It’s day 22 of quarantine when a truck sputters to a stop outside Bradley’s house.
In the three weeks since the office sent her and her 50 colleagues home to ride out the pandemic with a laptop and purse teeming with file folders, she’s grown accustomed to the sounds of her relatively quiet street.
There’s the motorcycle, zooming past at 8 a.m. every day on its way to somewhere that somehow hasn’t shut down. And the Schnauzer across the street that yips at Mr. Hennessy every goddamn time he powerwalks by—which is at least twice a day. Three times a week—sometimes four—brakes squeal outside her house just after noon signaling the delivery vehicle has arrived to drop off yet another package next door.
But today when the truck pulls up in front of the Logan home, there’s no shrill braking, but instead the ticking of an engine. Bradley peers over the top of her laptop, and through the slats of her blinds she sees the noise, surprisingly, is from a semi.
“What the hell are you getting now, Charlie?” she says as she folds her legs beneath her, and presses her palms against the wood grain to get a better look. Dressed like Tiger Woods on Sunday with a red polo and black pants, two men force up the trailer door and after a couple minutes reemerge with a box the size of a 70-inch flat screen on a dolly.
In all his tank-topped glory, Charlie meets them on the stoop. When she first moved in, she swore he spray painted it on each morning, but in the past couple years, his shirts have gotten a little looser. It made him seem less douchey, but at times she found herself missing his old look—which she’ll deny.
The men disappear inside the home, and a few minutes later, Charlie appears in the window that looks directly into hers and opens the box, taking out piece after piece of black metal. After half paying attention to two Zoom meetings—just audio, thank God—Bradley can finally make out what it is he’s bought.
Of course. It’s a Peloton.
There’s nothing wrong with the bike per se. When advertisements for them have popped up on her screen, she’d considered, giving one a try if she had enough money. But, the fact they’ve quickly become a new kind of status symbol for the workout elite made her resist every time. Besides, she already has a stationary bike, which allows her to burn just as many calories watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as the Peloton would for an eighth of the price. (Actually, her cardio interval system of kicking up her speed 10 notches each time someone drinks or makes a snide comment on the show might be more effective than the Peloton.)
Charlie, on the other hand, is just the type of guy to not only drop a hefty chunk of change on the bike, but place it squarely in front of his living window for all—well, her—to see.
As Charlie mounts the Peloton with a grin, Bradley huffs into her laptop, swearing to herself she won’t cast another glance outside her window for as long as she is in quarantine.
In her fourth hour of playing Netflix roulette, Bradley stretches from her couch to grab a snack, but only makes it thirty feet before her eyes catch and her feet halt in front of her desk. On the other side of the sashed windows, Charlie is hunched forward on the bike, hands gripping the handlebars, legs moving Roadrunner fast. The sweat runs over his brow, and only when his legs slow does he sit up, and use the collar of his shirt to dab at his face.
It’s not a horrible look on him, she can admit, but that might be because she’s been locked in her house for nearly a month, and Charlie is one of the few men she sees who isn’t on her TV or using some wacky background on a Zoom call. Stupid green screen option.
Bradley’s trance breaks when Diana, dressed in leggings and a t-shirt, strolls into the room next door. She props herself against the edge of the couch, as she too watches Charlie, which is much more acceptable since she’s his girlfriend. She had moved in three months before and disliked Bradley for two and a half. Apparently, Bradley’s sweet boy of a dog, Moody, had left a present in their yard, and while she had missed it, Diana’s foot had not. Whoops.
As Charlie dismounts, Diana hands him a towel and pecks him on the lips, and Bradley takes it as her cue to high tail it to the kitchen.
“Stop ogling someone’s boyfriend, Bradley. It’s disgusting,” she tells herself and switches her focus to munching on the pretzels she’s pulled from the cabinet.
When it keeps happening, though, it’s not out of ogling, but pure boredom. As the weeks of quarantine drag on, she begins to run out of ways to occupy her mind. Crosswords? Done 50. Real Housewives marathon? She’s practically pretended to host a reunion in her living room. Even Moody, who used to smother her whenever she walked into the door, is tired of her face.
