Tim Bass
The Good Neighbor

The day after Leon and Doris moved in, the next door neighbor serviced their water heater.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Bill said. “Now, hand me that screwdriver and show me where the circuit breaker is.”

Soon, Bill held up a corroded metal rod.

“Here’s your problem,” he said.

Leon had no idea what he was looking at.

“Bad?” he asked.

“To the bone,” Bill said.

Leon thanked Bill. He said he was grateful for the help and the hot water. He said Bill saved him a bundle on a service call.

“I’m not much of a fix-it guy,” Leon admitted.

“No sweat,” Bill said. “We’re neighbors. Neighbors do things for neighbors.”

Next, Bill serviced Leon’s lawnmower.

“This is an issue,” he said, lifting the clogged air filter and rapping it against the side of the garage. A brown-gray cloud of dust and pollen rose like a nuclear blast. “Hoo-oo-wee. Dirty as sin. A mower’s like a woman, Leon. She’s got to breathe in order to live.”

In Leon and Doris’ first months in the neighborhood, Bill serviced their clothes dryer (defective thermostat), their garbage disposal (wedged almond shell), and the handheld massager for Doris’ bad back (dead switch, compressed vertebrae).

Bill serviced their fireplace flue. He serviced the slider on the patio door to their bedroom. He serviced the central heat and air.

“They say you have to be certified to do this,” he said as he connected the refrigerant line to the intake valve. “Malarkey. You’ve got to watch ’em, Leon. Else they’ll stick it to you.”

Bill serviced their television, their microwave oven, Leon’s shotgun, and a clock/radio that Doris kept on her side of the bed. He returned life to the quick wash cycle on the Maytag. He serviced their vacuum cleaner and their carpet shampooer. He took a look at their dog and diagnosed heartworms. He winterized the house plants. He set out roach bait. He serviced the motion sensor lights so they would flash on when Leon came home from work.

“All these chores,” Leon said. “You don’t have to. Really, you don’t.”

“Think nothing of it,” Bill said with a shrug. “It’s what neighbors do.”

“At least let me pay you,” Leon said. He made a symbolic reach for his wallet.

Bill waved him off.

“Your money’s no good here,” he said.

He pointed to a slack tire on Doris’ car.

“She’s picked up a screw,” he said. “I’ll get my patch kit.”

Bill serviced their weedy lawn, their clogged downspouts, the slow shower head in the master bath, and the stained grout on the kitchen counter. He serviced their toaster and their coffee maker and a bread machine that had been dead for years. He serviced the air vents. He serviced the ceiling fan above their bed.

And when Doris seemed light and happy for the first time in years, when she stopped complaining about her back and smiled more and fussed with her hair and retrieved her form-fitting clothes from the depths of her closet, Leon finally understood that Bill was servicing her, too.

***

            “I can’t say he was completely terrible,” Leon told the lawyer. “Not a hundred percent. I mean, overall, in the broad scheme of things, he really wasn’t all that bad a neighbor.”

 

Tim Bass teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and his work has appeared in "Small Spiral Notebook," "Fugue," "Word Riot," and elsewhere.