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Barry Morgan’s Wife

Barry Morgan was my neighbor, we shared a wall.

By Kelley SteadPublished about a year ago Updated 12 months ago 14 min read
Runner-Up in Unexpected Uncovering Challenge
19

I'd been living on Stouffer Street for a month, in an old brick apartment building where the water never ran hot enough for a decent shower and the floors creaked underneath your feet.

Barry Morgan was my neighbor, we shared a wall.

I'd seen him around, he was a hard guy to miss, but I grew up in a big city. Neighbors were neighbors. A polite wave and a nod was all I ever offered Barry.

Except one specific day in the winter, when the snow had been reduced to a slippery mush over the sidewalk and I, in my infinite grace, slipped on the ice and hit my head on the ground.

Barry was outside, smoking a cigarette. He was always wearing one of those shirts you get from the zoo-- gray tie dye with an animal imprinted against a full moon, tucked into khaki cargo shorts and secured with a belt. Barry never wore a jacket when he stepped out for a cigarette in the snow.

In the style of older men with hippie roots, his gray hair was pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Never mind the fact that the entire top of his head was bare.

My tailbone hit the ground first, followed by my head. I lay there, stunned, my groceries splayed out in the snow. A bachelor's feast-- beer, cold cuts, and potato salad.

"You good?" Barry asked.

"Agh. Yeah,” I groaned. He offered a hand and helped me to my feet. Embarrassed, I brushed the wet snow off the seat of my jeans. Barry pitched his cigarette and began to gather my wayward items, grunting a little as he bent over. He was not a man of any physical prowess.

"Thanks, man," I said. And I meant it. "I don't think we've met. I'm Jonathan." I shifted my groceries to shake his hand.

"Barry Morgan."

"Yeah man, I've seen you around. We're neighbors."

Barry nodded and smiled. Little flurries of snow whirled around his head as he shook my hand enthusiastically. I was looking at a man in his mid-fifties, but his eyes were those of a boy. Wide and connecting, with not much behind them.

"Anyway," I cocked my head toward the building. "I got a date with a six-pack and a sandwich. But, yeah, thanks for the help, Barry. Nice to meet ya."

Barry hadn't let go, so I broke the handshake off myself.

"What kinda beer?" he asked.

"Uh, it's Coors. Coors lite, actually." I pursed my lips and rocked back on my heels. I liked Barry. As a neighbor.

"Game's on," Barry said. "You like the Seahawks?"

"Sure, sure. Seahawks are good." My feet turned toward the building, the age-old cue of a man going his own way.

"I got chips," he said. "Potato chips. Good for watching the game."

My feet were freezing and the wind had started to pick up, numbing my nose and ears. I shifted the groceries from one arm to the other, knowing I had to make a decision.

"Alright," I said. "You wanna come watch the game? Why not."

Barry was one of those guys that smiled with his eyes. Even so, my gut was turning over. I chocked it up to not wanting to hang out with some weird ex-hippie who was the same age as my dad. It takes experience to decipher gut rumblings. I didn't have that yet.

***

Barry scanned my apartment like an undercover cop scans a drug den. His boyish eyes ran over everything. He even grabbed one of my old baseball trophies and twirled it in his fingers, shameless in his curiosity.

“You’re an observant guy,” I commented from the kitchen.

“You can tell a lot about a man from their home,” Barry said. “My wife says that, anyway.”

“I had no idea you were married,” I said, surprised. I’d never seen a woman anywhere near Barry or his apartment.

“Oh yeah, seven years now,” Barry sipped his beer. “She’s a lovely woman.”

“I’ll bet,” I said. “Funny, I don’t think I’ve met her.”

“She doesn’t leave the house these days. She's developed quite the case of agoraphobia- you know, scared to go out.”

The idea of Barry caring for a woman with intense agoraphobia was not a pleasant one. I tried to recall seeing her, or even hearing a woman's voice through the hall. Nothing occurred to me.

