What Are Neighbors For?

            Dark clouds hung low on the warm June day that Beatrice Chatterton's new neighbors moved in.

            Bea looked through the small window set over her kitchen sink, frowning at the sky that had ruined her Friday plans to work in her small garden.  She had just set a pot of water on to boil and begun scrubbing new potatoes when she noticed the first moving van pull into the driveway of the empty house next door.  The faint lines on her face scrunched up and she thought briefly about going to get her glasses.

            "Richard, did you know that the McKenzie house had finally been sold?" Bea placed her potatoes into a colander. "Well, it has, and it looks like the new neighbors are moving in today.  Let's go over and see what they're like.  Bring the trash out with you." She wiped her hands on her apron, opened the side door, and left.

            "Hmm,"  Richard propped his legs up onto the kitchen table and continued to read his newspaper.

            The old McKenzie house was a gray Tudor structure with olive shutters that overlooked an unkempt lawn and crumbling driveway.  It had been empty for three years, ever since Mary and Joe up and moved away to the city.  Bea walked towards a large red-haired man in blue overalls who was leafing through a sheaf of yellow paper fastened to a clipboard.  He looked up from time to time to check on two other men who were carrying a large black dresser out of the van parked in front of the garage.  When he urged them  to be careful, Bea noticed that he was several teeth shy of a proper smile.

            "Hello, I'm Bea Chatterton," said Bea with an easy grin. "Are you the new owner?  I'm your next door neighbor--"

            "The owners are in the house, lady." The man scanned Bea's green house dress and blue apron then quickly returned to his surveillance of the other movers.

            "Thank you," Bea turned on the heels of her flats and walked briskly towards the house.  She was about to pass through the open doorway when she bumped into a very large man.

            "Oof!" he said as something fell from his hand and landed with a crash.  The portliness of his frame gave him a distinguished look in his finely tailored black suit. 

            "Oh, excuse me!  My name is Bea Chatterton."

            The man knelt down slowly to pick out the scattered pieces of his mug from the coffee spill, and Bea took a swift hand to the gray of her curly brown locks.  The man's pale complexion turned crimson as he looked upwards.

            "Are you the new neighbor?  Of course you are.  My, aren't you handsome?" Bea widened her eyes and grinned. "I'm so sorry about your mug.  I'll buy you a new one.  You really shouldn't drink coffee this late, though.  Causes insomnia, you know."

            The man rose slowly and Bea looked up at him in amazement. He must be at least six and a half feet tall, she thought.

            "Oh my!  You are a tall one, aren't you?  My husband is a tall man also, but he's awfully thin, and a dwarf compared to you. Probably drank a lot of milk as a child, didn't you?  When we first started dating, Richard, that's my husband, was on the Jefferson High basket--"

            "May I help you, Miss?" The man's brow furrowed as he spoke between clenched teeth.  Bea admired his tapered raven beard and slick mustache.

            "What a wonderful baritone!  Are you a singer?  Is that a Greek accent you have?  Actually it's misses.  Help me?  No, no, I just came over to welcome you to Winchester."

            "Well, thank you Mrs. Chatterton," His grim expression dissolved into a pleasant smile. "No, it is an Italian accent, and unfortunately I have never found myself able to carry a tune. I am Mr. Ledo." He extended his hand.

            "My, what a strong grip you've got," and clammy palms too, thought Bea. "Do you exercise much?  I try to take walks whenever I can, but you know how hard it is to find the time to do the things you want to.  Why, just last weekend we planned to go away to the beach, but Richard just couldn't fit it into his schedule, so we ended up not--"

            "I would like nothing better than to stay and talk with you, Mrs.--"


            "Bea.  But as you can see, I have much work to do before I can, as you say, `do the things I want to.'  Why do not you and your husband come over for tea tomorrow afternoon? "  He grabbed the lapels of his jacket.

            "That would be wonderful!" Bea decided to wake up early the next morning and bake a bran loaf to bring over. "I love a good cup of tea, but these prices nowadays make it almost impossible  to get the kind worth drinking."

            "Good day, Bea."  Mr. Ledo made a slight bow then walked towards the man with the clipboard. 

            "What a strange man." Bea whispered to herself while marching back to her house.