When he arrived, the young woman sitting on the steps of the three-story Victorian was wiping her eyes. The red-faced infant tethered to her body by a paisley sling seemed equally unhappy. The situation did not look promising, and it wasn’t even close to Friday. Officer Parker sighed deeply before exiting his patrol car. Six months in and he was already questioning his chosen career path.
“Officer, just let me explain,” she said, voice breathy, hazel eyes glistening. “I’m Amy Hollister. My parents left for a cruise three days ago. They asked me to water their plants.” She held up a shiny key. “I figured I’d do it on the way home after picking Connor up from daycare. But he’s been so cranky lately. First he didn’t want to get out of the car.” She waved a hand towards the late-model Subaru in the driveway. “And when I brought him inside, the alarm went off and he went ballistic and I haven’t slept in days and he wouldn’t settle and hand to God, officer, when I got to the security panel I completely blanked. I tried to call my parents to get the code, but they didn’t pick up. Then I remembered that they’re at sea. Because of the cruise. Which is why I’m here. Oh my God I’m babbling. I’m so sorry. And then the alarm company called the landline and I picked up and tried to explain what happened but I am so, so tired and I couldn’t remember the secret password either. So they wouldn’t turn off the alarm and now you’re here and the alarm’s still going off and it’s making Connor crazy and me too and oh God could this day get any worse?” That last phrase ended in a wail. The baby decided it was time for a duet. Officer Parker winced.
“Okay, ma’am, let’s start with the basics. I’m gonna need—” Officer Parker ended his request abruptly and focused his attention on the AARP-eligible man in gardening attire emerging from the backyard gate of the stately home next to the Victorian. “What’s this all about?” Mr. Senior Discount barked. His eyes lit on the woman on the steps. “Amy, what are you doing here? Don’t you know your parents left for that pay-through-the-nose cruise a few days ago? They couldn’t stop talking about it on Facebook.” He shook his head in disgust before saying, “Hey little fella,” and walking over to pinch the baby’s cheeks. “Remember me, Connor? I’m Tim Clark, a friend of your mom’s parents. You tried to relieve me of my hat not too long ago.” The formerly miserable child chortled, presumably in remembrance of that occasion. “Oh, Mr. Clark, you’re the best. You have such a way with Connor. Thank you. And yes, I know they’re on the cruise. I came by to water the plants,” the woman explained, “but this munchkin had me so flustered I forgot the code and now this poor officer had to come all the way out here. I’m so embarrassed.”
A diminutive and bespectacled lady wearing what Officer Parker considered a “church outfit” joined the small group. “What’s going on here, Amy? Is this officer bothering you?” She glared at Officer Parker, went to the steps, and placed a wiry arm around the seated woman’s shoulder.
“No, no, I’m fine. It’s all my fault. I came over to water the plants while mom and dad are on their cruise and I had a brain fart regarding the alarm system.”
“And you are, ma’am?” asked Officer Parker warily. She reminded him of his Sunday school teacher. Not a good thing. “Ruth Madison,” replied the new addition. “I’ve lived over there”—she pointed an index finger in the direction of the house across the street from the Victorian—“for over fifty years and I saw you pull up.” She then wagged that same finger at the woman trying to extricate her hair from the baby’s strong grip. “Don’t you have enough to do what with that handful? You should’ve sent your husband over instead. Next time I see that young man of yours I’ll put him to rights.”
The subject of the scold shuddered. “Thank you so much for caring. But please please please do not ever tell Rob about this. I’d never live it down,” she moaned.
“Okay,” said Officer Parker. These people were making him crave a cigarette. “I still need—” At that moment a series of squawks came through his radio, causing everyone to jump. The officer trotted over to his cruiser for privacy, listened briefly, and returned to the quartet. “I need to wrap this up,” he stated grimly. He opened the front door, pointed to the troublemaker, and said, “With me.” They trudged inside together, leaving Connor in the arms of the Sunday school doppelganger. Following a call to the alarm company, made from the landline on speaker, the auditory torment suddenly ceased. Officer Parker jotted a few notes in his memo book. He then broke the disconcerting silence by advising the woman who had caused the debacle that her parents would be sent a false alarm bill, and that it would be in her best interest to pay it. While she was still in the process of thanking him profusely, he exited the house, hopped in his vehicle, and sped off, tires squealing.
* * *
Officer Parker felt simultaneously hot and cold as he shifted in a wobbly swivel chair at the precinct. The sensation was highly unpleasant. “I just want to make sure I fully understand your complaint, Mr. Hollister. You say that you and your wife returned from a cruise this morning and realized your house had been completely cleaned out?”
The man seated across from Officer Parker gave him a withering look. “I don’t know why I need to repeat myself. This isn’t remotely complicated. We left for a cruise last Saturday. We’d mentioned the trip to a few folks on social media, but we’re not idiots—we set the alarm. When we returned to port this morning, we had four voicemails from the alarm company. The last message was that they’d been given the all clear by an Officer Jeremy Parker. When we arrived home, everything was gone. Jewelry, electronics, artwork, rugs. The back door lock had obviously been picked. Then, to add insult to injury, we find out that you actually came to the house while the burglary was in progress and somehow decided that nothing untoward was going on. I’ll have your badge for this.”
Officer Parker was beginning to feel queasy but managed to keep an even tone. “Mr. Hollister, two of your neighbors, Tim Clark and Ruth Madison, vouched for the woman who triggered the alarm and said she was your daughter.” Mr. Hollister rolled his eyes. “My wife and I don’t have a daughter. Or any other children. That’s why we’re able to afford luxury cruises. And we happen to have the best neighbors. Tim Clark and Ruth Madison were right there with us on the cruise.”
Colette Parris is a Caribbean-American attorney who returned to her literary roots during the pandemic. Her poetry and prose can be found in Michigan Quarterly Review, Cleaver, Scoundrel Time, The Offing, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Three of her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in New York. Read more at coletteparris.com.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “The Best Neighbors”:
We keep telling authors whose work we decline that the key things we look for are the different and unexpected. There’s nothing wrong with stories about human struggles, relationships (good or bad), love stories, people dying from a terminal disease. But for the most part they’re not for us because they’re too conventional. On the other end, we don’t want pieces that are too bizarre. And humor is always welcome.
Author Colette Parris has delivered precisely what we want in this wonderfully amusing, short—yet totally believable—piece.
Story openings are so important to us. This piece begins in a very unassuming way, but the first paragraph has just the right amount of foreshadowing to promise the reader that a surprise is lurking just around the corner. Of course, the interesting title helps because it runs counter to that opening, further suggesting something is afoot.