Neighbor, Cousin, Writer, Patient – Allistair May

How was he related to her?
He was a third cousin, once removed, of her neighbor. The neighbor and the cousin saw the other at the lake each summer, until the neighbor was twelve and the cousin was eleven. They saw each other less frequently, now. They talked for twelve minutes at his niece’s wedding, they talked for twenty-eight minutes on the phone, after an insignificant surgery made one of them nostalgic. The neighbor and his wife went out to dinner with the cousin, on the twelfth of September. It was the last time they had talked. They had eaten Chinese food that the cousin said was the best in town. They felt it would give them food poisoning; the wife found a hair in her food. They nodded and smiled when he asked if they enjoyed it. They left early—they told him they were jetlagged. The dinner lasted one hour and thirty-four minutes.
And who was her neighbor?
He lived next door to her. He had been there when she moved in. He was forty-four. He married his wife when he was twenty and she was seventeen. They had planned to have three children. He had told her he would buy her a house in the country; with a porch and a long, rolling lawn. He bought his house when he was twenty-four, with a loan from the bank. It had a porch, but the lawn was quite short, and did not roll. They had one dog, a dalmatian they named Ruth, and three cats, all mixed breeds.
Did she speak often with her neighbor?
No. She spoke with him rarely, and never with any depth. He was uneasy around her—partially because she was younger than him, partially because she was a writer and he did not want to be written about, and partially because she had graduated from a private college out of state. He had gone to a tributary of the state school system.
How did she feel about him?
She thought he was nice enough. She found it difficult to talk to him; she felt he was guarded around her. She had no interest in writing about him. She did not think about him often.
What happened on the twenty-third of September?
On the twenty-third of September, one of her pipes burst—water flooded her basement, by the time she noticed, it had reached a depth of two feet, seven inches. She carried one of her boxes up seven concrete stairs. She pushed opened the door to the first floor with her foot. She turned left and walked quickly to the backdoor. She put the box down on her dining room table. She had purchased her table two months and twenty eight days ago, at a reduced price. She still had two days to return it for a full reimbursement. She opened the door. She picked up the box. She walked out the door. She placed the box on her backyard lawn. Her grass had not been cut for fifty-one days. At its highest, it reached three and one-half inches up the side of the box. Her neighbor noticed her on the third trip. He asked her what had happened. She told him her basement was flooded. He offered to help. She accepted.
How did he help?
He carried boxes. He waded through water, and looked to see if anything could be salvaged. He invited her to dinner, since the flooding had prompted her landlord to shut off her gas. She accepted.
What was served at dinner?
The wife cooked chicken with garlic and lemon. She roasted carrots, and warmed up some bread she had bought two days earlier. The man who served her at the bakery weighed one hundred and forty eight pounds. He had a short beard, and a stud earring in one ear. Both of his arms were covered with tattoos. He spoke quietly and did not make eye contact with her.
How did the guests react to the food?
The neighbor was embarrassed that his wife had cooked. He wondered if the writer thought he was a chauvinist. He made an elaborate display of setting the table. He thought the food was delicious. He did not compliment his wife. He did not want to draw attention to her role in their household. He worried it might seem patronizing to compliment her. The writer was preoccupied by the flooding in her basement. She wondered if it was legal to shut off her gas. She ate chicken and carrots but did not eat bread.
What did they discuss?
They talked about the neighborhood for seven minutes. Then they talked tentatively about the governor’s race. The neighbor repeated something he had read in the newspaper—Jones was weaker on issues related to education and crime, O’Connell was weaker on economic issues. He said he was undecided at present. The writer said she preferred O’Connell. He told her he was leaning that way but would wait for the debate to make his final decision. They talked about this for only four minutes. Then the wife asked if the writer was dating anyone. The husband thought this was too forward and gossipy. He worried the writer might think he and his wife were incapable of elevated conversation.
And how did the writer respond?