"That's rough, man. Does she like, see anyone for that? On Zoom, or something?"

"Nah," he said. "She's a happy woman, just likes to stay home. With me. Not the best cook though, I'll tell ya that." He chuckled a little and scratched his head. "She did kinda see someone once though. Fell in love with him, I guess. She was always watching him from the window. Talking to him while I was at work."

I wasn't prepared for Barry. I wanted to turn up the game, distract him like a kid who was telling you one too many personal details about his parents. I didn't though. I felt sorry for the guy.

"Damn," I said. "I mean, nothing happened though, right? Between them?"

"Nah. I didn't let it. We picked up and moved here. She don't see him any more."

"I see." That was all I could manage. "Well, game's on. Let's open up those chips, eh?" I took a seat on the far left of the couch, leaving Barry with a good two-thirds to choose from.

He sat directly next to me.

Dall.E 2

We watched the game in silence for a few minutes before he wanted to chat again.

"You're single, huh," he broke the silence. "I can tell by your apartment. It doesn't have a woman's touch, Cindy calls it that."

"Yeah," I looked around. "No women here. My ex and I split up two months ago. I didn't realize how little stuff I owned in that relationship."

"Do you work?"

"Yeah. I work online though. Doing all kinds of different stuff, freelance."

Barry nodded his head, "Good on you. A business type- smart, single, handsome. You work out?"

"Yeah, I run in the mornings. Got to keep yourself healthy, ya know?" There was no reason why Barry was sitting so close to me now. His breath, laced with the smell of Newports, went directly into my face with each syllable.

I tried to scooch over on the couch, to show him I was uncomfortable. Barry didn't move.

"Well, you'll find a wife no problem," Barry told me. "Guy like me, I got to be happy with what I got. Beautiful wife. Not too young, not too old. Sweet. Great listener. I mean, what do you expect? I go off to the office, she's all alone in the house all day. Of course some young, handsome guy is gonna catch her eye. What am I gonna do, you know?"

"What, uh, what do you do for a living, Barry?" I wanted to shift him away from this topic. Becoming emotionally invested in the depths of Barry's life was not a venture I was willing to take on. Not on game day. Not ever.

"I'm an accountant," he said. "At a mid-size firm. I'm retiring in a few years. Made some good investments. Me and Cindy want to see the world."

"Well, won't that be... difficult?"

Barry laughed and the force of it startled me. A line of foam spilled down his chin, a few flecks of spit landed on my cheek. I wiped it with the back of my hand. He didn't apologize. "That's funny. Yeah, you're probably right. Not a option, huh."

Barry's hand clapped onto my shoulder and he squeezed it, chuckling. My muscles stiffened with the instinct of not wanting him to touch me, to even be in my space. I sat on that couch until I couldn't stand the feel of his breath on my neck any longer.

"You know, Barry, this game isn't all that exciting. And my head is killing me, from the slip out there. Thanks for helping me out with that, by the way. I think I'm gonna head to bed. So..."

I stood up, fake stretched, and yawned. Barry got the point this time. He downed the rest of his beer and left the empty bottle on the coffee table.

“It was nice meeting you,” I said. “Thanks again.”

“Anytime.” Barry tightened his pony tail and grabbed his half eaten bag of chips. “I’ll see ya around, Johnny.”

I didn’t care for being called Johnny, but I didn’t correct him. In fact, he could call me anything he wanted as long he never spoke to me again.

“See ya around.”

***

In the weeks that followed, I found myself fascinated by the idea of Barry's hidden wife.

I could see his window from the sidewalk outside. A dark curtain took up most of it, but every now and then there was a slight gap and I could make out the shadow of a lamp and sometimes the faint figure of a person sitting near the window.

This person had a full head of hair. No ponytail.

I found myself listening intently in the hallway, trying to pick up the sound of a woman’s voice in Barry’s apartment. I could hear his television clearly, the canned laughter of Seinfeld or some other sitcom. Sometimes I’d pick up the faint sounds of Barry talking to someone, but his words were muffled by the walls.

