Moving, gestating, painting, scraping, organizing... Those things sure take away from writing and editing time. Here's my contribution to Litstack's Flash Fiction Challenge #10. It's been a long time coming! Since this challenge was a little flexible on word count, and I'm tired, covered in paint, and rocking swollen ankles, it's a lazy 545 instead of a neat and trim 500. I hope you enjoy it! Leave me a comment if you have a moment. I'd love to hear from you.
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Stella lived alone, so there were never many dirty dishes. As she swished her teacup and saucer in warm water, she watched the couple across the street carrying boxes to and from the UHaul. This was the best time to observe them—before they knew anyone was watching. Even though the kitchen window was open, she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She wouldn’t be able to catch many of their conversations. The family next door was a different story. They all spoke so loudly that everyone in a three-block radius knew when they needed mulch for the begonias.
The new people’s furniture looked cheap and modern. It was not to her taste. It. And it was just the two of them over there. Either they didn’t have any friends or they were moving from some other place. She hadn’t seen kids either. The dishes sat clean and dry on the counter waiting to be returned to the cupboard. She gazed out the window a few more moments, then pulled the plug from the drain, sighing.
“Francie!” she called. The Bichon’s tag jingled as she ambled obediently into the kitchen. They’d start by walking down their side of the street, go a few blocks, and come back on the other side of the street to initiate a neighborly chat. The dog was a good ice-breaker, although Stella had never had trouble starting a conversation. They walked purposefully, although Francie, in her purple bandana, stopped here and there to sniff. When they found themselves across the street from their own house, the new people’s car was gone from the driveway. Darn. The gate to the backyard was open. It wouldn’t hurt to have a quick look. She and Francie took quick steps through the gate. There wasn’t much back there except weeds and a plaster gnome statue. Oh, gnome people, she thought, rolling her eyes. The back door to the garage was also open. Francie sneezed as they proceeded to that door. It took Stella’s eyes a half second to adjust to the dim light through the doorway, but when they did, they locked with the new woman of the house.
“Umm…hi?” said the woman, closing the cardboard box she’d been unpacking.
“Hi!” Stella replied. “I didn’t think you were ho—I’m your neighbor across the street. I wondered if the little dog I saw running loose is yours?”
The woman smiled. “We don’t have a dog.” She waved a polite goodbye.
Stella nodded and gave a little yank on Francie’s leash. They had taken only a step away when the woman called out, “Could you give me a hand?”
Stella smiled and turned back. “Sure!”
“There’s a tape measure in the toolbox by the door. Could you toss it to me?”
Stella looked down and saw a yellow plastic toolbox at her feet and another box next to it onto which someone had glued wooden letters: P-R-I-V-A-T-E. A few flakes of paint fell off when she opened the cover.
“Do you see it?” asked the woman, trying to peer over the stack of boxes between them.
Stella didn’t reply. She stared into the wooden box. Francie pulled at the end of the leash and whined softly, but Stella could not turn her attention away.