The House Across the Street

A Story

The house had been offered for rent for 37 days when she moved in.

I must have been asleep — the first thing I realized was that the For Rent sign was down. Then the workers trucks started arriving. She must not have much stuff to move in so fast.

During my childhood, my mother would have baked a pie, or a casserole, and walked it across the street. I wouldn’t be doing anything like that anytime soon.

Over the next few months, I watched her house through my front sitting room curtains. It was an old house. New paint. She never came outside either.

She seemed to have a boyfriend, though. Every week, a man pulled up in a gray Mustang. He dressed like a laborer, but he didn’t keep laborers hours. He would come by any day, at any time, and would stay for ten minutes, or maybe thirty.

He first went to her mail box and brought in the mail after sorting it for her.

I never could predict when his visits would come, but I waited for them. When she opened the door for him, and stood in the portal, that was the only time I got to get a good view of her.

She was short, with pale skin, and long, straight black or brunette hair. That hair was her luxury. She would brush it every night. It was her bedtime ritual.

I found out her name when our letter carrier, Ms Hansen, made a mistake. A mailer for some dentists’ office arrived. It was addressed to “Anastasia Smith” with an address of across the street. In another life, another universe, I would use this as an excuse to walk over and introduce myself. I couldn’t think of what I would say after “Here’s your mail.” Visualizing stepping off my porch to cross the street sent a wave of fear and nausea from the core of my body up and out the top of my head.

Ms Hansen was my daily connection to the world. At first we spoke only when I had to sign for a package or something. I soon realized she was checking on me. Ms Hansen was very thoughtful. She brought me my boxes of food, my books and magazines, and of course my letters.

I lived for those magazines. I tended towards science titles like Scientific American, Sky & Telescope and Nature. I also read The Economist and The New York Times and The Washington Post. When the newspapers ended up on my lawn instead of my doorstep, Ms Hansen would bring them up for me. As I said, very thoughtful.

I noticed pretty quickly, before I even knew Anastasia’s name, that she never left her house either. Except sometimes she went somewhere with her boyfriend. Mostly, she would come out and sit on her porch alone, but the oak tree in her yard blocked my view of her porch swing. She would spend hours there, like she was waiting for something, or someone.

The last night I saw Anastasia was the night of the big meteor shower. I had been looking forward to it since the previous year, and I hoped for clear skies. I set my alarm for midnight, and woke up to sit in my bay window where I had the best view of the sky. I counted the streaks and listened to them hiss on the radio. For years, I had planned to install a skylight so I could have a better view, but I hadn’t gotten around to that yet.

She came out to look at the stars. She picked the best time. Later reports said the shower peaked at over two hundred per minute. That’s more than three shooting stars every second.

She stepped out in bare feet, a nightshirt, and a white ankle band I’d never noticed before. She’d never stepped off her porch before, except when accompanied by her boyfriend. She stepped out, and walked to the middle of our street. She stood half way between my home and hers and turned to the sky. For hours, she watched the sky, while I watched her. I ignored the storm and instead watched her face light up. She was beautiful and joyous, and this was the best look I’d ever get of her.

I wanted to go out of my front door, off my porch, and talk to her. We could talk about the meteors, or her boyfriend, or Ms Hansen. That was three things we could talk about. I’ve read that you only need three to get a real conversation started.

I opened the door and stood there for the longest time, with my toes touching the door sill. I watched the meteor storm reflected in the joyous expressions flashing across her face. I took one step onto my porch. Dr Mays would call that a significant step. I reached out to grab the door frame, in case I felt dizzy.

Another step. Both feet on the porch. My left hand still choked the door frame though. I fought with myself and visualized letting go. I felt my grip loosening, my hand opening, until I was touching the door frame with just two fingertips. I stood on a cliff with no net below. My warm and comfortable home was behind me. Anastasia was the only thing in front of me.

A car turned onto the end of the street and flooded Anastasia with its headlights. I pulled myself back into my home and slammed the front door as quietly as I could.

I ran to the bay window and watched her step out of the car’s way and sit on the bench where the schoolkids wait for the bus. I thought about turning on the sitting room’s lights, which would silhouette me in the window and let her know someone was watching out for her. But I didn’t, and she kept staring at the sky.

Time passed, but she didn’t go back inside. Instead she lay down to sleep on the bench. I thought for a moment about bringing her a quilt. But I guess I’d have to mail it to her.

Finally, the east began to turn gray, and I watched her walk back into her house. She went to her bedroom on the second floor, brushed her hair slowly for a long time, then put her clothes on.

Just after five o’clock, her boyfriend drove up, followed by a police car. The boyfriend walked back and spoke to the police for a moment, then walked up to her house and went inside. She must have been waiting for him by the door, because they came out together not two minutes later. He had put handcuffs on her; he walked her to the police car and put her in the back seat. I couldn’t understand the expression on her face.

I never saw her again. I knew I never would when the workers returned to empty her home and the realtor put the For Rent sign back up.