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Tom Eubanks Fiction

Nothing Better to Do

by Tom Eubanks

He comes by every Saturday—my only day off—to watch me work in the garage. Sarah, my wife of 30 years, who still works as a nurse downtown, doesn’t like him. I think he’s figured that out, because he only comes by on Saturdays when she works a day shift and I’m home alone.

His name’s Jerry, he’s retired, and he always has news. News from the neighborhood. Who’s who, who’s doing what, what’s going on, all those private stories you find so interesting but you wish, ultimately, you didn’t know, because the next time you see that neighbor, all that’s careening around in your brain is what Jerry told you.

Lately, Jerry’s especially interested in the new couple who moved in at the end of the cul-de-sac. He knows their names—Tim and Jody. He’s very, very suspicious of them, because they’re from New Mexico, and he firmly believes that people living in New Mexico are nut-jobs—as he puts it—by telling a story of how one time he passed through Albuquerque, stopped at a Denny’s, ate his breakfast and how the waitress insisted that the meal was on the house, and then after he thanked her—still having no idea why she was letting him go without paying—she whispered, “And thank you for not hurting us.” He might have a point—if the story’s true. At the time, he asserted in that “just-so-you-know” voice that Albuquerque is “right next to Area 51,” except it isn’t. When I pointed out to him that it’s 700 miles away, he snorted and said, “Yeah, well, you oughta know that’s close enough.”

Tim and Jody have lived in our neighborhood just under a month and Jerry’s been on a binge to get to the bottom of something. I don’t have any idea what that something is, but he’s trained his retired brain with laser precision to find out about our new neighbors living three doors down from him, who don’t wave at anyone and don’t have children or dogs.

Jerry says, “I got news about neighbor Tim.”


“He’s a member of a club.”

“A club.”

Jerry nods. “He’s a member of a club—some club, I don’t know what club, but he’s a member.”

I’m fixing the latch on my back porch screen door and distractedly say, “All right.”

“They went somewhere. And then they came back—today.”

“Who did?”

“The club.”

“Be more specific.”

“They came back on a good plane.”

That confuses me. “A good plane?”

Jerry says, “Yeah, a good plane. Not a bad one, a good one.”

“What does that mean exactly?” I say, wiping WD-40 off my fingers.

“Yeah, what does it mean? Ya know, maybe a good plane’s one that don’t never crash.”

“Not crashing’s good.”

He goes on: “Maybe they got more leg room.”

“That’s a good plane that’s got leg room,” I say to get him closer to the point of the story.

But he’s got another idea: “Maybe a good plane’s just faster.”


“Maybe a good plane shows up and takes off on time.”

“Definitely a good plane,” I say, leaning the screen door against the workbench. “But I don’t see where this is going.”

“It’s what he said,” Jerry says.

“And what exactly did he say?”

“He said, ‘My club came back on a good plane today.’”

“My club came back on a good plane today. Hm.”

“There’s somethin’ goin’ on there, some work-thing, I can feel it—and you know how I get these feelings—like, really strong tuition, know what I mean?”

I know he means “intuition,” but I’ve learned not to bother saying anything. And I have no idea how he’s come to a conclusion there’s anything going on, but you have to let Jerry get around to telling his story to understand the point sometimes, so I ask, “Okay, so what’s he do? What kind of work?”

“Get this: he’s what you call a day trader—he works the stock market.”

“What makes you think he works the stock market?”

“‘Cause he don’t go to work, and he reads The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily and Traders Magazine. And I called my sister-in-law, who’s a receptionist for an accountant, told her what he reads, and she says he’s a day trader and she should know.”

“How do you know what he reads?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he says dismissively, “he just does, that’s all you have to know.”

I dismiss the thought that Jerry’s committing felonies by getting into their mailbox and tell him, “Okay, well, that doesn’t make sense then. Is there a club for day traders? I don’t know. So, what does he do besides work?”

“Rides a bike, works out.”

Knowing what he reads and how he spends his free time is way more than Jerry should know about Tim. “How do you know that, Jerry?”

“I pay attention, Mike. And I followed him. He rides his bike along the greenway every morning and he works out three afternoons a week over at Body Works across from Food City. I’m thinkin’, maybe it’s a bike club.”

“Bike clubs don’t fly on planes—good or bad—they ride bikes.”

Jerry shrugs. “Okay, what about a golf thing?”

“He plays golf?”

“Yep. Seen him play today.”

“You followed him?”

