The Bachelor

I'm pretty sure Nick's baby was a boy, but I wanted him to have a little girl. So deal.

He's that poor guy next door, the one you used to see with his pretty, dark haired wife, pushing the baby stroller down the sidewalk, smiling at everyone. You probably exchanged a brief smile with him yourself a few times, when you were out gardening. You have a lovely garden. He's complimented you on it before. The one who now you only see maybe once every other week, lugging in his groceries for one with a slow, shuffling gait.

You heard about the whole affair from Mrs. Gardner next door, the "tragedy". 'Oh, that poor man,' you think to yourself when you see him, shuffling by, head down. He knows you see him, he knows what you're thinking. He's had enough with pity by now, you're sure. You still brought him a casserole. It's funny, because you don't even like casserole, and you're not sure he does either. There are times when you have to search for a second to remember his name. You're pretty sure it starts with an N. Nate. No, it's Nick.

You talked with the wife once or twice, when she was out with the cute baby. The baby's name was Mary; this part you'll always remember. You remember because at the time, the mother told you it was to honor the mother of God, and your first thought was that these two must be the really religious weirdos. But they were nice enough, and you cooed at the baby and talked weather and gardening with the wife.

You never knew Nick that well. He seemed like a nice guy, if a little on the quiet side. He came to the neighborhood barbecues every year, this last one with the baby girl cradled in one arm. He was a good dad, you thought at the time. The kind who can get her to stop crying better than the mom can. He's the type of man you'd like to find.

It's horrible and you know it, but sometimes you even think about flirting with him, now that the wife and the baby are gone. Nobody says "dead", they all say "gone". Or "passed away". They also don't mention, when they talk about the "tragic accident" in hushed voices, that it happened in the middle of the afternoon, when half of them were out chatting in front yards, gardening or watering. Of course, nobody thought twice about the man with the red hair, the black hair, the blonde hair, tall, short, seeming to belong, obviously suspicious looking. Not until the police came around interviewing witnesses. You yourself were out of town that week, and had the misfortune of first noticing the lack of population in the house as Nick passed you by. You actually asked him where they were, if they were out shopping.

You'll never forget that look he fixed you with. It was something you'd never be able to describe, even if you had been good with words. It was like exhaustion and misery and impatience and fury all rolled into one, and you feared for a moment he was going to explode. Fortunately for you, Mrs. Gardner heard and came to your rescue. She ushered Nick inside and offered him some lemonade, which he declined in a barely audible mumble, and once he was gone, she explained it all.

You felt perfectly awful afterwards, of course. "The poor man," you probably gasped. Even though you meant it, you really did, the phrase just sounded so hackneyed and inadequate.

He seemed to have been coping okay, not that you would have been able to tell if he hadn't. At least there were no public breakdowns or any unseemly nonsense like that. But tonight, and it's really a coincidence you're out there at all - the garbage was too full, and so you're dumping it in the big bin, which you don't normally do until Friday, tonight you see him shamble home, head hung the way it always is these days. You consider saying something to him, offering him a comforting phrase you half remember from a Hallmark card. "I'm thinking of you." No, kind of creepy. He's religious, isn't he? "I'm praying for you, and for Sarah and Mary." Does that sound too religious-y? You decide against it, figuring you'd probably just feel like a fraud, because you're sure not religious. The words would be empty. How about just a heartfelt "How are you doing?" Of course he'd reply that he was fine, which you'd both know was a flat out lie, but at least he would know that someone cared. Because you really do care. He's such a poor flop of a thing now, you want to care for him.

You're about to call out to him when he jumps and whips around, staring at something in the dark. You crane your neck and stare too, but see nothing. He however, is panting, peering into the dark. Like he's seen a ghost.

On the other hand, maybe not, you decide. He probably doesn't want to talk to you anyways.

Later that night, as you're getting into bed, you'll look out across the driveway separating your houses and see, from his upstairs window, a flash of white light. You'll fear the worst, even thought you didn't actually hear a shot, but you won't be all that surprised. After all, the guy didn't have much to live for anymore.

The next morning, however, you'll see him stride down his walk, a huge, almost mad, grin plastered to his unshaven face, and feel, along with relief, hope that maybe he will pull through this. You'll hope he does. You won't see him again after that, and in a few weeks you'll feel guilty, when you realize he's vanished and you didn't notice when.