***

One Sunday, I was settled in to watch the game. I’d gone shopping early in the morning with the sole intention of avoiding Barry. He’d asked me once or twice about coming over again, and the thought of it made me uneasy. So I made excuses, and planned my life around dodging him in the hallway.

The insanity of that was not lost on me. It was a temporary solution to a permanent problem.

There was a soft knock on my door, I knew who it was immediately. I sighed and checked the peephole, knowing Barry would hear my footsteps creak as I walked. He was running his fingers nervously over the bald part of his head and pacing.

I contemplated not opening the door. But then what?

“Hey Barry,” I said. “What’s going on, man?”

He was wringing his hands and fidgeting, a sheen of sweat over his forehead. “Hey Johnny. Can I come in?”

“Uh, sure. I’m leaving in a few minutes though, heading to a friends’ birthday.” An obvious lie. I was wearing paint-stained sweats and hadn’t shaved all weekend. Barry didn’t seem to notice.

Now I had to go somewhere else to watch the game.

Barry came inside and I closed the door behind him. He was staring at the floor, pulling on the front of his shirt anxiously, like a toddler who had just been asked to confess to a mess.

“What’s up?” I asked again.

“Yeah, uh, well….” he was struggling. “Look, I don’t know how to say this. But have you been talking to my wife?”

“Your wife? No man, I-”

“I mean, it’s fine if you are. I’m not accusing you of anything. I just want to know, man to man,” Barry was serious. He even rolled his shoulders back and stood up straight to face me.

“No I’m not talking to your wife, Barry,” I said. “I’ve never seen your wife. I’ve never even been inside your apartment, man.”

Barry studied me intently. His nostrils flared. I could see his mind working, trying to sniff out if I was lying or not. It was concerning, the fact that he didn’t believe me. It was absurd.

“Why are you asking me this?” I said.

“All she does is look out the window,” Barry rubbed his eyes. “All damn day. At that window. She sits there early in the morning, when you go for your exercise. So today I asked her, what’s so interesting out there. You know what she tells me? She said you’re interesting. You, Johnny. My single, handsome neighbor.”

Barry waited for me to speak with his head cocked to one side, expecting me to spill my guts. To admit to whatever the hell he thought was I was doing with his wife, the wife that was just a shadow in the window.

“I don’t know why she’d say something like that,” I said, calmly. “I swear I’ve never spoken to your wife. Never even seen her. You know I wouldn’t disrespect you like that, Barry. That’s not me.”

Dall.E 2

One of Barry’s eyes twitched and he started to wring his hands again. “Yeah, yeah. You’re right. You’re right, Johnny. She’s not well, you know. She’s bored sitting there all day, afraid of the world outside. But she loves me. She wouldn’t do this to me again. No, no…”

Barry’s state was troubling and my body reacted. The hair on my neck pricked and there was that familiar gut roll feeling I hadn't figured out yet.

“Hey, it was nice chatting with you,” I said. “I gotta get ready to go. But we’re good, right?” I stuck out my palm for a shake and after a moment’s hesitation, Barry obliged me.

“Yeah, we’re good,” he said. “Course we are.”

***

I figured I’d head to a bar for a few hours and watch the game from there. It wasn’t snowing and the walk was brisk, but nice. It was a relief just to get out of Barry's reach.

I had a few shots of whiskey and my team won in the fourth quarter, so I walked home in a remarkably better mood than I’d been a few hours before. The moon was bright and full that night and I ended up stopping for a moment to admire it outside my building.

My serenity didn't last.

From the street I could hear a man yelling. It didn't register with me at first, growing up in the city meant people screaming was white noise. But then there was a thump, something hitting something else, and I turned my head to see.

