Vacation, Mexican beach, drinks in our hands, the cell phone rings, our neighbor Mercy calling, across the street, one house over, hesitates to disturb us on our vacation, but something is bothering her she needs to tell us about. She’s been looking at our house through binoculars. Probably no reason to be alarmed, but it should be up to us to decide what to worry about when it comes to our house. There’s a light on in there, she says, a light she doesn’t remember being on for a couple of days after we left, and she can see that it stays on all night. Mercy keeps an eye out for everybody and everything, it’s in her nature to stand near the window and peer at passing cars, to peel back the drapes at every sound, to find out what any and all movements could be a clue to. She wishes her binoculars could see around corners, she tells me, because from where she is she can’t tell much about what’s going on in our house. She doesn’t want to bolt across the street and peek through our windows, she says, someone might call the cops and they could drag her into jail. Did you leave the light on? she asks me. I tell her I didn’t, not as far as I remember, and I ask my wife if she did, same answer. Want me to go in and check it out? I talk with my wife, fill her in, my hand over the phone, unsure if Mercy can hear us. We roll our eyes and make faces at one another. We don’t want her in the house, she’s a busybody, and she might take her camera and shoot pictures of all the rooms and put them on her computer and stare at them for hours, like some creep I saw in a movie. My wife takes a hit off her drink and looks out at the waves rolling toward us, and I decide it’s up to me. Go on in, Mercy, thanks, and I tell her where the key is hidden and give her the alarm code. It sickens me to imagine her excitement, her sense of mission. I’ll call and let you know, she says. As soon as you can, I say. I hate thinking of her in our house, my wife says. I don’t answer her. I sit back, close my eyes. I can’t stop imagining what Mercy could be doing, all the information she has access to, account numbers and passwords if she looks deep enough. She could rob us blind and anything missing could be blamed on burglars. We should have told her we’d call the police, my wife says, and ask them to look around. I’m sure she’s already in there, I say, it won’t be long before she calls us back. I think about changing the subject, but we both know that whatever I say the subject won’t change, at dinner we’ll still be talking about it or trying not to talk about it. I see Mercy going through our drawers and nightstands, smelling our clothes, looking through the refrigerator and the pantry, sitting at my desk, did I leave the computer on, has she brought listening devices to stick on the bottom of our lamps and furniture? What do we know about her and what do we know about who she knows? A truck backed up to the garage behind the house, men loading up our belongings, and Mercy directing traffic, telling her henchman which pieces to steal. A piercing pain hits my stomach, and I’m thinking we may need to go back, depending on what she tells us. The phone rings and it’s Mercy. Hellfire, she says, I don’t know what hit the place. I’m just kidding. I’ve turned off the light and looked around, no sign of a break-in, no broken windows, all doors shut, all drawers closed. Anything you want me to check? I thank her, not necessary, just put the code back in when she leaves. Okay, she says, don’t worry, I’m leaving almost no fingerprints. There is a smell in the bedroom, she adds. What kind of smell? I ask. A little like sweat, she says, something from the body, maybe it’s in the mattress, something you’re probably used to and don’t notice. I mentioned it in case you notice when you get back. It was here before I came in, she says, but put your mind at ease, we worry about things more than we should because at some level we fear we deserve the bad things that could happen to us. We’ll give it a sniff when we get back, I tell her, and my wife’s head snaps in my direction. Enjoy your vacation, Mercy says. Give what a sniff? my wife asks when I hang up. Mercy says there’s a human smell in our bedroom. She says we worry the worst will happen because we think we deserve it. She said that while she was standing in our house? my wife asks. I nod and sip my drink and squint at the horizon, my stomach rumbling. What have we ever done to her? she asks me. Nothing, I say. Do you think the light was on? I don’t know what to say to her. Why would she say it was if it wasn’t? she asks. I think about her questions and ask myself if Mercy is still in our house, her eyes and hands and nose, and what she thinks we deserve, but I have no answers, and the questions only breed more questions. 

Glen Pourciau's short story collection Invite won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press.  His stories have been published in the Antioch Review,, Mississippi Review, New Orleans Review, the Paris Review, and elsewhere.  He has stories forthcoming in Gargoyle, Hobart online, New England Review, and TriQuarterly.

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Glen Pourciau