“Rule number one,” Maureen began, “no clotheslines.”

Corey’s wife giggled. “Indoor or outdoor?” she asked, entertaining what she believed was Maureen’s stab at playfulness.

“Outdoor, of course.”

Meagan quit giggling. “Oh,” she choked on the word, “you’re serious.”

“Of course I’m serious. Clotheslines are a tacky eyesore.”

Meagan was back to her normal chipper self in seconds. “Well, you don’t have to worry about us.” She squeezed Corey’s knee as she said this. “We’re dryer babies.”

Corey’s wife was always saying things like this. She was younger than him by eight years, but had the kooky, corny sense of humor of a woman much older. She was a petite, adorable, Britney-Spears-circa-1999 type. Corey was fortunate to have met her in a bar—bar hopping was so not her thing—but the disconnect between them sometimes felt like a total stranger slapping him in the face with one hand and punching him in the gut with the other. The closest Corey had ever felt to Meagan was when they ate shrooms prior to a Saturday afternoon of house-hunting. In every home, in every primary bedroom, Meagan had clutched Corey’s arm and told him, in an awe-filled whisper, to gaze upon the walking closet.

“Are there any other rules we should know about?” Corey chimed in. This was not a neighborhood with HOA fees. Everyone was in charge of mowing their own lawns. There was no community pool as there had been in his childhood neighborhood in Buena Vista.

“Not really,” Maureen answered, “but I strongly suggest you don’t play any loud music past 10PM.”

Meagan began to reassure Maureen again. “You don’t have to—”

Corey interrupted his wife. “Why not?”

Maureen’s eyes grew wide behind her prescription lenses. “Isn’t it obvious?”

Corey’s raised eyebrow and grin combo said not really.

“This is a very lax neighborhood,” Maureen went on. “Personally, I love to walk around in my bra and panties.”

And from now on, it’s gonna be nothing but short, short skirts around the house—that’s not what this was, but that’s what it felt like. Maureen Johnson was not Margot Robbie. Maureen Johnson was 49 but looked 60 and had a head of stiff, salt-and-pepper hair. She was hippy with heavy breasts that sagged, a mother of two, a grandmother of one. She’d been a preschool teacher when 9/11 happened. Maureen and her husband, Trevor, lived so far down the street that to consider them neighbors was pushing it.

“Inside or outside?” Corey asked once he shook the movie line from his head.

“Excuse me?”

“You said you like to walk around scantily clad, so: inside or outside?”

Maureen didn’t flinch. “Inside, of course,” she answered.

“Don’t we all like to walk around our houses half-naked, though?”

Maureen winked, but only at him. “I don’t believe in blinds.”


“What the fuck was that?”

Corey’s wife rarely said fuck. When she did, it sent a trill from his toes up through his spine.

“She’s one of those kooky old bats,” he assured Meagan, “My grandma has a friend just like her.”

“She said she’s only 49.”

“I call bullshit.”

Corey didn’t really call bullshit. He believed that Maureen Johnson was 49, only 11 years older than himself, but his aggravation had made him say otherwise. It was Maureen’s gray hair that aged her. It was Maureen’s inner tube center that aged her. It was the invisible stick shoved permanently up Maureen Johnson’s ass that aged her.

“Well, I hope we never have to talk to her again,” Meagan said, tickling her husband’s neck. He wished she wouldn’t do that.


That night, Corey broke out his bike for the first time since they’d moved in. Maureen had provided them with her house number—31—which Corey repeated in his head all the way down Primrose Drive.

As he approached the Johnsons’ home, he eased on the brakes. There was a crystal chandelier lighting the entry hall and lamplight illuminating a single bedroom window upstairs. It was mid-March, so a light jacket was necessary. They’d been blessed with a string of warm nights all week, but tonight there was a terrible chill in the air. And Maureen Johnson’s bedroom window was wide open and in it was a 90’s floor fan going on the highest speed.

What the fuck?” Corey said under his breath. This was not floor-fan-in-the-window weather. This was not even windows-open weather.

Corey continued his journey down the lane, made a U-turn at the cul-de-sac, and headed back up Primrose. When he coasted past 31 Primrose Drive, the entry hall was dark, but the lamp in Maureen’s bedroom remained on.


Corey had never installed a clothesline before, but YouTube would teach him how. The next morning at breakfast, he ate with his phone in his face. It was a Sunday.

“Whatcha watching?” Meagan asked, rinsing remnants of scrambled egg from a nonstick frying pan.

“How to prime an oil heater,” he answered without thinking. Their home had electric heating. Every home he’d ever lived in had had electric heating.

“Sounds horrifically boring and complicated.”

Corey looked up from his phone and smiled. “It is.”

After breakfast, he headed to Home Depot, and after Home Depot, he got to work installing a clothesline that connected the only two trees in their backyard. Corey’s wife was napping as he did this. She was seven months pregnant and eternally dead-dog tired. This marriage was his new lease on life. He’d married at 21, was a father by 22, was divorced by 25. Corey’s daughter was now 16 and spent every other weekend with him and Meagan. You weren’t supposed to get a second chance at life in the town where you’d fucked up your previous life, but here Corey was, trying his best to do exactly that.

