by Don Tassone
The homes in my neighborhood were built 50 years ago. Only one of the original residents remains. His name is Bill Harper. He lives three doors down.
Bill lives alone. His wife died last year. Until recently, I hadn’t met him.
I don’t know most of my neighbors. Until the pandemic, I wasn’t home much. I’m in sales, and I used to travel four days a week. But with everyone hunkering down and hardly anyone flying, I’ve been working from home.
It’s been strange. Before, I set up appointments and called on customers in person. Now I live on Zoom.
It’s been a big adjustment. Not just the work. But where I work and even where I live. I feel like a stranger in my own house. My wife and kids are driving me crazy. They’re noisy, and they’re always interrupting me. I lock the door to my office upstairs, but they still manage to get in. Some days, I can’t get anything done.
Lately, I’ve been taking walks just to get away. It’s quiet in the neighborhood. With the pandemic, everybody’s either inside their houses or in their backyards. I like that. No need for small talk.
A few weeks ago, I went out for a walk. I was walking by Bill’s house when I heard someone call, “Good morning.”
I looked over and saw Bill sitting on his front porch. He was wearing pajamas and reading the newspaper.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Yes, it is.”
I smiled, gave him a little wave and kept walking. I had almost passed his driveway when he called, “Got a minute?”
I thought about ignoring him but didn’t want to be rude. So I stopped and turned toward him.
“Sure,” I said.
“I’ve got a quick question, if you don’t mind.”
Maybe I should have ignored him, I thought.
I walked up his driveway. Bill got up and laid the paper on a small table. He was tall and thin. I knew he was old. I had seen him, driving by his house, many times. Now, close up, he looked even older. His face was drawn, and his pajamas hung on him like a farmer’s clothes on a scarecrow.
As I approached, he pulled a face mask out of his pocket and slipped it on.
“Just to be safe,” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, pulling a mask out of my pants pocket and slipping it on too.
We stood there looking at each other for an awkward moment, two masked strangers. I wondered what he wanted.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said. “Do you know how to use Zoom?”
“Well, Carol has — had — a computer, but I really don’t know how to use it. I was wondering …”
“Would you like me to show you how to use Zoom?”
“Yes. But if now’s not a good time …”
“Now is fine.”
“Oh, good. Please come in. By the way, I’m Bill Harper.”
I climbed the two steps to his porch and gave him a gentle fist bump.
“I’m Matt. Matt Jenkins. I live a few doors down.”
“It’s good to meet you, Matt. I know you’re busy. I won’t take but a minute of your time.”
He turned around and pushed open his front door. I noticed this took some effort.
“Come in,” he said.
I followed him into the foyer.
“It’s right here,” he said, shuffling to his right, into the dining room.
Near the edge of the table was a laptop, a MacBook Air. It was open. A power cord dangled from the laptop to a wall outlet. The morning sun through the windows filled the room with bright light. Looking around, I noticed a layer of dust on everything.
Bill pressed a button on the keyboard, and the screen lit up.
“I never turn it off. I’m afraid I won’t be able to turn it back on. I don’t know Carol’s password.”
“I see. Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Please,” he said. “Would you like something to drink? A coffee?”
“No, thanks,” I said, sitting down and scooting the chair in.
He pulled out a chair at the end of the table and sat down.
“I’d sit next to you, but, you know,” he said.
“I understand. Do you happen to have a Zoom account?”
I set one up for him.
“I need to show you how to use it,” I said. “Why don’t you sit next to me? It’s okay. We’re wearing masks.”
Bill pulled out the chair beside me and sat down. He folded his hands in front of him on the table. I noticed they were trembling.
I showed him how to set up a meeting and gave him a few tips on using Zoom.
“Do you happen to know who you’ll be meeting with?” I asked.
“Yes. My children and my grandchildren, I hope. I haven’t seen them since before the pandemic.”
“Have they come to visit?”
“No. They think it’s too risky for me.”
“I’m sorry. Well, now you should be able to see them.”
“Thank you,” he said, his voice shaking.
He was staring at the computer. I noticed his eyes were moist.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No,” he said, getting up. “You’ve been most helpful.”
I followed him to the front door. I stepped ahead and pulled it open.
“I can’t thank you enough, Matt.”
“You’re very welcome, Bill. It was good to finally meet you.”
I started to give him a fist bump, but he opened his arms and embraced me loosely, patting my back. Tears were running down his cheeks.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes,” he said, wiping away his tears. “I’m very happy.”
I wished him a good day and good luck with Zoom and invited him to call me with any questions.
I walked back down his driveway and took off my mask. I decided not to continue my walk. I decided to go home.
* * *
Don Tassone is the author of four short story collections and a novel. He lives in Loveland, Ohio. Visit him at https://www.dontassone.com