Don’t get me wrong, I’m no paragon of anything over here, and what I say about the man living across the street is said without judgement, and likewise without ever having a conversation with the man. I have my own problems here in my little hermitage, just the other night being the disturber of my own peace, firing into a darkened kitchen with a pistol.
Something in the house woke me, and I slipped out of bed carefully, so the mattress wouldn’t make a noise, taking the pistol I kept on the table beside the bed tightly into the palm of my hand so there wasn’t any chance of dropping it, or banging it against the table. I crept out of the bedroom, and inched along the hall, finally able to look into the kitchen, and with the small amount of light from the street seeping in through the kitchen curtains, I could see a shadow moving, and sensing a person there aware of me, perhaps moving in my direction, I fired into the dark, screaming at the top of my lungs as I did. It was a good thing I missed, since it was my mother, and though she had a key, entering in the middle of the night to fetch an Instant Pot belonging to her reflected poorly on her decision-making.
Why did I have the gun? I went to sleep terrified of being awakened in the night with sounds in the house, and my nervousness extended to outings beyond the house, where I was afraid of things falling from the tops of buildings, and cracking my skull open, and terrified of being trapped in traffic, and horrified of being abducted and squeezed into the trunk of a car.
In any case, there was plenty I could see with my own eyes, and plenty I learned from others when it came to the man across the street. It would become clear soon enough that he had purchased a children’s plastic swimming pool, and plumbing supplies, and dye, some antiquated but functioning computers, and some special software.
The man began construction early one morning, though most of the work was light, just climbing around, and connecting things, going up and down the ladder, and it involved copper piping and a water pump, and a small, microwave radar antenna. It took him a couple of days to finish.
The first night, he stood in the street in front of his house and stared: three televisions side-by-side on the roof next to the chimney turned on, though not tuned to any channels, screens showing a fuzzy white light, while a weathervane with a rooster attached at the top of the middle television spun around in the breeze. In the side yard rested a small tower of scaffolding, where halfway up burgundy colored water was pumping out, falling down into a baby pool, while on a platform near the top, the microwave radar antenna was oscillating. On a shelf near the bottom of the scaffold there was a computer, whose screen showed a functioning decibel meter, its graphic reflecting the slightest variations in ambient sound.
It was two days later when the first neighbor approached the man as he was doing the trimming after mowing his lawn, and I heard the neighbor ask in a friendly way, “What is that?” to which the man said “I don’t know.”
“No, really. What is that?” the other neighbor wanted to know, and the man across the street smiled, and walked to another part of the yard to continue trimming.
Occasionally, someone would stand in the street snapping photos, or taking video, and people had questions about what they were looking at, and some yearned to know where the man had “come from,” or what he “did for a living”.
Rodrigo, the mail carrier told me that one neighbor claimed the man’s name was Xavier, his heritage half French, and that he had a wife, who it was said lived on the top floor of an apartment tower in the Moroccan city of Tangier, her vocation recording oral Arabic stories and folklore, and traditional Moroccan music, while also playing the piano herself, and occasionally performing in a French dubstep group on synthesizer. Apparently, the man spoke with her every single day on an extended transatlantic call.
Another neighbor told me at the market that a reporter from the local television station once had knocked on the man’s door, wanting to conduct an interview, telling him she was hoping to do a short segment about him on the local news, a human-interest piece, the man telling her that he knew he would be presented as an object of ridicule, and had no desire to participate.
After two weeks, early in the morning, the man began dismantling what he had put up, somewhat violently destroying it. I was checking my mailbox when I heard a neighbor out for exercise, shout at the man as he was passing, “What are you doing?” “Spring cleaning,” the man shouted in response, though it wasn’t spring.
I continued waking up in the middle of the night sensing immediate danger, eventually clutching at the gun beside the bed, my mother’s lifetime of shaky judgment still my excuse for a brittle state of mind.
When my ex, Lila, came for a visit, she reiterated her insistence that I rid myself of the gun, and I reminded her I was writing a book, and I was taking no chances on dying before I finished it, not after so much work, and being so close.
I showed her photographs on my phone of the displays the man across the street had built, and she said “Is it some kind of science project? Is it an art thing?” and I found myself slightly defensive about the man, telling her I didn’t know, and why did it matter anyhow.
Ken O’Steen’s stories have appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Fjords Review, Eclectica, Litro, Crack the Spine, Blue Lake Review, and other publications. Ken is from Los Angeles, California, and currently lives in Proctor, Vermont.
© 2022, Ken O’Steen