“How do we know that man is really her brother?” Mom asks after dinner one night when Brian and Molly have gone upstairs to start their homework and I’m helping her load the dishwasher.
“What man?” Dad says from his recliner in the study beside the kitchen. “Whose brother?”
“It just seems a little . . . coincidental,” she says. “He moves in, and nine months later, boom. The husband moves out.”
“Ah,” Dad says. Not because he agrees with Mom’s latest conspiracy theory—he never does, none of us do—but because he’s figured out who she’s talking about: our next-door neighbors, the Salazars.
Mom leaves the kitchen and stands beside Dad’s recliner, looking down. “They don’t look remotely alike,” she says. “Do you see any sibling resemblance?”
“We’ve never been on good enough terms with him for me to get a close look at his face,” Dad says.
“I think he’s given up on the journalism,” Mom says. “He’s around the house a lot.”
“You’re around the house a lot,” Dad points out.
“I’m keeping an eye on him.”
Dad carefully sets down his newspaper—the equivalent, for Dad, of standing up and staring fixedly into Mom’s eyes. “Observe the property line, Noreen,” he says. “If you encroach on their property again, I can’t protect you. Hannah, are you listening?” he calls to me through the kitchen door. I’m always listening. “You are my witness.”
“What if he encroaches?” Mom asks.
A few months after Stephanie Salazar’s brother moved in with Mr. and Mrs. Salazar, Mom saw him climbing into their house through a window (he’d forgotten his keys) and called the police to report a break-in. She knew exactly who he was but didn’t trust him, she told Dad (who told me), having received hostile looks while gardening near the split-wood fence that separates our yard from the Salazars’ yard.
What Mom didn’t know was that Stephanie’s brother was on parole, which resulted in the police taking him away in handcuffs. That night, the Salazars came over to talk to Mom and Dad about Stephanie’s brother and his mental health. Bennie Salazar discovered Dad’s favorite band, the Conduits, and produced all their songs, so Dad broke out the bourbon and nodded sympathetically while Mom gazed at the window like she was distracted by a sound that no one else could hear. Sure enough, while that conversation was going on, a portion of the fence between our two yards tipped drastically in our direction, violating our “airspace,” as Mom put it, and “aggressing” one section of her pink phlox. A few weeks later, Mom dug up one of the fence posts with an electric shovel-drill she rented from Ace Hardware and moved the post…