I. The First Friday in November
The Sosas lived next door ever since I can remember. They’re pretty old, but like, cool old. Emilio still rides a motorcycle. His wife, who I just call Mrs. Sosa, plays pretty much every instrument on the planet. Dad said she had a song on the radio a long time ago before I was born. He said I’d probably know it if I heard it, but when he showed me, I didn’t.
The window in my room looked right into the window of Mrs. Sosa’s music room. I used to hear her playing music a lot. See her playing, too. She played guitar and the harp and a ton of other things. All the walls were covered with books and there were lots of instruments and instrument cases scattered throughout the room. And a single chair where Mrs. Sosa would sit and play. But then a bed appeared and the book shelves were covered with a sheet for some reason. The recluse moved in and the instruments moved out. To another room, I guess.
At night, I’d pretend I was getting ready for bed, and after I was tucked in and stuff, I’d creep to the window and peek through the blinds. I was camouflaged in the dark. The recluse had window blinds, too, but they were mostly opened for some reason, so when the bedroom light was on, I would watch him be all reclusive and weird.
“Who’s that guy at the Sosa house?” I asked my dad the first morning after I saw the music room was no longer the music room.
“That’s their son believe it or not. I can’t remember his name, though. I talked wit’ him a bit when he was moving in. He’s quiet. Kind of a recluse.”
“What’s that,” I asked him.
“Someone who keeps to themself. Kind of weird and quiet,” he told me.
“Is he nice?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s nice.” And that was that.
It was a Friday night and cold like the winter but not quite the winter yet. There were still some leaves trying to stay alive. I was in my room playing Zelda. The blinds were open because I was trying to get the last bit of sunlight that I could. It was almost fully dark because Dad said we had to set the clocks back. “Spring forward, fall back.” That’s what he said.
I eventually got the Fairy Ocarina, which I was excited about. I knew it was going to be something important for later on in the game. When I got Link out of the forest and into Hyrule Field, I noticed the lights in the recluse’s room shut off. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It’s weird how you can be looking at something like the TV and then see another thing all the way to the side of you. Out of the corner of your eye. It’s crazy.
I paused the game and tossed my controller. With the recluse’s room dark, the outside of the house became more vivid and detailed. Dark spots on the siding looked like holes but I knew they were just dirt. I crouched down and put the side of my face on the window glass. I closed my one eye and tried to see if I could see the front of the Sosa house in case the recluse was leaving to go somewhere secretive and weird. I couldn’t see the front, but I could see their driveway and Emilio’s motorcycle covered with the blue tarp. I waited a bit like that with my face against the cold window and my one eye open. I felt detective-like. And then I saw the recluse all hunched over with his hands in his coat pockets walking down the driveway, which was also a walkway, I guess, to the street. He had on a mustard colored hat. I wanted to run after him, but my bedroom light was on and I was afraid he may’ve saw me there with my face pressed all silly against the window, and I didn’t want to look like a creep following him.
So I just stayed in my room and played more Zelda until I fell asleep.
II. The Second Friday in November
It was late and I was chasing chickens in my favorite level of the game so far. They were so funny to chase. It didn’t feel like a Friday because it was a short week. I was off school for Veteran’s Day, so I only had one day of school and then three. I told Dad I was glad to be off but it didn’t make sense because I didn’t know any veterans.
“You don’t have to know any,” he said. “You just have to be thankful to have them.”
“Do you know any veterans?” I asked.
“Your grandpop was a Vietnam vet,” he said. “Even had a Purple Heart.”
“What color’s my heart?” I asked him. “Blood colored?”
“Probably black,” he said, and I didn’t think that was funny or nice, but I know he was making a joke because he said, “I’m joking, bud,” when I made a face.
I was getting bored chasing the chickens and I was getting sleepy. I decided to lay in bed. I did this backwards and on my stomach so I could see out the window. I kicked my feet a bunch to help keep me awake. I waited for the recluse.
I felt myself dozing off, but eventually the recluse’s light turned on and it made my heart beat quick and then I was awake again. I saw him looking around, all weird and lanky-like. He grabbed something from off to the side of the room and walked to somewhere else in the house. He left the light on.