She said she was not at present, but was looking. She used two dating sites. She had talked to eight matches on one, and four matches on the other. She had gone for drinks with the third boy from the first app on the nineteenth of September, but found little in common with him. The wife offered to introduce her to a coworker. He was very sweet. He was five foot eleven. He had auburn hair. His father had not gone bald until he was seventy nine. He was interested in becoming a firefighter. He had an IQ of 112. His BMI was 20.4. He did not have any tattoos. The writer smiled and said that it would be better than online dating. The neighbor said that online dating was paradoxically making romance more difficult, the opposite of its intended purpose. He had heard a dating coach say that on the radio during his drive to work. He told a story about his cousin, who was using an online dating service.
What happened to the cousin?
The cousin was matched with a professor by an online matchmaking service. The professor taught at a private liberal arts college in North Carolina. A college ranking site listed it as “#3 best midsize college in North Carolina,” “#5 best college for pre-law students in North Carolina,” “#12 best hidden gems in the South.” The professor taught economics. His department was ranked “#5 in North Carolina” and “#122 in the US.” The cousin was an accountant. He sent an economics joke as an icebreaker. The professor typed out a groan. uggghhhh…that was terrible lol. They sent messages to each with increasing frequency and excitement. They exchanged photographs. The professor was tall and slender. He was six feet and two inches tall. His BMI was 18.4. His IQ was 114. He made 109,000 dollars each year. The accountant was shorter and more muscular. He was six feet and zero inches tall. His BMI was 19.8. His IQ was 119. He made 89,000 dollars each year. He was prescribed Wellbutrin for nagging social anxiety. He had ordered food from an app two hundred and nineteen times in the last twelve months. He had spent three hundred and twelve dollars on In-App purchases for an Android game that simulated managing a farm.
Did their relationship progress?
Yes. They both felt that they were in love. They were physically attracted to each other. They were emotionally compatible. They were intellectually compatible. They wanted the same thing. One hundred and twelve days after the cousin sent the economics joke, they decided to meet in person. The cousin bought a ticket. His seat was 14F. He paid one hundred and twenty three dollars and twenty two cents for the ticket. He clicked no on the mileage multiplier. This would have cost him forty-four dollars. It would have multiplied his miles by 3.8. His airport was six hundred and seventeen miles away from the professor’s airport. This is equivalent to 992.965 kilometers. The flight took one hour and twenty eight minutes. The cousin walked to his baggage claim, and then texted the professor. @ B2 (; can’t wait to see you. He waited eighteen minutes. The message said delivered. He sent another. Hey, just want to make sure you got my last text? He waited 21 minutes. The message said delivered. Are you coming to pick me up? Or did I somehow misunderstand plans? No worries at all, just trying to figure out if I should get a taxi. It was 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity was at forty percent. It felt like it was 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
Did he get a taxi?
Yes. He waited eight more minutes. Then, he walked to the taxi line. Two people were in front of him. He gave the taxi driver the professor’s address. They drove for thirty-four minutes, covering twelve miles in that time. There was heavy traffic. The ride cost 27.28 dollars. The cousin gave the cab driver a four-dollar tip. He left a large sweat mark on the back left seat.
Did he go up to the house?
Yes. He walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. He received no response. He rang it three more times. He checked the window. He walked to the backdoor, but it was locked. He walked to the house of the professor’s neighbor. He rang the doorbell. A man answered the door. He was 74. He had black skin and lupus and hypertension and diabetes. He wore special socks that he bought in packs of six at CVS. These packs cost eight dollars and ninety-nine cents. He had an IQ of 152. He spoke with a lisp, and lived on disability and welfare checks. He had bought the house forty four years ago, when he was a foreman. He had paid one thousand and four hundred and eighty dollars for it. The house down the block sold for 274,220 dollars on the first of July. The cousin asked if he had seen the professor.
Had he?
Yes. He told the cousin that the professor had been taken to the hospital. The man did not know what had happened to the professor. He had been watching softcore pornography on his television for the past several hours and had forgotten to find out. He paid 12.99 a month for the channel. It was called SkinMaxxx. SkinMaxxx had largely stopped making new scenes. They were almost all reruns these days. The man had already seen the one on now. The girl in it was 20 years old and 314 days old. She had told a producer she was only comfortable with nude modeling. When she arrived at the set, there had been a male actor and she had been told to have sex with him on camera. She had been too nervous and disoriented to say anything. She made 4,250 dollars for the scene. She dated the producer for eight months and twelve days. Then he moved to Los Angeles. He gave her a necklace to remember him by. It cost 1,250 dollars. The man was disappointed. He had already seen this one. The girl looked disinterested. She wasn’t giving it her best effort. He hoped the next scene would be new. He hoped the girl would show more enthusiasm.
