. I told my wife she watched enough cop shows to know it had to be child pornography. Unmarked van. Plain clothes guys in and out. Computers being trucked out. What else could it be.

She stood there half glaring, half in shock.

Across the street, the man’s wife went back inside. The front door that never opened closed behind her. One police car left. The others remained. So did the van.

The next day, my wife called me at work. She said she was picking up my youngest at pre-school when Leigh grabbed her by the arm, her own daughter at her side. Bleary eyed, Leigh asked if anyone from the news had contacted us. My wife said no. Leigh said they were doing a story about the man across the street. He’d been arrested for child pornography.

“Why do you think they didn’t contact us?” I said.

“Probably because we never let our girls in his house,” she said.

39 thoughts on “The Man Across the Street

  1. I have such visceral, enraged reactions to topics of this kind… hard to distinguish the admiration for the writing from the feelings it engenders. But this is so well written, I love that you stay true on every word, that you build these people up, and the mystery of this guy across the street so effortlessly. This is great writing, no matter how much I now feel like punching something.

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    • Well, the good news is they got him, and he’s been denied bail until his trial. There was a big sting that grabbed a bunch of people from Canada and the U.S. recently, and I hear this may have been a small part of that. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse people out there than this guy. There was no physical abuse in this case, but even so my understanding is he’s looking at somewhere between 5 and 30 years in prison.

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    • Thank you – I’m kind of surprised it’s been so well-received. I was afraid it would be off-putting to most. Not that I want to off-put anyone. Just wasn’t too sure how it would go over. And no you never know what’s going on someone else’s house.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well writ Walt, thank you. My late Ma had an acute creep radar, which spared my sister and I being perved on many times from Santa to our town’s Fire Chief. Hope the guy gets done for it. Cheers.

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  3. A narrow escape. No matter that this man’s condition is a mental illness, it is scary if you get up too close, and particularly if you have children who might be vulnerable. A sensitive subject sensitively approached. Thank you.

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    • Do you think it is a mental illness, Frederick? I always thought it was just evil. Or maybe evil itself is a mental illness. I don’t know. I’m just glad they got him. His wife cleared out the house and moved out a few weeks later. There’s already a new family in there. I kind of wanted them to bulldoze the place and start over.

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  4. I am so very glad that your children are safe!! Powerful writing. Whew, I am so glad the girls are safe. Yes, I love cop shows too, but that event was a bit close to home, right? You are a good daddy.

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  5. You always want to imagine that your own neighbourhood is not like that, that you’re safe, but you never really know until the cops show up.
    Great piece, I’m sorry it had to come from a personal place.

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    • Thank you. I did check out your blog, which led me to a nice video of you playing piano on YouTube. Well done! Did you know your name and your Gravatar image become clickable links when you leave a comment? That’s all we need to find your blog! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Hanging Out At Mohican | waltbox

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