The curtain on Barry's window was moved to the side, more so than usual. The lamp was on and I could see the silhouette of his pony tail moving erratically inside. He was throwing up his hands and rubbing his face. I could hear his voice, barely, rising and falling as he went off.

I almost went back to the bar. But the thought of my warm apartment won out and I walked up the steps instead, inserting my key softly as if Barry could hear it.

The floor creaked mercilessly under my feet as I ascended the stairs. Goddamn old buildings.

Now I could hear Barry clearly. "After all we've been through! After all this! What does he have that I don't!"

There was a sound of something smashing. Maybe that lamp. My heart picked up a bit and I jabbed my key into my own door, pushing it open and darting inside like someone was after me.

It couldn't be me, I told myself. Barry had caught his wife doing something unsavory, that much was clear. But it had nothing to do with me.

***

At four in the morning, someone banged on my door, startling me out of a whiskey-induced slumber. I groaned when I checked my phone. Nothing good ever came from a four a.m. knock. Nothing.

With heavy eyelids, I shuffled to the door, not bothering to dress. Anyone who knocked on my door this early deserved to get a man in nothing but his skivvies.

The peephole confirmed my deepest fears.

"Barry?" I said through the door. "It's four in the morning, man."

"Johnny, you have to help me."

"What? No, just come back in a few hours."

"Has to be now. I... I can't... I didn't mean to..."

The sound of a grown man sobbing is like jamming a toothpick in your ear canal. I touched my forehead to the still-closed door and winced, regretting every second I spent watching football with this guy. If I went back to bed, right now, what could he really do about it?

"Please, Johnny," Barry cried. "I'm begging you. I think... I think I killed her."

My head snapped upright. Chills ran through me, little goosebumps rose on my neck and arms. I must have not heard him correctly. I opened the door.

Barry was wearing plaid pajama pants and a grease-stained tee. There was no blood on him. If there had been, I don't think I would have held it together.

"What did you say?" I asked.

Barry fell to his knees and his head dropped into his hands, shoulders rocking as he sobbed into them. He was beyond words.

"What happened?" I asked. "Where is she?"

He pointed to his apartment door, it was ajar. I could see a small table overturned inside.

"I... I should call the police," I said, and lifted my phone. Barry was quicker. He leapt to his feet and knocked it out of my hand, sending it clattering down the hallway.

"No!" Barry said. "No, no, not yet. Please. I'm not ready. She might be alive, I don't know... please."

I wasn't an EMT. Or a doctor. I had no medical training. I should have ran to the phone and called the police. I know that. But something didn't add up.

"How'd you... you know," I said.

"I stabbed her," Barry's eyes were full of tears. "I took a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the shoulder."

I wasn't a blood splatter analyst, either. But I'd seen violent films. There wasn't a speck of red on Barry's clothes. Not that I could see, anyway.

Maybe I was dreaming this.

I walked past Barry, who was still on his knees, and made my way to his apartment. He didn't protest.

There was the distinct smell of cigarettes in Barry’s place, and the obvious signs of a bachelor's apartment. To my left was the kitchen, a mess of dirty dishes on every surface. To my right was the living room, and the window I knew so well from the outside. The lamp lay in pieces on the carpet, cord uselessly hanging off its cracked base.

My ears perked up, trying to pick up any sound of a human being. A sigh. A sputter. Anything.

I moved through the living room, careful not to step on debris, and toward the bedroom. The bed was neatly made with a flowery quilt and too many pillows- a woman's touch.

And there, awkwardly splayed on the bed, was a mannequin. A black-handled kitchen knife was stuck in the place just above its left breast. I could see where the plastic had come apart around the blade, where the fiberglass frame had been entered and broken. A blonde wig lay crumpled on the bed next to it like a dead animal. The mannequin’s eyes were blue and unfocused, it's lips painted a coral red.

Dall.E 2

"It's because of you."

I jumped at the sound of Barry's voice directly behind me. How the hell had I not heard him walk in? A little bead of sweat trickled down my temple.

