Because Charlie Forester lived next door to someone with the same last name, he often got mistaken for his neighbor. Not by the mailman, but by delivery guys and gals or first time visitors headed for Brad Forester's place. Their two-story bungalows, in the Outer Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco, two miles from the ocean and three from the cliff in Sutro Park, sat 20 feet apart on a street lined with similar peaked houses. Their property line, the line between the two Foresters, consisted of a short bush out front and a fence corner in the back.
Brad Forester was a professional photographer and traveled to Belize and Mexico and Rome for months at a time. He was in his early thirties, dramatically thin, had a well-kept beard and a shaved mustache, and liked to wear small sunglasses and a denim blue engineer-type hat. Charlie Forester, with his gut, thick eyeglasses, big lips, looked nothing like Brad Forester, and his job as a reservation manager at the U-Haul store on Mission Street wasn't quite as glamorous. Charlie stood as the taller of the two Foresters, even though he was twenty-five years older and leaned heavily on desktops and chair backs when having a conversation. Charlie shaved his entire face every day.
Charlie, a happy and helpful Forester, helped Brad out by signing for packages and certified mail until Brad returned from Aruba or some Hawaiian island. Charlie would read the return addresses from New York magazines and Los Angeles agents, shaking his head in pride.
"I gotta say," Charlie once confessed to the postman, "I know we're not even related, but it's good to see a Forester doing so well. Good to see my name like this."
During the first weekend of June, on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, Charlie sat in a vinyl beach chair on his upstairs bedroom's small balcony, eating a Subway sandwich and listening to the Giants close the gap in Milwaukee on a two-run double down the right field line. "C'mon, now," Charlie said. He set down his sandwich and cupped the orange brim of his Giants hat, picturing the next batter walking to the plate.
The doorbell rang and Charlie jumped forward to scan his backyard, acting as if the visitor might be standing right down there. His brain caught up to his reaction, and Charlie, dressed in khaki shorts, slippers, a red tanktop he bought at Wal-Mart, and that lucky Giants ball cap, lumbered down the 40 stairs and up to the front door. He opened the door and met a large blonde woman dressed in turquoise jeans and a white T-shirt, holding a fax machine.
"Hi," said Charlie, gripping the back of a wooden chair that sat in his foyer. "Can I help you?"
"Excuse me, Mr. Forester?"
"I'm Charlie Forester," he said. "There's another Forester that lives next door if you're looking for him."
The woman thought it over, and then dug into her turquoise jeans to retrieve a folded piece of paper. The long power cord danced against her leg while she studied the writing, and Charlie remembered the baseball game. She shook her head while Charlie leaned backwards to hear the radio up on his back porch.
"Just says 'Forester'," she said. Her blonde hair blew into her face and she tucked it behind her ear.
"Well, that's not mine so it must be Brad's. Brad Forester's. Were you fixing it for him or something?"
"Nope," she said. "Just saw it down the street lying there and your name was on it."
Charlie pushed himself up off of the chair and cradled his arms: "Well, I'll take it for him. Brad must be out of town right now."
"Great," she said, dropping it cautiously into his arms. Sweat slid from her bare arms onto his. "Thought someone might be missing it."
Charlie marveled at how light the machine was, and he shuffled over to set it on the seat of the chair. He shut the door, pivoted, grabbed a hold of the newel post and started up the stairs with a tug.
Halfway up the stairs, however, the doorbell rang again. Charlie went to the front door and asked who it was.
"Is this Foresters?" a woman's voice asked.
Charlie swung open the door and saw a different large blonde woman holding a fax machine standing on his front step. She was even dressed like the last visitor—turquoise jeans and a white shirt—and Charlie cocked his head in confusion. Her blonde hair flew into her face, and she balanced the fax machine in her right arm so that she could tuck the hair behind her ear.
"Mr. Forester?" she asked.
"I'm uh, Charlie Forester," he said. Charlie proceeded cautiously. "Is that machine, is that for a Brad Forester?"
