The Friendly Neighbor By Albert Zygier

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I won’t lie to you, after my forth divorce I packet it in. There will be no more husbands in my life. I am 47 years old, with one daughter and a good career. I am chief editor of a large book publishing firm and I live in a condo I purchased with my second husband’s settlement. OK, so he fooled around with my young assistant for two years before I wised up but I made him pay for it. He was the CEO of a large trust company so I made out quite nicely.

I won’t bother you much about my third and forth husbands. One was an artist without talent. That lasted six month and the other a politician.

Need I say more?

That was five years ago. I now live with my dog, Max, and two cats, Mo and Jo. Sometimes I can’t tell them apart but it doesn’t matter, they get their meals on time and much love.

My condo is on 11th Avenue in Soho overlooking the Hudson River and New Jersey but don’t laugh, the sunsets are quite impressive.

I have nice neighbors though I don’t see them too often, that’s life in the Big City, everyone is always busy. A year ago I had a couple from China living next door, very nice people, they imported fresh water pearls from Asia. Within eight years they made a bungle and moved back to Hong Kong and now their apartment was up for sale.

I’ve seen some of the couples that made offers for it and wasn’t too impressed. Call me Provincial. What can I Say. Then one day I found out it was sold. I assumed it was a just another couple – not too many single men lived in this building – but then I found out it was a bachelor. No matter, I had no interest in getting involved with a man again.

Then a week or so later I met him in the elevator as we apparently pushed the same floor button. It was a rainy afternoon on a Sunday after I walked Max, who hated the rain by the way, despite me getting him a yellow designer rain coat from the Tailored Dog Boutiquic for $150, he of course looked ridiculous in it and hated it and in reality I didn’t blame him. I just didn’t want to deal with wet hair in my apartment. Usually I have a dog walker taking care of him but it was Sunday and we needed at least one day to bond.

“What kind of dog is he?” The man asked stifling a gentle grin. I saw he had just come from food shopping in the local Key Food as he was carrying a couple of their plastic bags.

Its a Shelty,” I told him. “A Shetland Sheep Dog, or a miniature Collie.” I added.

“He’s very cute. How old is he?

“He’s four,” I told him as the elevator door opened on our floor. I lived in 8A, a two bedroom and two bath layout, in case my daughter ever decides to come for a visit. He, his name was Rubin Morris by the way, lived next door in 8B, a one bedroom, he had no children that would ever not visit him.

Anyway, he said see you later, as he walked towards his door, which of course is a common greeting. However, in effect it came true, he did come over later to borrow some ground coffee which he said he forgot to buy.

Of course that trick is as old as when women ground their coffee with mortars and pestles but it was Sunday and it was raining and I was bored so I invited him in as I was already brewing a pot.

Now lets not get ahead of ourselves. I wasn’t looking for romance or such. I just felt like having some company. I had brought some work home from a new author but I wasn’t in the mood to read a horror story. 

While the coffee perked, he was looking out my large window towards New Jersey across the river which was pretty much fogged in, but he seemed not to care. Soon the coffee maker buzzed that it was ready and I asked him if he wanted milk and sugar as I poured the dark liquid into a ‘best mother in the world’ mug, my daughter once sent me instead of flowers.

“Oh, thanks no, no sugar and no milk” he exclaimed. “I was in the navy so I’m pretty much used to drinking it black…”

Rubin was at least close to six feet tall. His hair was cut short. He had a model’s posture and a face with character. Probably as a young man he wasn’t particularly handsome but age sometimes gives a man distinction. No doubt he looked good in a uniform too. I thought he looked in his early fifties.

“Not many ships out there today,” I said only because he mentioned he was a navy man and this might be a conversation starter.

“Well, it would take a good sailer to go through this muck but with all the electronics on board a modern vessel it would be no problem. That’s really what I do, design navigational gear.”

We sat down on my couch. I tucked my legs under me and we sipped our coffee. He asked me about myself. I asked him about himself. He was a good conversationalist. He has been all over the world and had many interesting stories to tell. I thought perhaps of asking him to write a book about it.