I tried to adjust my eyes real sharp. I tried to x-ray through the siding and through the walls so I could study all the details of the room, but I couldn’t see much and none of my superpowers worked. I stood on my bed and pressed my face to the corners of my window to see the areas I wouldn’t be able to see just looking straight on. It wasn’t much more, but I could see that the room was pretty bare compared to what it usually was. His bed was made up and smooth. I wondered if the recluse was a veteran.
I saw a shadow that was the recluse outside of the house. He scuffed down the driveway/walkway and I decided to follow. I made sure to leave my bedroom light off so I could be camouflaged until I got outside. I didn’t even have to sneak out the door because Dad was in his room with Melanie and the TV was blaring. I poked my head outside the front door and the cold hit my eyes like that machine at the optometrist. A spit of air that doesn’t hurt but definitely doesn’t feel good. Makes you blink. That’s my favorite word—optometrist.
I grabbed my coat super quick off the hook and ran from bush to bush until I was kind of close to the recluse. I followed him like that for his entire walk, which was a pretty long time. There was one point I think he was laughing to himself, which was pretty scary with it being so dark and the shadows stretching so long from the street lamps and headlights. It started to rain but my hood was already up. The recluse didn’t have a hood so he started walking faster. I did the same. My head was down, but I kept my eyes up, and made sure not to follow too close.
When he got back to the Sosa’s, he sat under their awning and lit a flimsy cigarette. It was still raining but not that hard. I crouched behind a big tree in front of the Johnson’s house. They lived next door to the Sosas but on the other side. I was stuck because I didn’t want to pass in front of the Sosa’s house to get back to mine. Even after his cigarette, he just sat there shaking his legs and rubbing his hands. I was down on my knees then because crouching like that was hurting my legs and my back, but then my legs got really wet and really cold from the grass, so I turned around and went the long way home through that tiny path in the woods that starts behind the old water-ice place.
I dried myself with the towel I usually put my shoes on top of when it rains. The TV was off in Dad’s room, so I had to be super quiet. I was so cold and my pants were already around my ankles when I got back to my room. I waddled like a penguin. The recluse’s bedroom light was off, so I was pretty sure he was inside by then. He must’ve flicked it off when I left my hiding place.
I put on my pyjamas and watched a dim light glow from behind the wall where his bed was. I wondered if he was playing a Nintendo DS and if he wanted to play me in Mario Kart. I opened my DS and played a couple games online with people I didn’t think were the recluse. Then I turned around and fell asleep.
III. The Third Friday in November
I talked to the recluse today. I was home from school because I was sick yesterday and I begged my dad to let me stay home again because there was no point in going to school on Friday if I was off Thursday.
Dad was like, “You get off two days next week. For Thanksgiving. You don’t need another day off.”
“Please,” I said whiny and drawn out.
“No. You can’t afford to miss another day,” he said.
“But I really don’t feel good still. I mean I’m better but—” I actually wasn’t feeling a hundred percent still, so I wasn’t lying. “I’ll help you clean next week. I’ll clean the whole house,” I said.
“No,” he said.
And I said, “Dad,” all whiny again.
“The entire house,” he said. “And set the table, but don’t touch anything else in the kitchen while I’m in there. And you don’t say anything to your mom or your sisters about Melanie last weekend.”
“Melanie who?” I said.
“Exactly,” Dad said. That’s something we sometimes do.
Then we did the secret handshake—something else we do sometimes.
When I woke up that morning, I put on a giant sweatshirt and swung the sleeves around like nunchucks. The bottom of my pants we wrapped around my feet like slippers. The recluse’s blinds were closed. I ice-skated through the kitchen a couple times, twirling about. But then I got bored and decided I wanted to play basketball, which was kind of random. I brushed my teeth, got changed and all that, and then went out front with a knit hat because it was cold. I didn’t wear gloves because I thought it would make me suck at basketball.
Kyle across the street had a basketball court thing he got like a hundred years ago for Christmas, but he never uses it anymore. He’s in college now. I had to use a broomstick to move the net to eight feet because that’s where I feel I can make the most shots in. Seven feet is too low now. I think I probably grew a bit. Got stronger, too.