She puffed out her huge cheeks and then blew a blast of air up into her bangs. "I was told to give this to a Mr. Forester in Outer Richmond. You him?"
"No, but fine," Charlie said, wanting to get back to the baseball game, his sandwich, his life before two identical women showed up with outdated machines. "I'll give it to him." When he took the fax machine from her arms, he felt the fat on her stomach bounce. He shut the door, placed the machine on the floor, and hurried up the carpeted stairs.
Back out on the balcony, Charlie shooed away a fly who rubbed its feet together on top of his sandwich. As he sat down on the brown and white chair, Charlie caught the tail end of a lawn mower commercial. The doorbell rang again.
"What in the world?" Charlie asked his sandwich. He sighed and unplugged the radio. Before answering the front door, he plugged the silver radio into one of the foyer's beige outlets. He missed the score, and it sounded like a new pitcher was warming up on the mound for San Francisco. Charlie tiptoed to the door so as to hear the announcer say the game was tied, four to four.
"Hello?" It was a man's voice on the other side of Charlie's door.
Charlie silently cracked open the door and a large man stood on his front step, wearing a long blonde wig. And like the previous two visitors, he wore turquoise jeans and a white shirt, and he held a fax machine in his hairy arms. The man stepped toward a shocked Charlie and a ball was called on the radio.
"Mr. Forester? I believe this is for you," the man said, letting the blonde hair blow into his face. Charlie could see the makeup now; the man's flabby, stubbly face was painted with generous amounts of lipstick, rouge and eye shadow. Charlie stepped back inside his house and shut the door, turning the deadbolt. He walked straight into the kitchen and circled the table twice. The Giants had a man on first with no outs, and the doorbell rang again.
"Mr. Forester?" the man called through the door. "I brought you this fax machine."
"It's...that's not mine," Charlie managed from the hallway. "I'm not that, I'm not him!"
"What? What do you mean?"
"That's not for me! I'm Charlie! You want Brad Forester next door! Brad! Forester! Five oh seven!" Charlie pulled out a dining chair and sat down. His big hands shook over his face. "You've got the wrong house!"
"What?" the man asked again. He knocked four times, and then rang the doorbell. "What?"
The radio announcer reminded listeners that the go-ahead run was on first.
Knocks continued on the front door and Charlie headed for the back door, jogging through the laundry room, trying to keep his slippers on his narrow feet. He grabbed the knob on the heavy back door, and as the doorbell chimed, Charlie ripped it open. He ran into the backyard and shuffled around aimlessly in a small circle. Charlie's feet were wet with dew and a little piss that started to dribble down his left leg. With his breath held, Charlie listened. He heard a lawn mower and some traffic, a couple of birds, and the bouncing of an errant basketball somewhere on the next street.
Charlie then heard movement in the grass on the left side of his house, and the painted man with the fax machine appeared hesitantly. The body language under his jeans and T-shirt apologized for the intrusion, and he quickly bent down to set the fax machine on the ground.
"You get away from here," Charlie said. "Get! Take that with you. Get that thing out of here."
"But are you Mr. Forester?" The man asked. His wig leaned too far left and the hair fell into his collar. "I'll just leave it right here."
"No!" Charlie looked left and right, judging how difficult it would be to scale the four-foot wooden fence that enclosed his yard. Charlie then looked straight ahead. The man had disappeared. The gray fax machine, however, sat on its side in his lawn.
Charlie kept both eyes on the machine while hurrying inside to lock the back door. The Giants game had gone into the fifth inning, and the last thing Charlie heard before unplugging his radio was that it was seventy-four degrees in Milwaukee.
The doorbell rang. Charlie let out a short scream and fell to his knees.
"Mr. Forester?" a booming voice asked. "Mr. Forester, are you in there? This is the police. Open up, please."
Charlie crawled to the door and opened it from his knees. "Thank God."
A young police officer in a navy blue uniform stood on the top step with his hands behind his back. "Mr. Forester?" asked the police officer. His voice, low and now barely audible, broke between the title and the name.