Time seemed to pass us by. I wanted to ask him for dinner but thought perhaps I would scare him away. He probably understood and thanked me for the coffee and went back to his apartment. He forgot about the ground coffe he came in for.

I know what you’re thinking. There she goes breaking her resolutions the moment some interesting guy comes along but you’re wrong, no, really, I had no such ideas, he seemed just a nice person and that’s what you want in a next door neighbor. Period.

I took out a Jenny Craig pasta dish for dinner and warmed it up in the nuker. That’s how I kept my figure in tact. By eight Max needed to go out again but the weather was even worse now. One could hear the wind howling from the river. I put some newspapers on the tile floor in the guest bathroom and closed the door. It took me many hundreds of dollars for a trainer to train him to do his business like that. A well worth investment especialy on such a day. When he was ready he barked and I let him out. That’s life in the Big City too.

Next day, a dreary Monday, I went back to work. I had not dome my homework and didn’t read that horror story and no, I didn’t dream about Rubin either, nor was he on my mind.

My assistant Trey, was already there and had my schedule all laid out. No more young and cute assistants for me. Trey was a middle aged gay man and smart as a whip. An English Major from Columbia, the university not the country. He knew where to cross a ‘T’ and put a colon in the right place. I asked him to read the horror story, I think he liked these more than me. Some people are like that. They liked to be frightened as long as its not for real.

The week went by fast, and yes, with no thoughts of my next door neighbor. I see I’ll have to explain that pretty often to you.

However when I came home from work Friday I met him coming out of the elevator with a young woman. We said hello to each other of course and he introduced her quickly as his niece. On their way out I thought I heard him say something to her that sounded like I was his neighbor. I thought I heard her giggle. I hated her.

Max, Mo and Joe greeted me at the door and another weekend was beginning. I poured myself a glass of red wine and stood looking towards New Jersey and the sunset.

I see you’re starting to feel sorry for me. Well, don’t! I lead a full life, in fact tomorrow I’m going to a party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and yes I have a date with a wonderful gentleman I’ve known for years. Alright, he’s a distant cousin who’s in town this weekend but so what.

The party was splendid. A yearly affair to raise money for the museum. All the important people were there and we raised almost two million dollars to fix the roof of one of the wings.

There was a small band for dancing and the Mezzo-soprano from the Met sang a few arias from Puccini.

About an hour later my cousin seemed to have stomach problem so he had to leave early to his hotel and I took a cab home. No big deal.

Sunday it rained again and I locked Max up in the bathroom. Neither of us felt like going out. The cats of course couldn’t have cared less.

I slept late and woke with Mo and Jo licking my face. I forgot to feed them. It was too early for my lunch so I made myself a pot of coffee and looked towards New Jersey, again. 

 I won’t lie to you, something is happening to me and I don’t know what. I’ve gone through menopause and I’m in pretty good shape. I eat healthy, drink my eight glasses of water a day. I go to a health club during lunch three times a week near my office and in general I feel pretty good. I talk to interesting people all the time. I laugh at jokes, if they’re funny. I don’t watch the crap they have on TV except the news on occasion. Maybe that’s it, the news. That can drive you insane if you watch too much of it. But deep inside I knew it wasn’t the news.

Please don’t think I need a man around the house. That’s a definite no, no!

At that thought my bell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone and the dog walker I take care off on Thursdays. Maybe there’s a Fedex package, a script someone thought I wanted in a hurry.

It was Rubin, my next door neighbor standing there with a smile on his face holding a tray covered with a napkin.

“I hope I didn’t wake you,” he said walking right in towards the kitchen without so much as an invite. He put the tray on the counter and with a toreador’s finesse pulled the napkin off the tray and yelled “Ole!”

It was a tray of blintzes. “Strawberry,” he said. “Fresh. I made them myself just now. I hope you’re not allergic to strawberries…? I smelled fresh coffee and I thought you might like something to go with it?”

They were delicious of course and yes, Rubin stayed for a while. The girl or woman I saw him with, really was his niece from Baltimore, he said. I Hope. Did I really care? 

And so we became close friends. I still don’t want to marry again but it doesn’t matter, he lives next door, how much more convenient can it get?

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24 thoughts on “The Friendly Neighbor By Albert Zygier”

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