by Matt Goldberg
MY BUDDY TOLD me a story about his once-cool brother who, after having a kid and reaching his mid-thirties, had become thoroughly uncool. I’ll probably never meet the guy, not that it matters. There’s tons of people I’ll probably never meet, all of them with lives and thoughts and internal organs sloshing around. I guess my buddy’s brother is just one of those people. I was told he lived in the suburbs—actually not even the suburbs—some townhouses on the outskirts of DC arranged in tidy lines, a housing development that emulated the suburban aesthetic while lacking the charm of lawns and cul-de-sacs.
One day, as the story goes, my buddy’s brother received a package meant for his neighbor, so he did the neighborly thing and brought it next door.
The brother’s neighbor, another guy also in his mid-thirties, also a lawyer with one kid, also white, seemed amused after learning about the mix-up.
‘It must be the blue jeans I ordered!’ the neighbor said.
My buddy told me how the next day his brother spotted the neighbor getting his mail. The neighbor was wearing the new blue jeans, which prompted the brother to call out: ‘Hey, Blue Jeans, what’s shaking?’ from his front door.
The neighbor smiled and pointed to his pants like: ‘I know, right?’
From that point forward, the brother called his neighbor Blue Jeans. He also took to wearing his own blue jeans so they’d have something to talk about. Sometimes the two men would find themselves in the same playground located within the development. While their children played, they’d compare jeans. They’d talk about denim or the shade of blue they liked best. The neighbor said sky blue. He wanted to be reborn as a bird.
I wondered what kind of bird and asked my buddy if he knew. My buddy didn’t know. His brother hadn’t mentioned anything more about the conversation—apparently it wasn’t important. The important part was that my buddy’s brother invited the neighbor over for a beer in his newly remodeled kitchen. He was apparently very proud of the renovation, having shelled out for the deluxe tile backsplash. The brother wouldn’t stop bringing this up to the neighbor.
‘Hey, did I tell you we got the deluxe backsplash? Oh, I did? Well, it’s been totally worth it. You should come check it out. Yeah, bring the kid. Let’s make it a playdate.’
So the neighbor brought his kid and, after the two kids went upstairs to play video games, the two men cracked open some cold ones.
‘These cans are pretty sweet,’ the brother said. ‘Cold-activated. See the mountain?’
The neighbor held the can up to his face. ‘It’s like staring into eternity.’
The brother blinked at him. ‘Say what now?’
To this question, the neighbor went quiet. His hand tremored and some beer spilled out.
‘Woah there,’ the brother said. ‘That’s brand new hardwood.’
The neighbor apologized, and the brother made a joke about getting his wood wet. They continued to sip their beers as the mountains grew faint on their cans.
The next time my buddy’s brother saw the neighbor, he wasn’t wearing the blue jeans. And the time after that, too. It was the same thing that whole month. The neighbor had switched to wearing khakis, shorts, sweatpants—anything besides the jeans.
Despite this, the brother kept calling his neighbor Blue Jeans. He’d actually forgotten the neighbor’s real name—if he ever knew it at all. At first the neighbor kept on smiling whenever the brother called out to him, then he’d grimace, and finally he stopped responding to the nickname at all, ignoring the brother whenever he was out at the playground or getting his mail.
Eventually, the brother received a knock on his door.
‘Blue Jeans, my man!’ he said, upon seeing his neighbor.
The neighbor frowned. ‘Stop calling me that.’
There was a tense silence until the brother shrugged. ‘No harm, no foul,’ he said.
The neighbor opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it. He left the front stoop without another word.
Rather than take this personally, the brother was polite about the incident. He’d meant no offense. He went back to waving at his neighbor without speaking or, if need be, called him by a less specific nickname like “pal” or “chief.”
A week later, the brother noticed his neighbor’s house had a For Sale sign up, followed shortly thereafter by a Sold sign. When the brother peered through his neighbor’s window, he saw the house was empty inside. The brother couldn’t remember ever seeing a moving van.
Evidently, my buddy’s brother liked to tell people this story as an example of neighborhood intrigue. My buddy, meanwhile, was retelling me the story now to show how boring his brother had become. ‘Can you believe this passes for interesting?’ he asked.
I didn’t really have an answer to that question. Instead, I wondered what happened to the neighbor’s namesake jeans. Did he throw them away? Or does he still wear them wherever he is now? I’d like to think so. Up above the clouds perhaps, where the air is cold and clear, and the sky stretches forever. Somewhere far away from this humdrum place.
Matt Goldberg’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in a bunch of wonderful literary journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, The Normal School, Coolest American Stories, The Arcanist, Maudlin House and others. His work has also won first place for the 2021 Uncharted Magazine Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Story Award. He earned his MFA from Temple University and lives in Philadelphia, PA. Find him on Twitter @mattmgoldberg.