He was thankful not to have Chloe this weekend. He had work to do.


The first thing Corey did when he got home from work the next day was kick off his work shoes and read the note Meagan had left for him on the kitchen counter: Went to Beth’s—her sister’s—Will be back before dinner. 30-year-olds tended to text their plans or whereabouts, but not Meagan. She still believed in the old-fashioned practice of note writing.

Corey was rifling through the cabinets for a box of cereal when he heard a tap, tap, tap on the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard. Reluctantly, he glanced over his shoulder to inspect the source of the tap, tap, tapping. It was Maureen Johnson, right on time.

“So, is this rule number two?” he started to ask before he even had the sliding glass doors open, “only knock on the front door on the first visit?”

Maureen was unaffected by Corey’s tone. “I was driving by and couldn’t help but notice the lovely clothesline in your backyard.”

“That’s funny, Maureen, because our clothesline isn’t visible from the road.”

“I told you no clotheslines, Corey.”

“What’s the harm if you can’t see it from the road?”

Maureen straightened to her full height, all five-foot-three of it. “I have a new rule for you, Corey: how about no loitering outside of your neighbors’ houses after dark?”

“And I—” Corey drove his finger into what would’ve been Maureen’s right breast if it wasn’t headed fast for her soft center, “—have a new rule for you, Maureen: how about no trespassing on your neighbor’s property?”

Maureen flicked Corey’s finger off her once-bosom. “I’d like the clothesline gone by tomorrow.”

For now, he let her have the last word.


“Anything wrong? You’re so quiet.”

Corey was not in the mood for Meagan’s signature pan-seared tuna. He was in the mood for revenge, but knew that inaction was more effective in a situation such as this.

The next day came and went. Meagan was impressed by her husband’s ability to install the clothesline, but unfortunately had no use for it. Maureen Johnson did not appear on their back deck, and when Corey took his bike out at dusk, he chose to explore the street that ran parallel to theirs, an older neighborhood with houses built in the early 70’s.

The following morning, Meagan barged into the bathroom as Corey showered before work. “Corey, Corey!” she cried, “The clothesline is gone!”

Corey burst out of the shower with the water still running and hurried to their bedroom window, which overlooked the backyard. The clothesline was still there but had been sliced in two.

That son of a bitch,” Corey spat.

“What son of a bitch?”

“This squirrel,” he answered quickly, “He’s been eyeing the damn thing up since the day I installed it.”

“Oh.” Meagan’s frown perked into a mischievous grin. “Are you sure it wasn’t Maureen?”


Corey left work after lunch. All afternoon, he paced the living room, waiting for Maureen Johnson to appear on the opposite side of the sliding glass doors, but much to his chagrin, she never showed.

He waited again until dusk to take his bike out and pedaled furiously to 31 Primrose Drive. He laid his bike on the grass like a preteen boy would and stomped up the walkway to the front door. Corey was about to ring the doorbell when an invisible hand wrapped itself around his wrist, stopping him. This was too civilized of him. He sprinted back to his bike. He pedaled home. He hopped in his car.


Corey raided the women’s lingerie section of his local Walmart. At the only open cash register, the teenage cashier gave him a look that said, What the fuck? As Corey neared home, he turned off his headlights so that they wouldn’t alert Meagan. He hid the supplies in the garage.

“Well, that was an awfully long bike ride.” Meagan was dozing on the couch. She was watching Love Island.

“Let’s get you to bed,” Corey said, offering Meagan his hand.

Meagan was a deep sleeper thanks to the pregnancy. At quarter past midnight, he headed down to the garage for the lingerie, only the lingerie was missing. He was positive he’d placed the bras and panties in the storage container next to the workbench, but now the lingerie was missing and his impromptu trip to Walmart had been in vain. Rage overtook. It was impossible not to make a commotion when angrily rummaging through your garage for Walmart-brand women’s bras and panties.

“What’s going on?” Meagan was standing in the doorway, rubbing her fists into her eyes.

“I can’t find my wallet.”

“Why are you up at 12:20 in the morning looking for your wallet?”

“I was trying to fall asleep when I realized I couldn’t remember placing it on the dresser.”

Corey hoped, in the haze of his latest lie, that his pop-up wallet wasn’t on the dresser along with his Apple Watch and phone.

“I’m sure it’ll turn up in the morning, baby.” Now Meagan was offering her hand to Corey. “Come back to bed with me.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”

“Let me give you one of my nerve pills. It’s an antihistamine that helps induce sleep.”

Corey refused and Meagan insisted. “Okay, fine,” he agreed, “I’ll be right in.”

Corey checked the garage door. It wasn’t locked. He imagined Maureen Johnson clutching his supplies like a teddy bear, the white-noise window fan slaving in her bedroom window.


Corey was shaken awake from the deepest, most complete sleep he’d had in months. This was the type of sleep parents warned him he wouldn’t know again until his child was in elementary school. He didn’t bother to tell them that he already had a daughter, that he already knew.

“Corey, Corey, wake up.”

