Two Doors Down | By Sierra Ellison
The pears on Mrs. Carroll’s pear tree were ripe. Lila searched for the perfect one. The low hanging fruit was always too easy, but there was one, seven feet up, gold and green and plump. She looked up and down the street, grabbed two branches, pressed a foot into the bark and hoisted herself up. She reached for the pear. Her fingers shook.
Mrs. Carroll’s front door opened. Lila froze and grabbed a branch to steady herself. Mrs. Carroll was followed by Mrs. Jenner, both wearing white golf skirts with matching collared shirts. They walked below where Lila was perched and stopped at the end of the driveway. Lila held her breath. She had been caught twice already.
Mrs. Carroll and Mrs. Jenner leaned towards one another.
“Did you see Jenna Turner last week?” said Mrs. Carroll.
“Oh yes, I saw her at the general store— barely recognized her,” said Mrs. Jenner, “so sad.”
“I know. I can’t imagine how Tom is dealing with it.”
“And with three kids. Cat just turned thirteen.”
“You know, we should send them something. Maybe a fruit basket? I know this great bakery. We could send them muffins.” Mrs. Carroll sighed and brought a manicured finger to her lip. “Maybe I could send Honorio over to clean up their lawn a bit.”
“We can’t do that,” Mrs. Jenner said. “But, I know what you mean.”
“I mean, I feel terrible.”
“Oh, yes. Terrible.”
“But we pay a lot of money to live here.”
Mrs. Jenner nodded.
Mrs. Carroll leaned closer. “If we bent the rules for every family that went through tough times, the entire neighborhood would look like a ghetto.”
They stared across the street together.
“I’ll send muffins, then.”
Lila’s yellow bike leaned against the jacaranda tree in her front yard. It was one of those fine days when the wind towed clouds across a blazing sky and made the leaves wave and whisper. Lila stood beside the tree and followed its long shadow to the paws of a beagle. Cat’s mom was walking Tottie. He ran to Lila and tumbled into her legs. She bent and wiggled his ears while his tail wagged his body back and forth.
“Hi Lila. How are you?” Cat’s mom asked.
“I’ve been good, Mrs. Turner,” Lila said. Tottie rolled onto his back, baring his belly. “What a good boy.” Lila cooed.
Cat’s mom was silhouetted by the sun. “How’s school? I know Catherine misses you.”
“It’s been okay. I miss her too.” Lila said.
The light shifted. Cat’s mom wore a long red coat and black beanie. She brought a hand to her face and swept the bangs from her eyes. Her left eye traced Lila’s face while her right eye stood still. There was something off about it – the color was dull and stared above Lila’s head, like a doll’s eye. It was glass. She quickly looked away. Mrs. Turner’s smile fell.
“Does Cat like her new school?”
“I think so,” she said. “Anyways, we should be going. Say hi to your mom for me.”
Lila nodded. “I will.”
Cat’s mom turned up the street. She tugged at the edge of her hat, pulling it lower on her head. Lila grabbed her bike and rode away.
Lila hopped out of her parents’ suburban as another car turned down her cul-de-sac. It was Cat’s parents’ car. She watched the Mercedes pull up to the house two doors down. There was a patch of dead grass beside her ornate mailbox. She kicked at it.
The driver door of the Mercedes opened and Cat’s dad slid out. His broad shoulders slumped as he made his way around the back of the SUV. He opened the rear of the car and yanked out a folded wheelchair. He bent over it and pulled at the handle bars. Nothing happened. He knelt down, fiddled with something on the chair and pulled at the bars again. Still nothing. He turned the chair flat against his body, grasped the arm rests and pushed. The chair flung away from him, unopened, and fell to the ground. He sighed and cradled his head in his hands.
A car engine ignited at the end of the street. His head jerked up and then fell back down. He grabbed the folded wheelchair and dragged it into the house.
“Lila!” Lila’s mom called out to her. “Homework. Now!”
It was raining and Lila stood in the center of the road. The asphalt reflected the pear tree in Mrs. Carrol’s front yard and its branches spread like veins across the street. Her over-grown bangs framed her face like a tattoo, dark and slick. The Turner’s were home. Their car was in their driveway, along with one she didn’t recognize. Cat’s lawn was a mixture of dandelions and crabgrass. They had taken over, infecting what used to be a pristine, well-manicured lawn. It needed the rain.
She had Cat’s number memorized, but had spent an hour staring at her phone inside. She could feel the weight of it in her pocket. Lila closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Her hair was heavy and reached for the ground. She sighed and opened her mouth wide. Three cool drops hit her tongue.
A car honked behind her. She waved at Mrs. Carroll and ran back inside. She’ll call tomorrow, she thought.
Lila watched a long black sedan drive up her street. The car pulled up to the Turner’s house. A group stood in the driveway. She counted – eleven people. The driver stepped out of the car, walked to the rear passenger door, opened it, and waited.
After a minute, Cat’s father got out. He was followed by his two sons and then Cat. Her hair was a tumbling mass of curls, just like her mom’s. She was wearing the black dress she had worn to last year’s spring choir concert, the one with the purple trim. It was her favorite. She liked the way it moved when she twirled.
A couple approached Cat’s dad. He clasped their hands and nodded. A woman with wild auburn hair waited behind them – Cat’s aunt. She gave him a long hug and wiped her eyes with her palms. The three kids stood behind him, Cat between her brothers. Their dark straight hair was combed to the side, just like their father. They turned into Cat and hid their faces against her collarbone. She held them and stroked their arms as free flowing tears landed on the youngest’s head.
Lila stepped onto her welcome mat and pulled her jacket around her. She walked to the edge of her driveway and stopped. Cat was outside her house with Tottie. She was kneeling after having fastened his leash. He wiggled, whined, and scrambled up her leg. She was still, staring straight ahead with her hand firmly clasped around his leash.
Lila made her way up the street. As she approached, Tottie yelped and panted. Cat turned. She was wearing a middle school P.E. sweatshirt speckled with dried paint. Cat’s mom had always insisted on a painting shirt. It carries inspiration from past masterpieces, she would say.
Cat’s hair was disheveled. She wiped her hand across her nose and eyes. Lila stepped forward and pulled at the end of her jacket sleeves.
“Hi,” Lila said.
“Hey,” Cat replied. Her eyes shifted away.
Lila reached down to pat Tottie’s head.
“How are –” Lila stopped. “You okay?”
Lila looked at the dog. His tail wagged enthusiastically.
Cat shifted. “We better go,” she said.
Lila nodded as Cat dragged Tottie with her.
“Come on,” she snapped.
Cat began down the street. The clamp in Lila’s throat tightened.
“Cat!” she yelled after her. She ran and met Cat under the pear tree.
“I am so,” she reached out and touched her arm, “so, sorry.”
Cat stared at her and Lila snatched her hand back.
“Yeah,” Cat said and continued down the road alone.
Sierra Ellison was a finalist in Sundance’s “Table Read My Screenplay” contest and writer of a nationally televised TV series, but her main goal is to publish fiction. She has a love for genre fiction, primarily fantasy, but is currently working on a chronological collection of short stories following the life of a “stunted” woman in her twenties. Beyond writing, she is very passionate about becoming a professor and currently teaches at California School of the Arts and Chapman University as a Graduate Teaching Associate.