"Yes, yes. I'm Charlie Forester," he said, getting to his feet. "Something's going on around here, officer. There's a man wearing a—"
"Mr. Forester," the officer interrupted, bringing forth his hands to present a crushed fax machine. "There's, uh, been an accident."
Charlie slammed the door and braced his back against it. He kicked the fax machine off the foyer's chair with a crash and shoved the chair against the door.
"Mr. Forester," the officer said. "There's nothing we could do. We're truly sorry for your loss." There was a pause, and then the officer added, "I'll just leave this on the front step."
Charlie crawled to the bottom stair where he sat to pull the wet shorts away from his damp crotch. After a few more seconds he scrambled into the hallway and shut off the one light in the house that was on. Back on the bottom stair, Charlie held his right hand over his heart and tried to control his breathing.
Someone walked up to the front door and knocked. Charlie stayed perfectly still.
"Charlie?" the recognizable voice said. "Charlie, it's Brad from next door. You in there, Charlie?"
Charlie sucked in some air and got to his feet. He pushed the chair away from the entrance, pressed his ear against the door, and asked, "Brad Forester? Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me, Charlie."
"Brad?" Charlie asked. "Brad, you don't have a fax machine, do you? Do you have a fax machine with you out there, Brad?"
"Well," Brad said through the door after a brief hesitation. "Well, there's something out here on the step that could've been a fax machine, I guess. You've got something broken out here that, yeah, wait, it's a fax machine I think. Or a copier."
"Brad? What are you wearing?"
"What am I what?"
Charlie moved to one of the front windows and looked outside. Brad, dressed in black pants and a green long sleeve shirt, crouched on the other side of the door. He peered over the top of his small sunglasses to examine the crushed block of plastic on the step. Instead of a blonde wig, Brad wore his denim engineer hat on his head. Relieved, Charlie went back to the door and ushered Brad in.
"Charlie, you look terrible. Like you've seen a ghost."
Charlie locked the door, crumpled to the floor, and began to whimper. He stuck his long legs straight out, kicking the first fax machine against a wall. The old man took off his Giants hat and threw it blindly down the hall.
"What's going on?" Brad asked, leaning over Charlie. He smelled of oranges and cologne. "Why are you so upset?"
"I don't know. People keep showing up at my door with fax machines."
"What do mean 'with fax machines'? What people?"
Charlie kept his eyes on the floor. "People and police officers and a really disgusting guy with a blonde wig keep showing up at my house with fax machines in their arms and I don't know why. Are you expecting fax machines from anybody, Brad? Tell me you ordered a bunch of fax machines."
"I've never owned one in my life," Brad said. "Never trusted them." He walked over to the window, brushed aside a blue curtain, looked out, and said, "Uh, Charlie, there's some...there are... lots of people outside."
Charlie grabbed Brad's pant leg and yanked him down to the floor beside him. "Stay quiet. They'll go away. They'll have to."
"I think a lot of them have fax machines with them," Brad whispered.
The Foresters heard the crowd forming on the other side of the door. Men argued, shoes scraped the sidewalk, a woman seemed to be jockeying for a spot in the front, and somebody sneezed very close up without anyone offering a condolence or good wish.
"Gesundheit," Brad said to Charlie.
The telephone rang from the kitchen. After its sixth ring, Charlie lifted the receiver to his ear and stared at his feet. His face turned white.
"Who is it?" Brad asked, walking toward him.
"Just that...squealing fax noise." Brad grabbed the phone from Charlie's limp hand and listened for himself. The staccato electronic noise was constant.
There was knocking on the back door now, and Charlie squealed. "Hell! They're out back now, too."
"This is the most fucked up..." Brad started, and then trailed off with an audible, "just when I come back from one of the worst trips." He hung up the phone and adjusted his hat. "Charlie, what would you be doing with all those fax machines?"
