Short stories are all the rage now. And who doesn’t love movies? Five Uneasy Pieces reads like a collection of short noir movies. Here’s a sample short story from this highly cinematic anthology.
THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR
It started with that weird pounding.
I live in an apartment, you see. The walls are so thin, you can almost hear your neighbor’s thoughts. Well, almost …
That’s the nice thing about thoughts. You don’t have to share them. Even if you do live in a cramped apartment.
I couldn’t help but be concerned when I began to hear banging from the apartment next door. Plus, I could swear I heard the whine of power tools.
Gerald, as usual, had an opinion. He ridiculed me.
“Ridicule all you like, Gerald,” I said. “Your words can no longer hurt me. And neither can you.”
My husband can be rather annoying sometimes. (And more annoying other times.) He tells me I’m too high-strung and worry too much. Perhaps.
But those peculiar noises got on my nerves a bit. And made me wonder what the people next door were up to.
Gerald said they were probably hanging pictures or putting up a bookshelf. Well, maybe they were. But, I had to wonder, could they be doing something worse?
I mean, how many people use a power saw to hang a picture, anyway?
Gerald dismissed my concerns (and urged me to “chill out and smoke a bowl,” which I did). Undaunted, I was determined to find out what was going on.
After a while, the noises subsided. Over the next few days I noticed that Mrs. Simon, a short, middle-aged mouse, was no longer coming and going from the apartment. Yet I kept bumping into Mr. Simon.
Was I reading too much into this? Had the pot made me paranoid? My gut said something was amiss. Women can be so easily victimized by men.
I’d seen the movie Rear Window. When I thought of Mr. Simon, ghostly images of Raymond Burr, the killer across the courtyard, floated through my mind.
Since I worked from home, I’d become quite familiar with the couple’s schedule. They usually left for their jobs at the same time every day. And arrived home within a few minutes of each other every evening. Like clockwork.
I kept track of who came and went from the Simons’ apartment for a whole week. Then another. Although I frequently saw Mr. Simon, his wife never showed up.
Gerald laughed at me. “Maybe they’ve split up,” he’d say. “Maybe that’s why he’s renovating.”
Sure, I thought. Maybe.
How could I confirm this?
I arranged to corner Simon at the mailbox, accidentally/on purpose.
“How’s your wife?” I asked, aiming for a nonchalant tone.
Simon turned and glared at me.
“We’re separated.” His terse response bespoke an unstated directive to mind my own damn business. He pulled out his mail, slammed the box shut and stalked off.
That night, to gain clarity, I smoked a bowl. (I do some of my best thinking when I’m high. Ask Gerald.) Since Mr. Simon was as likely to tell me Mrs. Simon’s whereabouts as I was to catch a ride on the next space shuttle, I realized I’d have to break into the apartment for evidence to take to the police.
I ordered some tools off the Internet (you really can get anything on eBay). After practicing on my own front door (late at night, with no one around), I became rather proficient at cracking locks.
Mr. Simon had a routine. He liked to go out Saturday nights. I guess he hit the bars. With Mrs. Simon out of the picture, she had nothing to say in the matter.
When Simon took off on one of his Saturday night escapades, I waited a bit, then used my eBay tools to break in.
Once inside, my arms tingled. Goose bumps popped. I couldn’t believe what I was doing! I thought about the dim view Gerald would take of my efforts. But he wasn’t going to stop me. No, Gerald couldn’t intimidate me anymore.
Simon rarely got home until the wee hours, which gave me plenty of time to search the place.
Jewelry, I thought. A wedding ring? Just like Rear Window. Could I get that lucky?
The thought brought me up short. How can you even think in terms of luck? We’re talking about the murder of an innocent woman.
Even so, I thrilled at the thought of catching someone in the act.
I entered the bedroom. The bed was made. (Simon was neat, at any rate. More than I could say for Gerald.) I looked in every obvious place but couldn’t find a purse. I checked all the drawers. No sign of Mrs. Simon’s valuables. The closet held precious little in the way of a woman’s wardrobe.
“Shit.” He’d probably seen Rear Window, too. He might have taken all her valuables to another location. Or hocked them after he offed her.
As in the movie, Mr. Simon might have packed her personal effects in a trunk and sent them to some destination where the alleged Mrs. Simon would pick them up.
I sat on the bed and wondered how to proceed.
Aha! I realized I could drop a tip to the cops. Anonymously, of course.
It was midnight (and Gerald kept telling me I was crazy, which in itself was enough to make me crazy). I ignored him and walked four blocks to a convenience store with a pay phone. I put in the call to the police, told them that Mrs. Simon had gone missing and hung up.
I went home and smoked another bowl before hitting the sack. “I hope you’re satisfied,” Gerald grumbled. I ignored him and went to bed.
Within a few days, the police were at Simon’s door. I watched through the peephole as they entered his premises.
Not long after, I watched as they took him to police headquarters—for questioning, no doubt.
I grinned. “So what do you think now, Gerald?” He had no answer. I snickered. That shut you up, didn’t it?
Later, as I was treating myself to a quick hit, there was a knock at the door. I checked the peephole. It was a cop! What did he want with me?
“Answer it,” Gerald said.
“Quit telling me what to do,” I replied. As if he ever heard me.
“Oh, c’mon,” he insisted. “What do you have to hide?”
Fine. I grabbed a can of room deodorizer and sprayed madly. The knocking continued. I gathered my wits as best I could. “Maintain,” I told myself, before opening the door.
