Broken Window Blinds
By: Walter Giersbach

Lorraine Vanderzanden was just about to tuck into her apple pie when her mobile radio buzzed. The police dispatcher said, "Sorry to bother you, but it's Mabel Betts again. Complaining about her neighbor. Wants someone to check it out."

Lorraine sighed. Annabelle, the waitress, saw Lorraine's expression and said, "I'll wrap your pie, honey."

Lorraine called Mabel while the pie was being put in a plastic carton.

"It's the damn people across the street, Sheriff," Mabel shrieked.

"That's Deputy Sheriff," Lorraine muttered.

"It's criminal! Now their window blinds are broke and the whole world sees what's goin' on." Mabel didn't speak; she shouted every word. "All day and night. Not just one or two family members, but all of them passing and repassing through the house at all hours. Six, I counted on Monday night at the Gibson house when I got back from vacation," she shouted. "I told Tom Carson, the town's zoning commissioner, when I saw him at Billie's Fillerup Diner & Gas. That was my first night back. Then I saw another three the next night. And the children? Too many to count. This is a residential neighborhood, and I think it's a darned crime having all those people living in one shotgun shack.

"Mabel, that's a three bedroom house," Lorraine said, tucking the bag with the pie under her arm. "There can't be — what? — nine people living there."

"Yeah, well, I saw them," she brayed. "And probably more!"

Mabel had a way of charging into a conversation, like a terrier with its teeth on your pants.

In this case, Lorraine felt compelled as a town peacekeeper to drive over to the Gibson's house. Nothing looked out of place, except there were so many cars in the driveway and on the yard and in the street that it looked like a used car lot. She counted seven cars, none younger than a decade old and some having become classics.

She knocked on the front door. Loudly since the doorbell didn't work.

"Winona Gibson?" she said when the door opened, "It's Lorraine from the Police Department. Can I speak to you?"

A solidly built woman appeared. "Howdy, Sheriff."

"That's Deputy Sheriff. I'm not the Sheriff. But there was a complaint. I have to ask you how many people are domiciled in this house?"

The sounds of children shrieking and thumping around came from behind the screen door. Someone was playing a guitar — amplified electric — in the kitchen, and she could see four men playing cards at the dining room table. It was no wonder the neighbors got rankled, particularly at night when the windows framed the kind of reality show no one wanted to watch.

"What do you mean, people?" she asked. "This is our family."

"Under Article II of the town code," Lorraine cleared her throat, reciting the law as though it was a municipal catechism, "you're only allowed to have two or more persons related to the second degree of collateral consanguinity by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship…" She took a breath. "Or otherwise duly authorized custodial relationship, as verified by official public records such as driver's licenses, birth or marriage certificates, court orders or notarized affidavits, living together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of not more than one additional non-related person." She took another deep breath and waited.

"What the heck's that mean?" Winona asked.

"That means you can have yourself and a spouse and your own kids — as authorized and verified."

"Baloney! My dad is my dad. He didn't have anybody authorize him to be my dad. My husband's brother Al and his wife are here till he finds work and then they'll probably move somewhere."

"Well, there you are. These aren't proper family members. They are unauthorized residents in your domicile."

"And my uncle's here because he has a terrible case of phlebitis and my nephew Fred takes him to the doctor. The kids, well, kids just happen. That's why they call it biology."

"No," Lorraine said, "your kids are all right."

"That's what I told his brother Al. Kids are all right until they start getting out of hand. My five came out all right, but I don't know about Al and Joanie's four. They're a handful."

Lorraine Vanderzanden rose to her full height and stated, "You have a three-bedroom house. How many people do you think should live in a house like this? Ten? Twelve people?" This rhetorical question seemed to pass over Winona Gibson's head.

"Ten might be about right. It's called extended family. Didn't your grandparents come from somewhere, like one of those islands in Europe? Didn't they have large families?" she asked. "What makes you think you can only have standard government-issue families? How about that book they're teaching the kids, Heather Has Two Mommies? My kids brought that book home from school. Or how about all the divorced guys who have a serial dating service going in and out of their houses every night?"

"You have five children and your sister-in-law has four." Lorraine squinted. "Aren't you and she rather sexually active?"

Winona snorted, "No, we just lie there."

Loraine got a pen from her pants pocket and tried taking notes. Feeling flummoxed, she put the pen back in her pocket. "This isn't a normal household, Winona. There are rules about how many people you can put into a domicile and call them family. We have to have rules or else why do we have a zoning commission? I mean, the whole thing could get out of hand and then where would we be?"

"I totally agree. It has gotten out of hand."

"Then, we agree there are too many people to call this a family?" She wondered if her point was being taken. Was she missing something?

"Well, when Jason knocked on the door, I said it might be too much."

"Who's Jason."

"Jason and I are…" Her voice trailed off and then, quietly, she said, "We're having a relationship. See, my husband has a prostate condition, so we kind of agreed Jason could come and see me now and then."

"Jason is not family!" Lorraine exploded.

"That's what I told him, but he said it was a matter of degree. I was wife, in a matter of speaking, to him and George. He said there was only one degree of separation between George and him so it was natural if he put his sleeping bag in the garage. He puts a little money into the household, and we're closer than second cousins."

Lorraine put her hands over her eyes and rubbed hard. "Winona, I'm going to go, but I'd advise you to fix your window blinds — and keep them closed." She wove unsteadily out to her car, before turning and shouting, "And don't talk to your neighbor Mabel!"

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