So, yes, when she’s staring off into space, sometimes her gaze does land across the lawn where Charlie seemingly has made the Peloton his new best friend. It usually only lasts a few minutes before she begins to feel a little too much like James Stewart in Rear Window. Then she yanks herself away and finds something productive to do, like learn to cook a new kind of pasta or brush up on her high school Spanish knowledge.
For example, his favorite time—or maybe just the most convenient time—to work out is in mid-afternoon. As well as listening to whichever person is leading the Peloton class, sometimes he listensto music flowing from an earbud and sings along. In others, he watches the television and the reruns of Parks and Recreation playing on it, his legs pumping as slowly as they would through viscous syrup. When he’s not on the bike, he spends most of his time at a small table, typing away on his laptop, and snacking on a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, while Diana walks in and out of the living room with a phone up to her ear.
And that like Moody, Diana and Charlie may be getting sick of seeing each other.
As the days pass, they appear together in Bradley’s view less and less. Conversations seem terse and at times, straight up agitated. Whenever he’s taking a lazy ride on the bike and Diana pops in, his legs leave the syrup and move as easily as if they’re zero gravity. More than once, she sees them both gesture to the personless Peloton with pointed fingers and hands formed into claws.
She can’t help but wonder: Is Charlie the Peloton wife in their household? Should she be concerned for him? Does she need to leave a bottle of Ryan Reynolds’ gin on their doorstep?
One night, seven weeks into what feels like a never-ending quarantine, it all comes to a head. As she’s sprawled out on the couch, playing her umpteenth game of Jeopardy! online with her friends, a scream stills her hand. She bolts upright and mutes her TV. The noises, which are definitely not normal for the neighborhood, become louder and more distinct: a man and a woman yelling.
Bradley scuttles across the floor, following the voices until she’s at her desk. Across from her, Charlie and Diana’s blinds are darkened, but she can still make out shadows, flares of movement, possibly arms flailing. Amid the yells is the sound of something hitting something, but she can’t say what.
Suddenly, the sounds and the shadow games cease. All that’s left is the thump of her heart pulsing against her eardrum.
“What the hell was that?” Bradley asks, pressing her face to the window.
The front door swings open, and Diana sprints out the front door. Her headlights flash against the pavement seconds before she slides into the driver’s seat, rips out of the driveway, and speeds off.
For a minute, Bradley freezes in her spot as she tries to fit together what happened with as much success as someone putting together a puzzle with pieces bitten in half. Did they break up? Was it a terrible fight? Was she actually living in Rear Window and dealing with a suspected murder and Charlie was laying across the floor, dead?
She looks back to the blinds, but there’s no signs of life, and the feeling that something is wrong is gnawing at her core.
Grabbing her phone and umbrella as an improvised weapon just in case, Bradley hurries through their yards and to their door Diana has left ajar. Bradley knocks, but there’s no response. In the pandemic, she hadn’t planned on going into her neighbor’s house, but she pushes inside nonetheless.
“Charlie? It’s Bradley, your neighbor, are you—” The words die on her lips as she comes around the corner to the living room. Charlie’s hulking form stands beside the bike: his shoulders rising and falling with quick breaths, a small commemorative baseball hanging slack in his hand. It doesn’t take her long to figure out why. A foot away, the Peloton’s monitor is a mosaic of glass.
As if waking from a dream, he lifts his head slowly and focuses on her. “Bradley?” he says. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard fighting and you didn’t answer at the door, so I thought I’d check. What happened?”
He adjusts the bat in his hand, dropping the barrel towards the ground. “I hate this goddamn bike,” he says through gritted teeth. “Hate it.”
“Oh,” she says. The air is thick with awkwardness as neither of them eke out a word. Bradley’s body warms with embarrassment, not only for her umbrella-wielding self, but for him, too.
And yet, as she says goodbye and leaves the same way she came, she feels more of a kinship with him than she ever has before. Yes, he needs to find a way to work out his anger, but she has a weird kind of respect for his reaction to the bike.
But then again, maybe quarantine has made her go crazy, too.