"Me? What would you be doing with all those fax machines?" Charlie belted. "What if they're all for you? I think they're all for you. You're the one with all the packages and contracts and traveling!"
The knocking on the back door got louder, freezing Brad and Charlie. The phone started to ring again. "Wait," Brad said before Charlie's hand reached the phone. Brad ran into the foyer and picked up the first fax machine, hauling it into the kitchen and plugging it in. Silencing the rings, he unplugged the phone's cord and pressed it into a slot on the fax machine. Brad pressed the POWER button. "Paper, Charlie? You have some paper here?" Charlie pointed to a legal pad and Brad carefully ripped off the top page. He fed it into the machine's drawer and the Foresters watched the green and red lights blink. The pounding on the back door grew. A window somewhere in the front of the house was broken and the fax machine began ringing.
The squealing noise.
The shifting of plastic parts.
The appearance of the slow paper.
When the machine appeared to stop, Brad held the paper out for both to read: "Mr. Forester—We found another one."
The doorbell began chiming one long chime. Knocks on both doors grew steadier.
"One of us has to go out there and figure this out," Brad whispered. "It's your house."
"Well you're the one who always gets the packages!" Charlie spat, still on his knees. "You're the one who gets all these crazy things all the time from around the country; the only things I ever get dropped off are the paper and I don't know what else."
"And they actually said 'Mr. Forester'?" Brad asked. A window next to the front door broke, sending glass toward the kitchen.
"Yes." Charlie stood up and stumbled over to push his chest into his neighbor's face, flipping and smashing the sunglasses away from Brad's nose. And then into the top of Brad's engineer-type hat, Charlie said, "Those fax machines are not for me. Those people aren't here for me."
"So how do you know they want Brad Forester?"
"Process of elimination."
Brad slipped away from Charlie's tall body and proposed an idea: They would open the door together. When they stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway, the Foresters would ask why they were all there. Charlie agreed.
"So, we'll do this together," Brad stated, showing a weak grin. "Two Foresters facing the music, facing the faxes."
Charlie wiped the sweat from his forehead and nodded.
Brad slowly and quietly turned the knob, pulling back the door. Hundreds of people stood on Charlie's lawn, standing on top of the front bushes and spilling onto Brad's property. A hush, from the front of Charlie's house to the street, bled through the crowd.
Brad coughed, stepped forward and made room for Charlie, who paused and slammed the door shut, leaving Brad alone on the welcome mat. The knocking at the back door immediately ceased, and Charlie heard the crowd out front surge. Brad shouted and pounded on the door, but Charlie backed away until his feet bumped into the unplugged radio.
The noise grew louder and Brad screamed for Charlie to open the door, but his neighbor just bent over in his hallway to stick the radio under his arm. Charlie found his keys in a ceramic bowl on the dining table, and snuck out the back door, locking it. Walking silently through his empty backyard, Charlie listened to the crowd on the other side of his house. At the fence, Charlie lifted his radio over the top and dropped it on the other side. Using all his strength, he pulled himself up over the four-foot high fence, and landed perfectly on his feet.
A little girl in red shorts stood proudly in the yard Charlie entered, and she hugged a basketball to her chest. "Hello," she said. "What's your name?"
"I'm the other Mr. Forester," Charlie replied. "Nice to meet you." He picked up the radio, brushed some wet blades of grass from its front, and shuffled past her. He headed for Sutro Park, the ocean and nearby cliff, hoping to find an outlet in a pavilion so he could hear the end of the game.
BIO: GREG BOOSE grew up in northeast Ohio, got his MFA degree in Moorhead, MN, and now lives in Chicago. Boose has appeared on/in The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, Monkeybicycle, Opium Magazine, McSweeneys.net, Hobart, Feathertale, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Reader, and more. He's a regular writer for The Nervous Breakdown and the co-editor of BlackBook's Chicago city guide. He won the 2008 Readers' Choice Award and Editor's Choice Award for satire in Farmhouse Magazine. You must be this tall to visit his Website at gregboose.com.