What happened to the professor?
He had the first myocardial infarction at 1:24 PM. He had an unnoticed genetic anomaly—a bicuspid aortic valve. This had led to a significant enlarging of the aorta. Aortopathy. At 1:24 PM, the valve suffered its first tear. Blood leaked out of the tear. Tissue in his heart began to die. His shoulder felt numb. He felt dizzy. His left hand felt like pins and needles. He couldn’t breathe. At 1:26 PM, he took two Advil. At 1:27 PM, he called 911. I think I am having a heart attack. Where are you? Can you tell me your symptoms? Can you sit down? Do you want me to send you an ambulance? At 1:31, the tear widened. He felt like he was going to pass out. He lost control of his bowels. At 1:34, he syncopated. At 1:37, the wall of the valve collapsed. At 1:39, the first of the first responders arrived. At 1:41, a firefighter broke down the door. The professor was barely conscious. This damn heat. I think I am having a heart attack. Can you help me into the shade? At 1:42, they put him on a gurney. At 1:43, he was on the ambulance. At 1:43, he lost any pulse. At 1:43, paramedics started CPR. They dropped an oropharyngeal airway. His teeth were covered with saliva. They glistened almost yellow under the fluorescent lights. Someone compressed his chest. He felt his ribs crack under the weight of his body. Another searched frantically in one of the cabinets. He ripped the plastic covering off a bag valve mask. He placed it over the patient’s mouth. He squeezed it rhythmically. At 1:45 there was no pulse. A paramedic used an intraosseous needle to drill into the patient’s tibia. He injected nitroglycerine into the bone marrow. At 1:51, the ambulance arrived at the hospital. They cut off all his clothes. He was lean. He was wearing white underwear. A machine compressed his chest. He had no pulse. At 2:03, he was declared dead. The paramedics were cleaning the ambulance. They were celebrating a job well done—they were excited and alive and filled with adrenaline and power. One of them was filling out paperwork. He walked inside to get the receiving doctor’s name. He walked out. He told his colleagues. The wall was fully blown out. Dead before we even got there. Wouldn’t have survived without a heart transplant. Can’t believe I spent fifteen minutes breathing for a dead man. Good workout at least. Haha.
What happened to the cousin?
He went to the hospital. They told him. He went to the morgue to help identify the body. It was the first time they had been together in person. His chest was caved in. There were no bruises. There was no blood to circulate. His face was lifeless. Nothing like his pictures. He was wearing white underwear. I wonder what he looks like naked. Yes. That’s him. I wonder if he is already cold.
And how did the writer react to the story?
She sat for a second. She said only a little. Very interesting. Terribly sad. Isn’t it. Yes. Tragedy. Then she helped clear the plates. They ate Oreos out of the bag. Her best friend’s sister picked her up. Later, she wrote the neighbor’s story down on a notepad. It was published in an anthology of short stories. The New Yorker said, “Brilliant story. A true tragedy. Very sad. She is a genius.” She made very little money from the story. But she managed to get a literary agent. The agent said, “What a tragedy. It really was quite sad. You are a genius. I expect a bright future.”
And the neighbor?
He read the review in The New Yorker. Then he bought the book. He read her story first. He didn’t want her to write about him. He read her story. “My neighbor told me a story.” She didn’t describe him. He wasn’t a character. He was nobody. He was her neighbor. This is a travesty. I am so mad. She really is a bitch. Not worth talking about? She’s voting for fucking O’Connell. He’s terrible on the economy. Shows she’s an idiot. Who is she to look down on me? I’m your neighbor? You’re my fucking neighbor. His wife went up to bed. He sat on his couch. It was faded and worn at the edges. He looked out his kitchen window. The writer’s lawn was overgrown. He could see where she had dropped her boxes—the grass had died and turned brown in square sections. He thought about what he would say to her. Congratulations on the book deal. Wonderful stuff. I’m so happy for you.