They entertained a lot. Dinner at the table on the covered porch, and sometimes at the outdoor table which sat alongside the tall fence between the properties. Never before had Marlene lived so close to a neighbor, so close that she could sit silently in the dark and listen to business conversations, the latest gossip, and sometimes the intimacies and hushed anger of the husband and wife when they dined alone. Frank was a loud and gregarious man with an I-talk-too-much scratch to his voice and as of late, a chronic cough. His wife Honey was also a sociable sort, a woman who could laugh easily and often, a light and girly laugh with the word “yes” as the exclamation point after each bubbly burst. Marlene could pick out Honey’s laugh anywhere, in any darkness, but the more she listened, the more Marlene felt that the laugh was often less than genuine, especially when they were entertaining business associates and their wives.
The business dinners were typically with another couple and always started out with the men and women involved in some common conversation; the city, the glorious weather, the fresh fish they were about to dine on. But it never took very long for the pairs to form; the ladies chatting about travel or children, the men getting down to the business of real estate and “I can show you the property tomorrow.” Listening became harder at this point. Along with the foursome talking over each other, Honey’s laughter and Frank’s cough, a couple bottles of wine had been consumed and the words that whooped and fell over the fence were slurred and disjointed. Marlene would often leave her seat in the dark when the diners became a little loopy, but always tried to return when the company left with a great roar of good-byes and thank yous and the clean up began. Those were the best conversations. Marlene sat behind her wall in the dark, her cigarette burning away in the ashtray or between her fingers, her leg crossed and softly swinging, her head back and eyes closed as she listened to her neighbors in the night.
“You were an ass,” Honey hissed.
“He was an ass. I responded in kind, made him feel comfortable,” coughed Frank.
“You were the bigger ass,” she said a little louder, dishes and silverware dangerously making contact on the other side of the fence.
More coughing and they were gone.
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