The recluse decided to sit under the awning in front of the Sosa’s and watch me play. This made me mad because my back was turned to him when I shot, but I could feel his eyes like annoying lasers on my back. All reclusive and weird-like. I made sure to dribble the ball with my back to the net so I could watch him watching me. His legs were crossed like a girl’s. He gave me a little wave and I kind of gave him one back. I started to feel even weirder watching him watch me, so I turned around and pretended he wasn’t there. I barely made any baskets in.
Then he was right behind me and said, “Wanna play Horse?”
And I said, “Sure,” but I don’t know why.
After a couple of shots that neither of us made, he asked what my name was. I told him and he told me his name was David.
At one point when I had H and David the Recluse had H-O-R, the basketball bounced into pile of leaves by the curb.
We both looked at each other and then I decided to get it.
“Why do the leaves change colors like that?” I asked him. Some were red but most were like crunchy and tan. I couldn’t believe I was talking to someone who was a recluse.
“Well, those are more brown than anything,” David said . I didn’t know if recluses were supposed to be smart because they were weird. I passed him the ball. Before he shot, he said, “Opposite of us humans.” He missed the shot by a mile.
“What does that mean?” I asked and I didn’t know why I kept talking. He wasn’t my friend but he wasn’t my enemy, either. He was just a recluse. His collar was wet from sweat and he kind of looked like those hungry kids on TV.
“Oh, nothing.” he said giggling to himself.
We had to move for a car and I watched the ball rolling down the street. It eventually nestled against the curb not too far down.
“What, you think I’m not smart ’cause I’m a kid? Like I don’t know people die too? My teacher died last year in a car crash.” I didn’t know why I was telling him all that. It was like I couldn’t help it.
I started getting hungry for lunch.
“I was just thinking that when people die,” he said, “that they kind of lose their personality. And trees, they are so vibrant and bright. It’s ironic.”
I didn’t want to ask him what ironic meant, and he was getting on my nerves. I started to notice that he kept standing really close to me. I ran and got the ball and then started dribbling between my legs. He kept watching the ball, tracing it with his eyes. I ran and made a lay-up. Then it was his turn and he ran really funny up to the hoop. The ball hit the bottom of the backboard and almost hit him right in the face when it bounced back. The recluse got an E and the game was over.
“Wanna keep playing? Want to play Horse Butt?” he said. I think he thought I would laugh.
“Gotta eat lunch,” I said. I grabbed the ball and went inside.
I played Zelda pretty much the rest of the day. At night, I watched my dad watch a movie that he said was too violent for me, but he never asked me to leave the room. The guy with the hair shot people with this giant gun in motel rooms and on farms. Dad said he liked the movie and so did I. He messed up my hair like he does to mean I love you and then I went to bed. The recluse’s light was off and I fell asleep.
IV. The Fourth and Last Friday in November
Well, Thanksgiving went the way I figured it would. It ended with Dad and Mom cursing at each other and Lisa and Laurie being mega bitches like usual. This was all after Gram left. It was nice in the beginning, though. We went around the table and each said something we were thankful for. Mom said she was thankful for her health and her family. Dad pretty much said the same thing. Lisa and Laurie each said something about high school.
When it got to me, I didn’t really know what to say, so I said, “I am thankful that when the trees die, they show how much personality they have with all their colors.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” Laurie said.
“It means I’m not thankful for you and your bad breath is what it means,” I said.
“You two cut it out right now,” Dad said with his teeth.
Lisa and Gram tried not to giggle. Mom looked drunk or something.
I was still tired from eating so much on Thursday, but I still ate a bunch of leftovers for lunch and dinner. My stomach was like a balloon full of sand. On top of that, I was really pissed because I couldn’t find my way out of the water world on Zelda. I was literally in there for three hours, so I quit.
The recluse’s light never turned on and I wondered what he was doing. I decided to turn my light off and sneak to the window like I was a veteran crawling through the brush of some Vietnam country. I’d have a Purple Heart just like all the soldiers. Only my gun would be different and super powerful like the guy with the hair from that movie.
My blinds were open so I closed them slowly to not disturb the air. Then I spread two of the pieces of plastic blinds just enough to fit my eye and tickle my eyelashes. What was each piece of blinds called? A blind? That sounds weird.
