Mr Beers. Three months ago I first noticed him standing at his second floor window. His silhouette was clearly visible, framed by the brightly lit room. He stood there and for a reason I didn’t know yet his presence made my toes tingle with cold.
During the day his house looked like any of the others. A white three story house with a white three foot fence and a silver mailbox. Some of the paint had peeled off. One solitary tree stood in the unkempt front yard. He lived alone. There were never visitors.
We didn’t say hello when we moved in. Thinking back I can’t remember a single time when I saw Mr Beers on the street. The only times we talked were with me on the street and him in his front yard. He always stood close to the dark brown trunk of the tree and he always held some sort of tool – a shovel, a rake and sometimes a small saw. But I never saw him use it. He always just stood there with the tool in his hand, as if for a rest.
Radka always talked of Mr Beers as if he was a relict of an ancient civilization. The only other senior living on our street was a forgetful lady that lived with her daughter three houses down from our house. Her daughter, herself older than most of the other people on our street, refused to acknowledge the dementia. No wonder that Mr Beers was not interested in meeting her. And with the street flooded with young people – maybe it was no wonder that he didn’t want to meet anybody else either.
Our neighbor, Jacob, was the first to remark on Mr Beers’ strange obsession with pregnant women. He held a small party and a pregnant friend attended. She left the party earlier than most others and when Jacob went to his kitchen to grab another cheese platter he saw Mr Beers happily chatting with the young pregnant lady.
Before the young lady left Mr Beers placed his hand on her belly. She seemed surprised but not angry. Then Mr Beers placed his other hand behind her back and quickly pulled her closer. He pressed his head on her belly.
Just when Jacob opened the front door his friend had wrestled herself free and was quickly marching down the street. Mr Beers looked at her until she disappeared around the corner, then he calmly walked back into the house.
After hearing Jacob’s story I was somewhat on the lookout. Sitting in my home office I caught myself glimpsing out at the street. No matter whether Mr Beers was in the garden, I always felt on edge when a young woman passed his house.
I never saw Mr Beers touch or talk to someone but twice I noticed that just when a young woman passed he appeared in the window. One of the women was clearly pregnant, the other was pushing a trolley with a sleeping child – and from her shape at least could have been pregnant too.
A third time, when a pregnant lady stopped in front of his house and leaned down to reprimand her son for running into the street, Mr Beers opened the door. He only took one or two steps before the young woman continued walking. When she did he stopped walking. His eyes followed her down the road. Then he disappeared inside the house.
I never told Radka about Mr Beers’ strange behavior. I just told her that I thought he was odd and I hoped that would be enough. Somehow her Czech upbringing made her more nervous about men in general and I figured it wasn’t a good idea to make my wife feel uncomfortable in her own home.
I thought I was wrong about Mr Beers when Radka came home and told me that she had had a nice chat with him. Mr Beers even invited her inside but she had two boxes of ice cream in her bag and didn’t want her groceries to get warm. “Such a nice man,” she said.
Coming home around the same time as Radka I never saw Mr Beers in his garden. But within just two weeks she met him another two times. Each time he stood in his front yard with a rake. Each time he waved and smiled and threw friendly words at her until she stepped closer.
Radka felt that Mr Beers was somewhat pushy – particularly after ignoring her for so many years – but she didn’t feel uncomfortable. Mr Beers seemed genuinely concerned about her feelings and well-being and her life in general.
“Any big changes in your life?” he asked.
“Nothing much,” Radka replied.
“You never know,” he said.
The next week Radka began to feel sick. Constantly she ran to the bathroom. No fever.
She stayed home for a few days. Occasionally she saw Mr Beers waving from the other side of the road.
It only dawned on us when her period was late. We hadn’t planned it but neither had we tried hard to prevent it.
I nearly ran to the stores to buy the test. Together we went to the bathroom. Together we waited for the stripes to appear. Positive.
Lying in bed with Radka on my shoulder I realized that Jacob was right and that I was right. In years he hadn’t talked to Radka. He knew before we did.
That was three months ago. And only two nights later I saw Mr Beers for the first time, standing as a black silhouette in his bright second floor window.
In our bedroom the light was on too. He must have seen my figure moving about the room and then freezing at the window. He knows that I know.
It doesn’t seem to deter him. He still waves Radka over. I asked her not to eat his food or enter his house. I said I saw some mold through the windows and that it would be bad for the child.
Radka promised not to do any such thing. Still every rainless evening she stood there, chatting away. She said that they talk mostly about her. Mr Beers doesn’t like to talk about himself, but he mentioned that he had been in love. His face seemed to sink in when he talked about that – and he quickly switched the topic.
A month ago I saw Radka standing at his fence with a cup in her hand. “Tea,” she said. “An unusual one, but nice.”
I asked her not to talk to him so much anymore. She said I was just jealous. I told her that he stared at us on most nights.
His lights were off. I clearly saw him standing there but Radka said she didn’t. She went to bed early and angry at me.
Radka’s belly still doesn’t show. She wanted to keep it secret “to avoid bad luck.”
Two weeks ago he somehow started to talk about children. And somehow Radka told him about the baby. She told him before she even told her own mother.
He didn’t seem surprised. He only asked whether he could feel.
When I saw his hand on Radka’s belly something snapped in my head. I ran down the stairs and pushed the front door open. I heard his voice.
“Oh, I have to start making dinner.”
He was gone before I reached Radka. I pulled her back into our house.
“Don’t trust him,” I said. “Something is off about him.”
“They baby likes him,” Radka said. “She likes his voice.”
We had a long fight. A loud fight. A fight you shouldn’t have when you are pregnant.
I promised to keep my ‘jealousy’ in check. Radka promised to not let him touch her and not to go inside with him.
For a week that worked. The worry boiled in my head and I kept it just there. Outside I saw Radka standing a step further away from his fence.
The past week somehow the effect faded.
I can’t keep the fear and worry back; I can’t keep the anger back. I made some remarks that I regret.
Out on the street I saw Radka leaning against the fence.
Then I saw her in his front yard, pulling a rake along the fence while Mr Beers watched.
I wanted to give her the freedom. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t jealous. So I decided to wait before I went out.
Our landline phone rang. I went downstairs to pick up. There was only static.
Something gripped me. Something made me run.
Mr Beers’ front yard was empty. The door was closed. A solitary rake leaned against the tree.
First I knocked softly. Then harder. Then my fists hammered against the door.
I didn’t even think of calling the police.
With three kicks the door was open.
Dust. Dust everywhere.
Only one pair of footprints. Radka’s size. One print for each foot – no more.
I searched the whole house.
All rooms were covered in dust. Most lights were burned out.
In the basement, with my mobile phone as a candle, I found a stack of dusty teddy bears.
Upstairs, on the second floor, was the only room without dust. A balloon-print wallpaper. A colorful drawer and a matching wardrobe.
In the corner an unbuilt cot, still wrapped in cardboard.
Two days and they haven’t found her. Two days without even the slightest clues.
Two days and the only thing I know is that for at least twenty years no one should have lived in that house.