“Sort of,” Jerry says, trying to be mysterious about it. I refuse to entertain his phony mysteriousness, so he tells me, “I was comin’ out of the senior center after gettin’ my toenails clipped—they have free pedicures on Wednesdays—and I seen him drive by—probably after comin’ back on that good plane—and I was goin’ in about the same direction. Ended up at Brody Springs Golf Club and played eighteen holes with three other guys. He’s been here all of a month and already he has three golf buddies? Right? See what I’m sayin’? And they played for money. And he won.”

“How do you know that?” I ask.

“I keep binoculars in the trunk.”

“You waited around for four hours while he played golf? I don’t think you should spy on your neighbors, Jerry.”

“Well, Michael, it’s not up to you to decide what I do with my day, is it? You like workin’ your ass off six days a week. So be it. Sarah likes workin’ twelve-hour shifts, waitin’ on sick people all day. So be it. Me? I’m retired, Mike. It’s a free country. Tim’s out in public. It’s not like I’m peekin’ in his window, for cryin’ out loud.”

I’ve learned not to take anything Jerry says too personal. I take a couple of breaths and ask, “So when they finished, you were close enough to tell he won the match?”

“Yep. He won a hundred-fifty bucks. Each guy paid him fifty.”

“You saw this with binoculars?”

“No. I was sittin’ at the next table in the clubhouse.”

I carry the screen door outside to the back porch doorway and Jerry follows me. I begin to screw the hinges into the doorframe and realize something. “You’re sitting at the next table and he doesn’t recognize you?” He gets uncomfortable, sniffing and looking off into the woods. “Jerry. He didn’t recognize you sitting at the next table?”

“No, Mike, he didn’t.” I stare back at him, waiting for the whole truth. He huffs and says, “If you have to know, I was . . . wearin’ a mask.”

“A mask. What kind of mask?”


“Like, a cloth mask?”

“Yep. One of those baby blue throw-aways.”

“But no one wears masks around here anymore, Jerry.”

“I keep it in my car.”

“For what?”

“Occasions like this.”

“What occasion? I’m not getting this.”

He rolls his eyes. “Oh, Michael, Michael. When I need a disguise.”

“What? You’re disguised?”

“As a Californian, yep.” He pulls on the front of his T shirt, which is a print of a surfboard superimposed over a sandy beach that reads, California Dreamin’. “Part of my disguise.”

“Where’d you get that?”

“Some store, I don’t know. I keep it in the trunk with the binoculars.”

“So you’re sitting at the next table pretending to be a—what? California tourist?”

Jerry says proudly, “Yep. Drinkin’ a beer and getting video with my iPhone.”

“Sounds conspicuous.”

“Not at all. Turn it on, stick it in my shirt pocket so the camera peeks out. Under the radar.”

“So you got video?”

Jerry smiles conspiratorially, takes out his phone, scrolls and finds the video. He presses

“play” and hands it to me. I watch it. And there’s Tim, sitting in the clubhouse with three other golfers, having a sandwich and a beer, when he gets a call. And after Tim says “hello,” he tells the caller something—it’s difficult to hear what, because the audio is poor. But then he turns slightly in his seat and the sound is clearer. Tim says, “Today, my club came back on a good plane.”

“There it is,” Jerry says. “He’s a member of a club and just got back from somewhere on a plane—and the plane was—”

I stab my hand with the screwdriver. From the shock of—I don’t know—amazement? Tim was talking about swinging his golf club. Checking the extent of the wound, I say, “The plane of his golf swing, Jerry, is the angle of the circular motion of the swing!”

“Oh, wow, Mike, you’re bleedin’!” he says, ignoring that I’ve just solved the riddle for him. “Lemme get you a Band-Aid!”

“That’s all right, Jerry,” I say, tossing the screwdriver on a chair and squeezing my hand. The wound is bleeding badly and a sharp pain is coming on strong. Jerry’s already inside my house. I follow him, calling out, “What’re you doing? I can get my own Band-Aid, Jerry!”

I head for the guest bathroom. Jerry’s in my kitchen. I hear him open a drawer. I open the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. No Band-Aids.

Jerry calls out: “Where’d you go? I got your Band-Aids!”

He finds me in the guest bathroom. Blood is dripping down my wrist. Jerry holds up the box of Band-Aids.

Jerry asks: “What’re you doin’ in here? Sarah moved the Band-Aids to the top drawer in the kitchen a month ago!”


Tom Eubanks’ stories have appeared in The Woven Tale Press, The Oddville Press, pioneertown, The Courtship of Winds, The McGuffin, Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, and Rivanna Review.  His novel, Worlds Apart, was published in 2009; five of his full-length plays have been produced.  He served 14 seasons as Artistic Director for The Elite Theatre Company and presently serves as Founding Artistic Director for Theater 23 in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he lives as a recovering Californian. 

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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