I peeked through. The recluse’s window was dark and all I could see was the siding of the house and the different colors of shadows. I was trying to figure out if what I was looking at was definitely the closed blinds or the darkness in the room. Then I wondered why they were called that. I guess they’re called blinds because blind people can’t see and people can’t see into your room when you have them. Makes sense. But I was still wondering what each one was called.
I saw them split quickly, just enough for a reclusive eye, and then they fell back in place, swinging back and forth so subtly that it could’ve been just my brain being sleepy and dreamlike.
Then for no reason whatsoever, the light turned on in the recluse’s room that used to be the music room. All I could hear was my breathing. I could see the recluse’s shadow behind the beige lines of blinds from my Vietnam hideout. Then the window blinds thinned when he opened them and I could see inside the room. The recluse tug the pull string to the side of the window. I could only see from his belly button up when he stood up. Luckily, I couldn’t see his actual belly button because he was wearing a Niagara Falls sweatshirt. I bet it was gross and linty. He sat on the bed and tied his shoes. He laid in bed with his lights on for some time, even with his shoes on (so weird) and I wondered if he was playing DS or something. After like a half hour or something, he got up and I couldn’t see what he was grabbing at below the window sill until he wrapped a red and black coat around his gross and thin body. He walked out of his room and outside again.
I followed him on his walk, but this time I had to be quiet because Melanie wasn’t over and Dad was in his room drinking beer and reading a book about some guy who died a long time ago. It was a long walk, longer than the other time, and we took a path through the park that I never walked before. The recluse stopped at a place where there was a bench and walked around in small circles for like five minutes. I was still near the entrance of the park because there was no place to really hide behind if I went any closer. He looked all nervous and left after not too long.
I was behind the tree at the Johnson’s again. The recluse didn’t smoke this time and went right inside the Sosa’s house. I started speed-walking like a robot with my arms stiff and swinging. I was moving like that and was literally right past his front door when I heard the creak of it.
“Goodnight, kid,” the head of the recluse said from the doorway. It looked like it was floating.
My hood was up so he probably couldn’t see my face. I started running, really sprinting, and went past my house to confuse him. I stopped at the small clearing and just kind of stood there not knowing what to do. After a bit, I was freezing and sweating at the same time, and decided to just go inside. I thought I heard Mrs. Sosa playing music, but it was definitely just a car of some nearby road. Rap music. Mrs. Sosa didn’t even play drums.
I had to be all quiet going inside again and I felt like my dad could probably hear my heart and my breathing. I ran into my room as quietly as possible on my tip toes. Like a slow motion action movie. Like a veteran on carpet. It took me almost a half an hour before I got the guts to look out the window. Before I was just staring at different things.
The recluse’s room was dark. Blinds closed again. Nothing moved. I just stared for a long time while my heartbeat went back to normal. That took a while.
I couldn’t sleep. I was on my back and kicking my feet up and down. I cracked my knuckles like three different times. I decided to look again, see if the recluse turned his lights on. He didn’t.
I decided to get creative and think like a veteran. I piled a bunch of pillows and arched into a swan position. Just stared at his window for a long time. I tried making his blinds move with telekinesis. Tried to turn on his light. It was like when I stopped trying, things happened. They moved, his blinds, but just a bit. His light was still off but my eyes got pretty used to the dark and I could tell they definitely moved. Human night vision. That’s not a bad superpower, but I would definitely have picked something else.
There was a gap in one of the blinds. I knew my Vietnam spy hole was impossible to detect, but I was still scared. And it wasn’t like I saw white circles or anything. But I just knew it. I was staring into the eyes of the enemy. The Vietnams. The Recluses. I could feel my Purple Heart beating and making a hollow drum noise. Too quiet to be music. We both stayed like that for some time, me and the enemy, until his blinds swiveled and fell back into place. I decided I wasn’t tired, so I ate some cold turkey leftovers again to help me sleep. I started thinking about different ways to beat the water level, and by the time I thought I may’ve figured it out, I was asleep.
Adam is the author of a poetry collection, Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out, and a children’s book, Uma the Umbrella. His other works can be found in various print and online magazines, most recently forthcoming with the Los Angeles Review.