I woke up already hyper-aware. Last night, I’d stuck a quarter to the floor with clear tape, and inwardly chuckled to myself that Zoe would find it and spend forever trying to scrape it off the hardwood. I left it just at that, waiting to see what opportunities might crop up during the day. She was always good for a laugh, and handled it with good humor.
Raj, however, was the opposite. He and I have been facing off on April Fools’ Day for a decade. I’d neatly trim all his roses off, but reattach them so that they looked just fine until they withered, or he touched them. In turn, he would mow “Aliens Land Here” on my front lawn. So then, of course, I wired his sprinklers to go off at 8:15, facing the front door, exactly when he stepped out of the house. He, in turn, had a slew of sweet Girl and Boy Scouts bleed me dry selling cookies and popcorn and magazines.
I think I got the last laugh last year when just before midnight on the first, I set all his alarms to go off. Mia, his wife, was so mad.
After that, they didn’t talk to us. The whole past year has been full of perfunctory talk, practical things like, “Can I borrow your weed whacker?” or “They delivered off your mail - here.” No smiles, no waves.
Mia and Zoe were talking though. My wife said to be more friendly, to say sorry. I’m friendly enough, I think, and kind of sort of even apologized, saying, “Well, you know last year we overdid it on the April Fools thing.”
Raj didn’t bite. He didn’t say anything, for that matter. But he sure looked busy. When the new year came around, something humongous was delivered to their house. It came in the largest cardboard box I have ever seen. I never could tell what it was - the drapes were shut when they opened it.
I sent Zoe over there to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg or something, but she said there wasn’t anything new in the house. I had the kids bouncing on the trampoline in the back to see what was in the backyard - they didn’t see anything.
Still, I knew he was up to something. Every day, he’d tiptoe out of his fancy Lexus and walk into his house carrying a bag of something or the other. Instead of doing his usual yard work, he would be in his house all afternoon. I guess he’d quit bowling, too, because he never showed up for that. And their lights would be on at odd hours.
I took to stopping by anytime I could. I brought their paper in. I stopped to tell them when Mrs. Patelli got out of the hospital. I walked over with the kids when they went to play.
He never even answered the door. Mia would smile, as always, and chat and ask how Zoe was and work and other chitchat. But I noticed she never asked me in.
So when March 31st came around, I started checking the garden. I put in motion-detector lights on the walkway and around the house. I put batteries in everything, and set them up on a hair trigger. I turned the dog’s electric fence into a human fence - the mailman would get a shock for a day or two, but it would be worth it.
Each morning, I’d have Zoe drink the coffee first, then pour me some. The kids would open the fridge. I checked each alarm in the morning and again at night. I taped over the fuse box with colored duct tape so we’d know if someone had been in it. I even had a buddy over at the police station drive by every so often and check the place out. I took the two days off of work so I could be home.
This year I wouldn’t play any pranks on anyone else, but I’d be nobody’s fool.
I stayed up that night. When the alarm went off, I checked it against my watch, phone, and internet. I rubbed my bloodshot eyes and made the coffee myself, tasting the beans. Zoe said I was being paranoid, then left for a run, ridiculously leaving the door unlocked. She was lucky I was home.
Then she and the kids went out, making snide comments no one should make to their parents, and I was alone. I rechecked every light switch, every bulb, the items in the garage. I was on April Fools patrol.
Later I found her and Mia whispering at the fence. Conspiring, I’m sure. Just when I let my guard down, that no-good neighbor of mine would be sure to stick it to me.
So I doubled down. I turned on all the lights. I sat on the front step with my flashlight and pepper spray, coffee by my side. Zoe said I was jittery, but I was on high alert now. I wouldn’t let my family down.
By sunset, I’d had only coffee and a granola bar, so they made me eat something. I munched a hot dog from the bottom step, eyes alert. Any moment now…
There he was. Cool as always, in his shorts and baseball cap as if it was the height of summer. Grin on his face the size of Alaska. And he was carrying something.
It was an ax! The man had seriously gone off the deep end. What was he going to do, hack me to death with it? I yelled back into the house, “Everyone stay inside!” Of course, they did just the opposite and came outside.
My clueless wife, she even had a smile on her face, as if our ax-murderer neighbor were bringing us a present.
He just kept walking, straight up the path. Mia leaned over the fence with the kids, looking pleased as punch too. Were they all in on this?
All of a sudden he was there, right in front of me. He lifted up the hatchet, holding it with both hands. Someone screamed - I’m ashamed to say it may have been me. But then, when you are about to die, it can be excused.
He swung it up high, and wonder of wonders, smacked it right into the dirt at my feet. I hopped backward.
“What in tarnation do you think you’re doing?” I asked, indignant and angry. I might have been a little jittery by now, too.
He kept on grinning, his Crest-white teeth gleaming in the glow of my halogen porch lights. He laughed, too, the devil!
“My friend,” he said, patting me on the shoulder. “I’ve come to bury the hatchet!”
I stared, astonished.
“Let bygones be bygones! The past is in the past. Let’s start over, old buddy. I got a great plan for us…” he continued. He was just talking and talking now, some nonsense about real estate and a new business he was working on.
“But…” I stammered. “But, but...what about April Fools’ Day?”
All of them looked at me, confused. “April Fools’ Day?” Zoe said. “Oh, honey…” Her eyes glazed over in the way they do when she’s disappointed I forgot our anniversary.
“You fool!” Raj bellowed. “I’m here trying to be a good neighbor, and that’s all you can say?”
I stood my ground, looking into his eyes. His were steely, and for a moment, I faltered.
“Come on, buddy,” he said, his eyes softening. “That was yesterday. Let’s forget about it for the next three hundred and sixty four days.”