Corey was awake, but hardly so. Meagan was shoving her phone in his face. “Look what somebody posted on the neighborhood watch Facebook page,” she said.

He felt hungover and unbelievably irritated. Corey shoved his wife’s phone out of his face. Meagan took no offense and positioned the phone even closer to his face this time. “Corey, look.”

Corey gave up. He squinted, adjusting his eyes to the light emanating from his wife’s phone screen. The Facebook post was all colors and shapes. Then the post was a photograph with thirteen likes, three laughing face reactions, and two comments, both of which were laughing face emojis. Corey was glimpsing a photograph of a clothesline in Maureen Johnson’s front yard and the clothesline was dripping with Walmart-brand women’s lingerie. The green leopard print push-up bra stuck out to him the most. It’d been the first bra he’d grabbed.

“We have to go see this for ourselves,” Meagan said, “This is just like that scene in The Help when Skeeter gets everyone to dump their toilets in Hilly Holbrook’s front yard. Oh, how I love—”

“That fucking bitch set me up,” Corey said more to himself than to Meagan.

Meagan was smiling still, but her smile was the cunning, mischievous grin of yesterday morning. “Now is that really a nice thing to call your wife?”

Corey ignored her at first. Meagan repeated herself: Is that really a nice thing to call your wife?

“What?” he asked distractedly.

“A fucking bitch.”

Her persistence got his attention. “Meagan, I’m confused.”

“I couldn’t let you do all the leg work. That was my clothesline just as much as it was yours. And besides, that old hag wanted you to think of her in her bra and panties.”

Corey shrugged her off. “I don’t believe you.”

Meagan opened the YouTube app on her phone and demanded he watch her scroll through her search history: twenty-seven videos, four pertaining to Love Island, eleven pertaining to the installation of clotheslines. He hadn’t planned on installing a clothesline in Maureen Johnson’s front yard; he’d only planned on sprinkling her front lawn with lingerie and fleeing.

“Believe me yet?” she asked, snuggling into him like a cat.

Corey peeled his wife off of him. “Where did I put the Walmart bags?”

“In the storage container, third shelf from the top behind a bottle of weed killer.”

“What was that pill you gave me?”

“A Seconal.”

Corey knew enough about medicine to know that Seconal was not an antihistamine that helped induce sleep. He was no longer in Skylar’s plush pink bedroom in Wolf of Wall Street. Maureen Johnson was no longer on the floor in a form-fitting pink dress with one leg raised high in the air. Corey was at the very end of Gone Girl. Corey was Nick Dunne telling Ellen Abbott and the world that him and Amy were going to be parents. Corey was Nick Dunne lounging in bed with his wife, petting her head. It wasn’t entirely fair to compare himself to Nick Dunne. Nick Dunne was saner. Nick Dunne was more handsome. Nick Dunne hadn’t planned on vandalizing a 49-year-old woman’s front yard with Walmart-brand bras and panties.

Corey’s eyes floated over his wife’s shoulder to the alarm clock. It was half past nine. He should’ve been at work 30 minutes ago.

“What the fuck, Meagan? I’m late for work.”

“No need to worry.”

Meagan hopped out of bed too easily for a woman seven months pregnant. She plucked his phone off the dresser, opened the Messages app, and showed him a text message to his supervisor that read, Will be at work an hour late. Will explain when I get there.

“Let me make you some breakfast,” Meagan said, planting a kiss on her husband’s forehead. “Maybe if you eat really fast, we can take a drive down the street and inspect my work in the daylight.”


In the kitchen, as Meagan cracked eggs into a nonstick frying pan, Corey approached the medicine cabinet where he kept his men’s daily vitamins, the ones Meagan encouraged him to take. He located the bottle of Seconal and the antihistamines that supposedly induced sleep. He’d take his wife to inspect her work and then he’d dispose of the pill bottles in a drug drop-off box on his way to work.

Within seconds, his grand plan was foiled. “Corey, look who it is,” Meagan announced.

Corey swung around. Maureen was in her housecoat, approaching the sliding glass doors with a vengeance.

Meagan was grinning, ready. “Let me do all the talking, all right? Go get dressed for work.”

Corey slipped the pill bottles into the pocket of his flannel pajama bottoms. From Meagan’s angle, the countertop shielded him from the waist on down. Maureen was a few feet from the sliding glass doors. Meagan turned off the burner and scraped the eggs into a serving bowl. She replaced the spatula in her hands with a knife. Corey reminded himself that he liked diced tomatoes in his scrambled eggs.

“Go on, Corey,” Meagan pressed, making the skedaddle motion with her free hand, “go get dressed.” He thought her left eye might be twitching, but her eyes were too big, too bright, to mistake such a thing. Either her left eye was twitching or it wasn’t.

The house was perfectly still and silent. There’d be a baby here soon to disrupt the quiet, or maybe there wouldn’t be. The tomatoes remained in a ceramic bowl on the countertop. Corey eyed the knife in his wife’s hand. In tiny circles, she was massaging the base of the blade with her thumb. This time, Meagan said plainly: Leave, okay?

So Corey left.