If you’re new, start here.
A sheriff stood at Joyce’s front door in his pressed tan shirt, black tie, and creased pants. Joyce came to a halt, the adrenalin pumping so fast she feared she may pass out, but one glance at the floor told her Bob beat her to it.
There was no reason to think it. Her son Josh had never been in trouble with the law. He wasn’t sick. He kept to his routine. At work by seven, lunch at noon, home by six. He called her at eight, in bed by eleven.
She’d begged the officer with her eyes not to say it, not to confirm what she knew in her heart had already happened.
But he didn’t listen.
With a sorrowful expression and a soft voice, the sheriff said, “I’m so sorry. Your son was involved in a car accident, and first responders did everything they could…”
This was the day Bob retreated to his recliner, and Joyce stopped giving a damn.
It had been over a year, and she could still close her eyes and remember every detail of that day. The smell of the chlorine, the sun on her skin, the sound of Bob’s sobs, the salty taste of the tears rolling down her cheeks, the contentment she’d felt sitting there by the pool, unaware that a single moment later her life would split in two. Time would no longer be defined by the date or the year but as before Josh’s Death or after After Josh’s death.
After was all about passing the time. Work, work, eat, eat, smoke, smoke, smoke, sleep, wake-up, and repeat. Friends told her she was lucky to have her job to keep her busy. Those fools had never been in property management, she thought.
Sure, there were many times Joyce felt blessed to be an onsite apartment manager.
Those times were all before.
After, she couldn’t see anything resembling a blessing. Especially when having to talk to the old retired couple in Apartment 22 about their loud bedroom antics, painting over the graffiti in the picnic table, chasing down the resident who didn’t bother putting their name on their money order, and counting 650 dollars worth of quarters from the laundry machines.
Which is exactly was she was doing.
Once a month, she would sit at her desk and count the laundry money. One-by-one, picking out the Chuck-e-Cheese token or the Canadian coin residents would shove in the slots. She’d then separate the quarters into piles and roll them into ten dollar sleeves. Sure there were more modern ways to handle laundry income, but Joyce was old school, and it’s hard to teach a rabbit new tricks.
Or however that saying went.
She was on her last ten dollar roll when out of the corner of her eye she saw Kevin approaching the office. He didn’t look happy. Suddenly, the Jaws theme song came to her mind as she watched him march toward her. Dun dun dun dun dun…
There was an unspoken territory agreement between them. The third courtyard was his terrain, the first courtyard hers, and the pool neutral. It was easier this way. When Kevin did breach the buffer, it was never for the intent of pleasantries. He was angry. Last time, he was furious Bob had painted the newly installed laundry room door. “The wood needs to breathe, live and procreate. You can’t paint over it. It’ll die.”
Joyce broke the news that the particleboard was already dead and, therefore, incapable of breeding. This pissed him off. Eventually, Bob was able to calm him down. He was good at that.
Unfortunately, Bob had given up on life. The recliner had become his deathbed and the television his life-support system and Judge Judy his caretaker. Only his bladder and the occasional maintenance emergency could summon him from his spot. He would be of no help in this case, which was a shame, because for the first time in twenty-five years, Joyce knew exactly why Kevin was storming toward the office all clenched fists and red-faced—he was, of course, angry. But for the first time in twenty-five years, he had good reason to be.
Dun dun dun dun dun…