"What the fuck, Barry," I said.

"Cindy hates cursing!" Barry screamed and held his hands over his ears. "You made me do this! You and your young body and your big, fancy job! You lied to me! I know you were screwing her. Just admit it!"

Barry was the only thing standing between me and the door, between me and my escape. My instincts kicked in, the same ones as a cornered rat, and I pushed him hard. He stumbled back, hitting the bedroom wall with a grunt.

I hauled ass.

My feet carried me down the creaky hall to where Barry had flung my phone. I scooped it up and took off down the stairs, three at a time. My heartbeat drowned out all sound. I had no idea if Barry was behind me and frankly, I didn't give a shit.

My hand reached the door of the building and I turned it, forcefully, rushing out into the cold in nothing but my underwear.

There was no reason for the sidewalk to have an icy patch. No reason at all. I hit it immediately. My legs went up in the air and my tailbone hit the pavement, then my head. The ice burned my bare back and I couldn't feel my legs or feet.

Lying flat on the sidewalk, head spinning, I glanced up in fear at Barry's window. He was there, looking back at me through the parted curtain.

He was wearing the blonde wig.

Short StoryLoveHorror
19

About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Tom Robbins and Stephen King.

Spinning tales in the quiet moments between motherhood and building a business.

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (16)

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  • A. Lenae12 months ago

    Yes!! Congratulations - this definitely is an enthralling piece, worthy of accolades! So happy it placed! My heart hammered through all of this and then the end was so darn satisfying. Between the fantastic writing and the effectiveness of the plot unfolding so naturally and eerily, this was delightful.

  • Babs Iverson12 months ago

    Fantastic!!! Congratulations on the runner up!!!💖💖💕

  • Leslie Writes12 months ago

    Wow! That was full of suspense and your descriptions and dialogue flows so effortlessly. Congrats! This was like psycho, but with a completely different vibe. I loved it ❤️👏

  • Naomi Gold12 months ago

    Congrats! I loved this, and shared it in a Freshly Picked story. I’m so glad to see it on the winners list. 🥂

  • Donna Renee12 months ago

    Whoaaaaa that was so creepy!!!! Congrats on placing in the challenge! This was really some awesome writing!

  • Kimmyabout a year ago

    Love it!

  • The Invisible Writerabout a year ago

    Omg Barry’s Fing crazy! Great story Kelley

  • Aphoticabout a year ago

    This was impossible to stop reading for a second. Absolutely loved it.

  • Stephanie Downardabout a year ago

    This was great and very well written! ❤️I hope I never live next to a Barry! Like a good neighbor, stay over there! 😂

  • sleepy draftsabout a year ago

    Wow!! What a visceral, incredibly-told story! I was hooked all the way through. Amazing work, start to end. 💗

  • S. A. Crawfordabout a year ago

    I love this - definitely see the Stephen King vibe! It's so well paced, too!

  • Testabout a year ago

    What a ride! I loved every line of this fast-paced and twisted tale. So good, Kelley! A fantastic story, from beginning to end.

  • Lol, Barry has some serious issues! I have agoraphobia too but I swear I'm not a mannequin 🤣 Your story was so suspenseful! I loved it!

  • Absolutely compelling, from beginning to end, never quite sure what's coming next. I may have to agree with Naomi. This could give me nightmares. But that's okay. I actually enjoy nightmares. I think of them as scary movies through which I get to sleep without missing a thing. If I wake up, I try to go back to sleep as quickly as possible so I can find out what happens next. One night, I continued the same nightmare through five different chapters! I know, I'm weird. But your story was great!

  • Naomi Goldabout a year ago

    And this is why I keep to myself! I live in an old brick building in the city with creaky floors, so this is going to give me nightmares. 😆 Great storytelling, I was fascinated from the beginning.

  • J. S. Wadeabout a year ago

    Great crazy story … there are Barry’s out there … maybe, right next door 😎😂🥰. Well done.

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