The House in the Middle of the Block

by Ruth Z Deming


            By hook or crook, I would learn what happened to that woman if it was the last thing I ever did. Odd, she was. Everyone knew it. Me and my husband Lenny got along fine but he forbad me to snoop.

            "Lori," he warned me, "something bad's gonna happen to you. Mark my words!"

            The woman who lived there was named Vanessa. Beautiful name, right? Occasionally she'd peak out her house and talk to a few neighbors before something scared her and she tiptoed back inside.

            There's a name for this. I read about it in People magazine. Lemme think a moment. It begins with an A. "Agoraphobia!" The word "phobia" we know. Lenny's father, who's still very much alive, can't drive over bridges. Or get into elevators.            

            "I feel like I'm being crushed, that the walls are closing in on me," he would say.

            "Yeah," I responded, "but it's not true."

            "Don't matter," he'd say.

            The neighbors on our quiet, tree-lined street would see service vans pulling up to Vanessa's house. Ronny's Pest Control, Harry & Sons' King of the Bugs. You get my drift. Look, insects wreak havoc in the neighborhood. Mice sneak into every little crevice and leave their tiny pellets as souvenirs.

            Once, and this is really sickening, Lenny and I had been eating a delicious panettone. It's an iced holiday cake filled with raisins and citrus fruit and is perfect with a cup of tea.

            We left it on the kitchen table.

            In the morning when we came down to finish it, it had crumbled on the cake plate on the kitchen table and lay there flat as a pancake, wounded as if it had been in battle.

            A battle with the goddam mice.

            Quickly, we called our pest control man, who was so busy he couldn't come out for three whole days.

            Yes, in this, the pandemic, people stayed home and were fixing up their homes.

            That also included neighbors calling Gerry's Tree Service or Borinsky's Arborist and having tall trees cut down, lest they fall on your home, and smash you to death. Like that gray house who had a Trump sign in front. It narrowly missed the family.

            Lenny backed out of our driveway. He was a master carpenter and was installing reading shelves in Maple Glen, PA. A lovely area.

            The moment he left, you know where I went.

            The mailbox at Vanessa's was stuffed with mail. So much so, it was falling onto the ground. Now that's not right.

            I'd clamped a Reading Fighting Eagles cap over my dyed red hair and walked with purpose down the street. Wherever you go on our Red Lion Road, dogs bark. Sometimes I bark right back. It's so annoying.

            It was a chilly November day, not yet Thanksgiving. Lenny and I would eat at home, ordering a 10-pound turkey which we would devour and then later I'd make turkey soup with cut-up veggies inside.

            Once a Jewish neighbor - the Levins - invited us over for a Rosh Hashonah dinner. This holiday celebrated the New Year. You've never tasted anything so good as their matzoh ball soup. "Knedloch soup," they called it.

            And guess who makes knedloch soup now, from a mix we found at the Shop-Right?

            I marched up to Vanessa's front door and rang the front door bell. I heard the chimes ringing inside.

            B-ring, b-ring, b-ring.

            I imagined her coming to the door. She had a crown of curly white hair surrounding her face. Sort of like you might imagine Queen Marie Antoinette, poor thing.

            I peeked into the big picture window in front and thought I saw something.

           Going around to the side door, it had swung open in the wind.

            Glory be! I would save this woman yet!

            Or not.

            A putrid smell greeted me. Like when you drive behind the garbage man and catch a stink of the garbage, metallic, and making you feel like you want to puke.

            Dear God, what I found in that house.

            Vanessa lay on the floor. I still insist she was a beautiful woman, but not like this. She wore yellow pajamas hiked up above her knees.

            Have you ever seen a dead body? Not like this one, you haven't.

            Flies were everywhere. How did they find her? They were eating a meal of a lifetime, The Last Supper, so to speak.

            What a feast. We've heard of Belshazzar's Feast from the Good Book, but this was satanic gluttony right here on our civil, tree-lined street.

            Since most of the houses were similar, you know, same builder, Myron Gordon, I raced into the bathroom. Flies were in there, too. Swarming over her toothbrush and open tube of Crest for Gum Health.

            I puked in the toilet and flushed.

            Quickly I left the house.

            Vanessa was the second owner. This was what Lenny and myself called the House of Little Debbie Snackcakes.

            A couple of years ago, the front door was left open. No one was home, so Lenny and I helped ourselves to a view. A beautiful stainless steel fridge was the centerpiece in the kitchen. Magnets were stuck on. CVS Pharmacy, Ronny's Pest Control, Cookie's Bakery.

            A cupboard had swung open. It was filled with Little Debbie Snack cakes.

            Lenny and I howled with laughter.

            "The worst, the total fucking worst goddamn snacks," laughed Lenny.

We loved Tastycakes! Look, if you couldn't bake it yourself, Tastycakes tasted homemade. Who knows? That might have been their slogan. Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, Krimpets, even the Tastycake Pies couldn't be beat.

Our Jewish neighbors, the Levins, told us they used to be anti-semitic.

Would the flies pursue me as I left Vanessa's?

A couple of them did, but so did the moths.

I was wearing a warm cashmere sweater, ribbed, and soft pink, and here came the moths in hot pursuit.

"Lenny!" I called out without thinking. "Lenny, I'm so sorry. I apologize, I apologize."

I must have looked like a crazy woman as I raced back home.

Inside, I peeled off every stitch of clothing, ran downstairs to the laundry room, and threw them inside. I poured in the Arm and Hammer detergent and watched the agitator gobble up all the terrible things that practically ate me alive at Vanessa's.

Then I grabbed my smartphone and with trembling hands, dialed 9-1-1.

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