Green Hills Literary Lantern

Gatekeeping

 

 

 

 

 

I swear I don’t treat her any different than anybody else.  This woman.  Well, I know her name’s Trudy-something-or-other, but to me she could be anybody.  She pulls up to the gates last night—Sunday night, like usual.  This Trudy is a creature of habit.  She’s here every Sunday at seven on the dot.  Thing is, she’s a visitor now, but she used to live here.  Right down there on Moonlight—633, right hand side.  But that was at least 18 months back.

            Since I’m in the booth eight and a half hours a day it’s difficult for me to get to know the residents above and beyond a wave, a smile, and of course opening the gate.  This is 95% of what I do.  But on occasion I get involved.  When the Smithstons saw that prowler roaming around (or at least this is how they put it) back in March, we went down to check it out.  We talked to them.  We tried to ease their fears.  Got to know them on a personal level.  As much as we could.  This kind of invisible prowler situation comes up a lot.  Never caught a real one, but tons of imaginary ones.

            Trudy.  The only reason I know her name is because she made a point of treating me like a human being from the get-go.  Hari and me—we’re here all night.  But the majority of residents don’t even take the time to exchange pleasantries.  Don’t make the most of their security if you ask me.  It’s a benefit.  But Trudy asks how I am doing.  She smiles and talks about the weather, chats about the football game.  Like that.  Back when she was on Moonlight she’d even give us Christmas Cards, a box of hard candy from time to time.  Niceties.  Common courtesies make everybody’s life that much more pleasant.

            So last night there she was—bright beautiful smile that makes her whole face spring to life.  She rolled her window down by hand and said she was just here to see her girlfriend, Shirley, like usual.  I waved, smiled, waved, and buzzed her through.

            Now here’s what I’ve never told Hari:  Shirley doesn’t live here anymore either.  In fact, Shirley and her husband haven’t lived here since last September.  So why does Trudy lie to me?  She comes out here to park her car in front of her old house.  Trudy will sit there, in her car, usually for an hour, just watching her old house.  She’s been doing this ever since she left really.  Sometimes she’ll dab her eyes with tissues.  Sometimes she’ll wince.  Other times she will just bow her head on the steering wheel and hide her face.  I don’t have to tell you it breaks my heart.

            How do I know all this?  If residents ever read their home association guidebook they’ll see we installed surveillance cameras embedded in the siding of each house.  This is why I’m in the booth.  This is why Hari is in the other booth.  From here we can see the entire neighborhood easy as pie.

            Yesterday though Trudy was calm and collected.  She sat in her car—behind the wheel as always—and she barely moved.  She just stared right at the house.  I’m always tempted to ask her why she does it, but I’m already breaking company rules—don’t want to scare her off.  Still, I gotta wonder what kind of pain she suffered.  Death.  Divorce.  Heartache.  What?

            Today all I can do is think about Trudy.  I’m going back over the video feeds, watching each night.  The more I watch, the more interested I am.  I can see something in her eyes.  It’s as if she’s trying to discover why she is there herself.  As I watch Trudy, her eyes track over the house.  I wish I could see what she saw—the Rosethorn’s house, the windows aglow, the rooms filled with laughter.  The technology doesn’t take us there.  Not there.

            Then it hits me like a ton of bricks.  She knows about the cameras and has probably known the whole time.  Trudy just wants someone else to see her.  She wants someone to watch her suffer.  That’s what she’s searching for.

            Hari and I switch off with Nick and Olaf at seven.  I drive home with a fire under my butt.  Part of me wants to track down Trudy now, call her, talk to her, listen.  But I don’t have a clue where she might be.  Instead, I drive down into The Bottoms right below Meadow Haven.  I stand on the sidewalk and look up at the gates glinting in the sunshine, at the houses casting their shadows down into the valley.  I open the door to my townhouse, click on the computer.  Ever since Karen left I have more space than I know what to do with.  I only use my computer room, the bedroom, and the bathroom.  Everything else just collects dust.  Sometimes I can hear my voice echo in my home.  But I don’t wanna think about this.  I want to sink into the screen, let myself float right into it.  Then I’ll fall asleep.  The sun kisses everything outside awake.

 

 

 

Nathan Leslie’s six books of fiction include Madre, Reverse Negative, and Drivers.  Nathan’s short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, and Cimarron Review.  He is fiction editor for The Pedestal Magazine and series editor for The Best of the Web anthology (Dzanc Books). His website is www.nathanleslie.com