Prettier Things

Jules Archer

Every Sunday, I drink a glass of orange juice while secretly watching my next door neighbor cut the grass. I peer through my kitchen window, angling the blinds just so. He mows in a tight white tank top with stained pits, biceps glistening in the sun. But those aren’t my favorite. What I really like are his forearms. They bulge when he paces the lawn, his meaty hands wrapped tight around the handle. The muscle moves, snake-like, underneath the taught skin, the dark hair.

His name is Bob.

Bob’s a friendly man. Moved into the house across the street this summer. Much more fun to watch than Mrs. Pritchett fighting to straighten her arthritic stockings. Bob’s a mechanic, hands oiled up with grease, the cuticles black. He’s always working in his driveway, the tops of his feet visible as he tinkers on the undersides of cars and trucks.

I wave to him when I check my mail each afternoon. He lifts a hand in salute, one time motioning to my car, letting me know the tires are low. He fills them when I forget to take the car in.

I spy on him.

He picks trash up when he jogs. Puts it in his pocket for throwaway later.

He puts a bowl of milk out on his porch for stray cats. I press a hand to my heart.

He plays a game of stickball with the kids who live down the block. Pretends to steal second base and lifts Jimmy Miller high into the air when the kid scores a run.  Walks them home when it gets dark.

I pass him in the supermarket. I buy pickles and TV dinners while he buys bags of ice and stamps.

Bob’s thoughtful.

He comes over to my house to tell me my roof might need some work. He noticed it last week. He hands me my mail. We talk on the porch. I offer him a glass of lemonade but he declines. He rests a palm against the side of the house as we talk. It leaves a grease mark.

I let it stay there, counting whorls on fingertips.

The house he’s renting keeps its blinds drawn. The lawn is immaculately mowed. Sprinklers come on at five every evening. I sip iced tea with lemon and sit on my porch, tanning my legs.

Bob brings back the ladies. He’s skilled that way.

Once a month, a platinum head glimmers in the dark.  In his busted Chevy, he drives them back to his place. They’re always blonde with pert breasts and noses. I watch from my window as he takes one inside. Lights flash on in the house and then go dark mere seconds later. I never see the women leave.

I tug at my dishwater brown strands.

I make an appointment with my hairdresser.

I bring the jar of pickles over to his house and ask him to open it. My hands are too weak. Worn palms are wrapped around the top and he twists, the lid popping in one quick snap. His forearms bulge and I know he likes to squeeze prettier things than pickle jars.

He gives it back to me and says he likes my hair better brown.  I tell him thank you.

He cleans a lot. Drags odd-shaped packages out of his front door and into the bed of his pick-up truck. He’s gone for an hour or two and then returns dusty, his boots and the hems of his jeans caked with mud. I crack my knuckles, think of a good spot remover I can recommend.

I wait for the perfect moment.

One day, when the sun is boiling bright but lowering beneath from the horizon, I watch from my porch as he lugs his trash out, bright yellow ties woven together tight. A walking statue from far, far away, Bob sees me coming, raising a hand in greeting, dark grease caking his rough palms.

I hold up a thermos filled with iced coffee.

He waves it away and throws the trash bundle into the truck bed. It seems light. I follow him back to his doorstep. There’s a shovel, the wood-worn and shredded handle politely resting against the side of his house. Bob opens his door, not too wide, asks me when I’ll be going back to brunette.

I tell him he sounds like an AC/DC song and his smile is wary. Beyond and behind the mesh window of his screen door another trash bag is tied up and waiting in the hallway. I shield my eyes against the sun, asking if he needs help. He smells like bleach.

Bob stretches a hand out. Smooth, long fingers trace my clavicle, calm fingertips prodding bone. They move to my throat, make the slightest indentation to the flesh, a tender chokehold, squeezing and then release. I enjoy the tiniest flutter of color in my vision and then it’s gone. Bob says I should wear more sunscreen, my skin is too pink.

I see him around town and still spy when he mows the lawn. I admire his bulging biceps. I make myself Bloody Marys in the morning, gnashing on the celery stalks while I sprawl polka-dot bikini-clad across my front yard on a beach towel. I let the summer sun tan my hide, wiping dripping sweat from my eyes. It’s hot. The insides of my thighs rub, slapping together like slices of baloney.

I practice the story I’ll tell the press when the cops find him out.

But until then, he’s mine.

I take my sunglasses off when he emerges from his house. I wave and he waves back, our hands lingering, knowing, in the sticky air of a sticky afternoon.


Somewhere between being born and raised in the backwoods of Montana, Jules Archer developed a craving for the written word. Today, she writes random stories of heartbreaking torpor and domestic bondage. She writes to annoy you at: