One neighbor, Rex, came out of his house to address another neighbor, Sam,
who was standing out on the sidewalk.
From the sidewalk, Sam was watching the ongoing reconstruction of his house, which was adjacent to Rex’s.
This reconstruction of Sam’s house seemed to be total in nature, and had been going on now for almost a full year.
Thus, Rex approached Sam on the sidewalk. “How long do you think before you’re done with your construction?” he asked.
But Rex startled Sam. “Whoa!” Sam said.
Rex had managed to startle Sam due to having snuck up behind him.
Rex said, “Sorry, I have a tendency to sneak up on people.”
The two neighbors, Rex and Sam, switched places with each other, in terms of their positioning on the sidewalk, just to give it some variety.
“You were asking about the progress of construction?” Sam said.
“It’s going to be several more months.”
“Which stinks,” Rex said, “because my wife and I just had a baby and the construction is keeping us awake at night.”
“You have a baby?” Sam said. “Honestly, I didn’t even realize you were married.”
“Do you want me to prove it to you?” Rex asked, getting angry.
“You don’t have to prove it to me,” Sam said.
“Hold on one second,” Rex said.
He ran back inside his house, from which Sam soon heard the sound of something crashing and then lots of shouting.
A few minutes later, Rex came jogging back outside, his face red like a pool of blood. “I couldn’t find my wife or my kid. I wonder where they are.”
Then another neighbor, Alex, ambled up to where they were standing.
Alex took a position right in the middle of the two men.
“What are you guys talking about?” Alex asked.
“Rex is complaining about how long my construction is taking,” Sam said, nodding towards his house.
Alex said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that too, actually.”
“Me?” Sam asked.
“No, Rex,” Alex said. “I wanted to team up with Rex in order to bring you down.”
“Me?” Sam said.
“Yes,” Alex said. “Because you’re making us all look bad with this construction.”
“I want to have the biggest house on the block,” Sam declared, proudly.
Rex got excited, then, but it wasn’t about the idea of him and Alex teaming up to take Alex down.
Rather, he thought he had glimpsed his wife in one of the windows of their house. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and then he dashed into his house.
Meanwhile, Sam and Alex stood considering the on-going rehabilitation of Sam’s house.
“What made you want to have the biggest house on the block?” Alex asked.
“I thought it would give me a sense of power,” Sam said. “I thought people would fear me, and from this fear I would be able to have things from them that they wouldn’t normally give.”
“Like what?” Alex asked.
“Like maybe sexual things,” Sam said, blushing a little. “Or other favors—sexual favors.”
“Who do you want to have sex with?” Alex asked.
“I’d rather keep that to myself,” Sam said, smiling at Alex.
Soon, Rex came out of his house accompanied by his wife. “Well, I found my wife but neither of us could find our kid.”
“How old is your kid?” Sam said.
“It’s a baby,” Rex said.
“Rex, I didn’t even know you were married,” Alex said.
Rex’s wife said, “Hi, I’m Theresa,” and she shook hands with everyone.
“So you guys don’t know where your baby is?” Sam said.
“We know where it might be, we just don’t know where it is,” Rex said, smiling.
“Rex is a real smart ass,” Theresa said.
“Well,” Alex said, “I’m sure it will pop up somewhere.”
“Honesty,” Theresa said, “I’m not optimistic.”
“Why not?” Alex asked.
“I’m just not that type of person,” Theresa said.
The four of them then stood watching the reconstruction of Sam’s house.
One of the walls that the construction workers were putting up fell down suddenly and broke into a bunch of pieces—a cloud of plaster dust went up into the air.
“Damn,” Sam said.
“Does that happen a lot?” Alex asked.
“All the time,” Sam said. “They’re not very good construction workers.”
“My brother is a construction worker,” Rex said. “But he’s pretty bad too.”
“My sister is a construction worker, actually,” Alex said. “Or, was—she’s dead now—a wall fell on her.”
“It’s dangerous work,” Rex said.
Then, another wall fell down, and then another.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Sam said. “That’s why this is taking so long—it’s always two steps forward and then no more steps forward, just hundreds of steps back.”
“Have you thought about hiring new construction workers?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” Sam said, “but these guys have excellent personalities.”
“Prove it,” Rex said.
Sam called one of the construction workers over.
This construction worker came jogging over—he was white with plaster dust.
Sam said, “Would you mind telling them a joke?”
“Me?” the construction worker said.
The construction worker thought for a minute and then said, “Honestly, I don’t know any jokes, I only know riddles.”
“Say a riddle then,” Sam said.
“What is white and endless?” the construction worker asked.
They all tried to think of an answer, but couldn’t.
“I forget the answer,” the construction worker said, and then he started to laugh.
Just then, a baby could be heard crying from the direction of Rex and Theresa’s house so Rex and Theresa went running into their house.
After they left, Sam said to the construction worker, “You can go back to work now.”
Alex, looking hurt, said to Sam, “I didn’t know Rex was married.”
“You didn’t?” Sam said. “Neither did I.”
“I wish I was married,” Alex said, sadly.
“I thought you were,” Sam said. “I was positive you were married.”
“Everybody makes that mistake,” Alex said. “I guess I look ‘married.’”
“I can’t keep track of who on this block is married and who isn’t,” Sam said.
“Here,” Alex said—he took a sheet of folded paper from his pocket and passed it to Sam. “This lists everyone on the block and whether they’re married or not.”
Sam took a look at the sheet. “Oh, here, this is a mistake—I am married.”
“Okay,” Alex said. He took out a little notebook and made a note in it.
Rex and Theresa returned to where Sam and Alex were standing, but without any baby.
“No baby?” Sam said.
“False alarm,” Rex said.
“What was making that crying noise then?” Sam asked.
“The TV,” Theresa said. “We think, though did we ever confirm that?”
Rex shook his head.
“Well, I’m sure it will show up,” Alex said.
“You keep saying that,” Theresa said.
“Honestly, I don’t know what else to say,” Alex said.
The addition being built onto Sam’s house collapsed completely, trapping several of the workers, who were now shouting for help from inside the fallen structure.
“This happens sometimes,” Sam said.
“Aren’t you going to save them?” Rex asked.
“They need to learn to build better walls,” Sam said, angrily.
Another wall on the house fell down.
“Timber,” Alex said.
Rex and Theresa laughed, but Sam didn’t—Sam’s house was falling apart right before their eyes.
No one knew what to do exactly, but Alex put his hand on Sam’s shoulder.
Sam grabbed Alex’s hand.
Then, crying was heard again coming from Rex and Theresa’s house.
“I swear to God,” Rex said.
“Well?” Theresa said, looking at Rex.
So Rex went hustling back into their house.
Theresa smiled at Sam and Alex. “Sometimes he thinks we shouldn’t have had a kid.”
“Rex?” Alex asked.
“Yeah,” Theresa said.
The sound of something crashing came from inside of Rex and Theresa’s house again.
“I hope that’s not the baby breaking,” Sam said.
“I hope so too,” Theresa said, laughing nervously.
Then, Rex came running out of the house and he had a baby in his arms.
When he got to where they were standing on the sidewalk, he lifted the baby to Theresa. “Is this—?”
Theresa shook her head.
Rex put the baby down on the sidewalk.
Beau Golwitzer’s work has appeared in BOAAT, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. He lives in Amsterdam.