The cop at my door smiled. He looked super-friendly. (Jealous, Gerald? I mused, with grim satisfaction.)
“Yes?” I said.
“I’d like to speak to you a moment. Do you mind if I come in?”
I paused to consider. Should I invite a cop into my apartment? “Well …”
“Oh, why don’t you let him come in?” Gerald taunted. “It’s only polite. Tell him he’s welcome.”
I shrugged and relented. “Why not?” I said. “Come on in.”
He followed me into the living room then sat on the couch and peered at me.
“Care for something to drink?” My voice rose a register or two. My guts twisted as I tried to look as normal as possible. God, I wish I hadn’t just taken that hit.
“No, thank you. This won’t take long.” The cop’s eyes appraised me. Could he tell I was stoned? Was I about to be busted for possession and use?
“We know,” he said.
My laughter wore a nervous edge. “Uh, know what?”
“Your neighbor told us.”
I began to perspire. “I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Damn that Simon! He must have known I’d ratted him out. He must have smelled the weed in the next apartment through the cardboard walls and sicced the cops on me. I wanted to murder the bastard. Just like … No, I couldn’t think about that.
The officer sniffed the air in a rather obvious way. “Do I smell illegal substances?”
Suddenly, Officer Friendly didn’t seem so friendly.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” I said.
“Sorry. You’ve invited me in and I now have probable cause to search for drugs.”
I continued to protest and tried to block his path, but it was no use.
As he searched, I realized it would be just a matter of time before he found something.
I grabbed my purse and snuck out the door, sprinting to my car in record time. My luck, it was blocks away (damned city parking!). By the time I’d reached the car and started it, the cops had arrived and hemmed me in. Officer Friendly must have found the evidence and called for backup.
I gave up without a struggle. What was the point?
Turned out the whole thing was a pretext. When the cops talked to Simon, he’d explained where his wife was (because she actually had left him! stupid, stupid, stupid …). Then he must have put two and two together and realized I’d called the cops. And they staged that scene where they took him away.
While I’d been noticing the people next door, Simon had been noticing me. Once the cop got in my apartment and smelled the weed (blast you, Gerald, for insisting he come in!), that gave him the right to search the place. And that’s how they found him.
You see, home funerals are allowed in our state. I’d found a home funeral specialist who was willing to preserve Gerald’s body discreetly. And an autopsy would tell them what they wanted to know. I’d poisoned Gerald with sodium azide. According to a poison expert on the Internet, sodium azide makes it look like the victim has had a heart attack, without leaving the tell-tale signs that cyanide—a similar poison—does. However, the circumstances weren’t good. Keeping my dead husband in a closet would give them plenty of reason to do a careful autopsy and win no points with a prosecutor, judge or jury.
I’d kept Gerald’s body as a reminder of my victory over him. That he couldn’t put me down anymore.
I’d kept him as a reminder that he’d never hit me again.
I’d kept Gerald as a reminder that I alone was in charge of my life.
I heard Gerald laugh, as they tucked me into the back of the patrol car. “Smoke another bowl, sweetheart.”
“Oh, why don’t you just shut the fuck up,” I muttered.
This story was clearly inspired by the movie Rear Window.
And who doesn’t love this Hitchcock classic?
So, if you’d like to read more of these cinema-inspired short stories …
You can buy Five Uneasy Pieces from Amazon, wherever it’s available.
Here are some basic approaches to being a better listener. Ready? Here we go.
1. Look at the person who’s talking to you in the eyes.
2. If you’re online and you disagree with someone, think twice before you respond.
3. Before you disagree with someone, think about how they might view things. Your experiences may not match theirs, but that’s no reason to argue. Don’t assume you know everything about the subject being discussed.
4. Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. There are always two sides to every issue or argument.
5. When all else fails, just close your mouth and keep it that way, until the moment you feel compelled to speak has passed. Sometimes, it pays to shut the fuck up!
Now, here are a few links of possible interest.
And what better way to end than with a quotation and a song?
Every time I write a story, it feels like a small adventure. Even if I’ve outlined some of the main points, I still don’t know everything. I’ll end up adding a plot point or a character I hadn’t anticipated in order to keep the story momentum going or fill in a plot hole.
Life can be like that — like a story you write for yourself, based upon your choices. What’s problematic is when you have so many possible choices, it seems impossible to pick and choose.
I’ve often heard and read that it takes passion to succeed at an endeavor like writing. Needless to say, I’m well aware of that. My problem is there are so many things I feel passionate about, I could go nuts trying to do them all.
The book I’m currently reading advises that a blogger should be “as gutsy as Nora Ephron.” It also notes that she told the Wellesley Class of 1996 during her speech at their commencement ceremony, “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some trouble on behalf of women.”
Well, I’m in the midst of a career transition. From novelist to novelist and screenwriter. Screenwriting is quite different that novel writing, but the basic storytelling rules still apply.
On top of that, I still dream of filmmaking and producing films. Contemplating actually doing these things is a bit like sticking your foot over the edge of a cliff and hoping there’s a ledge below.
But we all have to start somewhere. So … ready or not, here I go!
And here’s a short video I made of our trip to Pittsburgh! For what it’s worth.
Pittsburgh is the home of the National Aviary.
It’s also home to the Pittsburgh Pirates!
The weather was great. We really had a hot time! :)
And thank you, Paul, for this!
No applause, please. Just throw money. :)
And here’s a song that sums it all up!