I moved to this nice little plot of land at the "loop" part of Dowdy Loop over ten years ago. In all that time I've not spoken a single sentence to our next door neighbor, Jeff, or Boo Radley-my euphemism for him, the reclusive hero from Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird". We've never even exchanged the niceties one would expect of neighbors. It's not that I'm snooty, and I've been told I can seem snobbish on occasion, nor do I consider myself overly shy or rude or ignorant of social norms. The thing is, in all these years I can't think of a single face-to-face encounter he and I have had. There's the strangeness of that, and then there are some other eccentricities and unflattering stories about him, the validity of which I question but I certainly wouldn't be shocked to find they're true.
There is a wooden fence between our properties. Nearest the road is a nice little house where his mother lived. Behind that is a two-story dwelling that looks kind of like a tree house without the tree. Between the two is a graveyard of old cars and BMX bikes. Sometimes we hear him revving the engines of the cars but they never seem to be driven or even moved. I think he cleans and "restores" the bikes but, like the cars, they never seem to be ridden or moved. And I've only ever actually seen him outside working on his toys a handful of times. In fact, I've had the most luck catching sight of him in the evenings walking from his house to his mother's to get his plate of supper, returning home to eat, then taking his plate back to his mother. And every Thursday he rolls the trash out to the curb for Friday pickup and back again the instant the the trash is emptied. Other than that, he's a rumor, a hypothesis, a phantom. Sometimes we'll be working in the yard and we'll hear footsteps through the leaves on the other side of the fence. Sometimes when we're getting ready to get in the car we'll catch a glimpse of him peeking around the side of a tree. Once, and I still try to convince myself I imagined this but I know it happened, we were sleeping with the bedroom window open, which didn't have a screen, and an arm reached up and through the window. It was jerked back and we heard retreating footsteps as soon as Justin and I had about three heart attacks apiece and turned on the light, but I'm fairly confident I know who it was.
When I first moved here, Boo's mother seemed to be at death's door. We wondered to ourselves how he would one day survive when she was gone. The old dear hung in for a good many years longer than was expected or humane and only passed on about two years ago. We had kind of concluded that Boo would have to move to some sort of assisted living-type establishment based solely on his reclusive and creepy existence which we assumed would prevent him from doing things like paying bills and feeding himself, not to mention interacting with at least one other human being. So now, since he continues to tinker with his toys, wheel his trash out like clockwork, peer at us from behind fences and trees, and presumably pay bills and inexplicably acquire food to sustain life, I'm desperate with curiosity. Is he a sneaky deviant as assumed or is he really a misunderstood kind-hearted recluse more like the fictional Boo Radley who saves the Finch children?
Today as we were working in the yard, a guy, a stranger I'd never seen, approached us from Jeff's property. He was talking to Justin, asking him if he needed any help with his project, but the stranger had my full attention. I'd never known anyone to visit Jeff, much less someone socially appropriate, even outgoing. His name was Steve and the best I could gather, he's some sort of relative of Jeff's and is just staying the night, hanging out and being familial I guess. He said Jeff was talking his ear off.
I couldn't help it. I had to ask what Jeff talks about. How does he survive over there? What does he do all day all by himself? I couldn't contain my curiosity and had to admit I really don't know how to think of him. Steve was easy enough to talk to and conceded that Jeff is certainly not your average guy, may not even be quite all there mentally, but Steve and I did agree that he is an interesting case. I learned that he ventures out about once a month to stock up on necessities. He receives some sort of income, Social Security or disability or something, with which he pays his bills. Steve said he had a TV and a couch in his bedroom and he listens to music and he has a bunch of photographs he likes to look at. I kind of bristled at that and questioned the content of the pictures, but it wasn't what you just, and I at the time, assumed. Steve said he takes pictures of his house and his room. Then he likes to sit in his room and look through all the pictures of his room. In his room.
I'm still undecided as to the eccentric but endearing Boo Radley-ness of my decidedly eccentric enigma of a neighbor. There has been enough questionable behavior to make me uneasy, but in over a decade I've yet to truly fear for my safety, well, aside from the arm through the open window horror show. There's no justification for that, assuming it was, in fact, him. Steve seemed comfortable with, yet aware of Jeff's proclivities, and appeared to even be somewhat amused by him and considers him a kind of harmless oddity. Of course, he spent time in the same room with him as opposed to having him peek at him from behind a tree. Maybe I'll start leaving notes for Jeff in a hollow tree. Maybe one of these days he just might save me or my children. Maybe there are real-life Boo Radleys. Maybe Jeff is one of them. On the other hand maybe one day he'll climb all the way through an open window and murder me...or take pictures of our house that he can look at in our house when he starts coming in night after night.