The Old Lady Next Door by Keith Kitchen

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"Three, Annabelle. Killer and Macbeth, here, and Princess. She's in the house." She asked the same question practically every day and he answered her every day.

She chuckled in her wavering voice. "Killer and Macbeth! Funny names for such little dogs!" Her eyes narrowed. "They don't mess in the house do they?"

"Oh, no!" He assured her. "They're good dogs. A bit territorial, but good dogs overall."

"Hmmm, well, that's good," Annabelle said, apparently not convinced. "If you've got three dogs, where's the third?"

Daniel tried not to sigh. "Princess is inside. It's a little too much trying to handle all three and expecting them to do their business."

Annabelle chuckled again. "Do their business! I like that!" She looked at Daniel conspiratorially and asked quietly, "Whatever happened to the people next door?"

"Which ones?"

Annabelle raised her voice, "The ones on the corner! Didn't he run off on her?"

"Oh, no, Annabelle! It was the other way around! She took off about three or four months ago." It was an old story line. Daniel couldn't begin to count the number of times she'd asked that question.

"Is it true what I hear? Did she run off with another woman?" There was a hint of disbelief in her voice.

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, she did."

"Who'd she run off with?" Annabelle demanded.

Daniel shrugged. What would it hurt? He had only told her twenty or thirty times. "Her maid, I guess you'd call her. The lady who came around every week and cleaned her house. She had been married as well and lived down the street a ways, I'm not exactly sure where."

"Hmmm, where'd the run off to?"

"Now, that, I don't know," Daniel admitted. "I know her husband is really broke up over it. They had been married for twenty-five years. Twenty five!"

"Darned shame, if you ask me," Annabelle spat. "Me and my husband had been married for nigh on fifty-five years before he passed on and went to glory. You don't know how lonely you can get till you're left alone like that."

"It is a shame," Daniel agreed, though he didn't understand. He had never been alone. He had had three brothers and two sisters growing up and he had been married for over twenty years himself and had four children; two boys and two girls.

"Well," Annabelle huffed, "I should head in and clean the kitchen. You can never know when you're going to have company, can you?"

"That's for sure," Daniel agreed, half-heartedly as he started to turn away.

"Do you have any children?" The old lady asked before he could take a step.

"Why, yes, I do," Daniel confirmed for what he felt had to be the one thousandth time. "Two boys and two girls."

"Really? I didn't know you had any children," Annabelle said quietly as she walked away.

Daniel shook his head, knowing he had held the same conversation with her in one form or another nearly every day of the eighteen years he had lived in his home. He walked the dogs around the yard again, allowing them to finish their morning chores, then walked into the house.

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