by Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Mr. Rogers came out to say hello to Mr. McFeely, the mailman. They enjoyed their daily talk on the front lawn. Today, Mr. Rogers had some news to share. “I’m very happy that a new family will be moving in next door. It will be so nice to welcome new friends to the neighborhood. That house has been empty for a very long time.” While Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely were talking, the real estate agent arrived. “Hello, neighbor,” Mr. Rogers said. “Why, Mr. McFeely and I were just talking about how wonderful it is to have a new family moving in.”
The agent nodded hello to the mailman then said, “Not a family. It’s a single man.”
“Then I’ll be sure to welcome him so he won’t feel alone in a new town. Everyone feels lonely in a new city. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
The agent shook his head. “I don’t think this guy is the social type. We’ve never met in person, to tell you the truth. He’s moving here from Europe–Romania, I think.
Mr. McFeely’s eyes widened. “Romania? My, it will be quite interesting to see the mail that arrives for him. The stamps should be impressive.”
“They surely will,” Mr. Rogers said. He turned to the real estate agent. “You haven’t met him?”
“Nope. He couldn’t make the trip for the closing. Had a lawyer handle the deal. Never spoke to him myself, either. Was a hard guy to get a hold of. Only available at night, his time. Between the time difference and his late schedule, it was a monster of a process. Strange guy.”
Mr. Rogers said, “We are all strange because we are all unique.” He picked up a piece of litter that the wind blew by. “I wonder what brings him to this neighborhood.”
The agent shrugged. “Don’t know. He just said something about his time in the old world coming to an end.”
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else,” Mr. Rogers said.
McFeely nodded. “So true. So true.”
The agent’s face was blank as a fresh sheet of paper. “Yeah.” The agent dug into his jacket pocket. “Gotta run. Just stopped by to drop off the keys. He’s moving in tonight.”
“I’ll be sure to watch for him so I can say hello.” Mr. Rogers waved good bye to the agent, said good bye to Mr. McFeely, and went home to mow his lawn on this beautiful day.
Much later, after dinner when twilight was almost faded to black, Mr. Rogers heard the rumbling of a very big truck outside. He peeked through his curtains and saw the moving van headlights and men holding flashlights to guide a very big piece of furniture through the dark. “Well, that is quite a long coffee table and such an unusual shape. Plenty of room for lots of glasses of lemonade and bowls of snacks. Maybe our new neighbor will be inviting us for a housewarming soon.” Mr. Rogers made a note to pick some flowers from his garden to bring along on his visit.
The next morning, Mr. Rogers came in from his garden and arranged some freshly picked flowers into a beautiful bouquet. “There now, this mix of red and pink is a happy combination.” He removed his sneakers and put on his shoes. He unzipped his sweater and hung it in the closet, then put on his blazer. He cradled his garden bouquet and headed for the house next door. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood to make a new friend. There is sunshine, and the birds are singing. I’m sure my new neighbor will love these colorful Bleeding Hearts to brighten up his new home,” he said admiring them as he walked across his driveway. “It’s always important to be a friend, and there are so many ways to do that. Sharing my garden flowers will show my new neighbor that I am his friend.” Mr. Rogers rang the bell. After a few minutes, and no one had come to answer, he rang again. Still no answer. “There is so much work to do when moving into a new home. Perhaps my new neighbor is very busy. I’ll come back later.” And he did. But again, no answer. When it was nearing dinner time, he thought it best that he try again the next day.
Mr. Rogers sat to read a book before bedtime. Because his window was open, he heard the squeak of hinges and the slow crunch of gravel outside as if someone was walking very slowly. He looked out and saw a man leaving the back door of his new neighbor’s house. The man was dressed in black, something long, like a cape with a high collar, and he couldn’t see his face. Mr. Rogers thought of calling out, but it was late, and he didn’t want to disturb the whole neighborhood. “Maybe he has a pet. Perhaps, he is walking a puppy. That’s a nice thing. Pets can really help us when we feel sad or lonely. I’ll be sure to visit him tomorrow.” Mr. Rogers went to bed feeling happy that he would meet his new neighbor in the morning.
Just after breakfast, he changed from his sweater to his blazer, from his sneakers to his shoes, grabbed the bouquet of Bleeding Hearts, and headed to his neighbor’s door. He knocked several times, but, again, no answer. “He must be at work. I’ll leave him a note.” Mr. Rogers wrote a welcome note and left it with the flowers. The beautiful day moved from morning to sundown, but he did not hear from him. “He must be very busy. Our neighborhood must be very different from Romania. I’m sure he has much to do to settle in.”
The next day brought a heavy summer rain. Mr. Rogers heard the clank of his mail boxand went to the front door to say hello to Mr. McFeely. “This weather can make me feel sad. Do you ever feel sad, Mr. McFeely?”
“I do. I feel sad whenever I have to walk around town in weather like this.” They both laughed, though McFeely was quite serious. “I have a delivery here for your new neighbor. But he doesn’t answer.” McFeely turned toward a large crate near his mail truck. “Would you help? If I could get this heavy box out of my truck, this day will be a success.”
“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Of course, I’ll help. We should always help our neighbors.” Mr. Rogers walked to the truck with McFeely. “What is his name?”
They both leaned down closer to the large crate to read the mailing label. McFeely said, “Must have been torn in transit. It did travel a long way. This rain isn’t doing it much good, either. It’s all blurred. Can’t make it out completely. It looks like Count Dra…. Can’t make out the rest, but the address is right.”
Mr. Rogers looked closely at the return address. “All the way from Transylvania. That is a long journey.” Mr. Rogers said, “He’ll be happy to have it here safe and sound.” Together, they carried the heavy crate to the neighbor’s front door.
“Good bye, Mr. McFeely. Have a beautiful day. Remember, it’s only gloomy on the outside.” McFeely waved and jumped back into his truck. Mr. Rogers went home to watch for his neighbor’s return intending to help him carry that heavy crate indoors, but he never did see him.
Because of the storm, the dark seemed to arrive earlier that evening. Just as he sat down to dinner, Mr. Rogers heard the squeak of hinges and the slow crunch of gravel again. “That must be my new neighbor.” He looked out the window and saw the man in a cape, this time, more clearly as it was dark, but not the dead of night. He called, “Hello, neighbor.” The man in the dark cape startled. He raised his cape over his face, and Mr. Rogers could see only his wide-eyed glare. The back-porch light cast a beam directly on the man, and Mr. Rogers wondered if the light made the man’s face look so white or if he might be feeling ill. “Welcome to the neighborhood. I came by to say hello, but you must have been out. My name is Fred Rogers.”
The man stepped back into the shadows.
Fred Rogers thought that since his new neighbor had moved here from Romania, perhaps he did not speak English. He tried again. “¿Habla español?”
Count Dracula narrowed his eyes. “Good evening.”
“That is a very interesting accent,” Mr. Rogers said, his words burdened by his own heavy western Pennsylvania accent.
Remaining in the shadows, the new neighbor said, “I am Count Dracula of Romania.”
“A Count. That is very impressive work. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are. Of course, it’s the opposite that’s true: What we are ultimately determines what we do!”
With his cape still held high covering all but his eyes, Dracula said, “With that, I am quite familiar.”
“I would have welcomed you sooner, but either you were not at home or your lights were off, and I thought you might be asleep.”
“The dark, I find, is more agreeable.” Count Dracula took two steps forward, still wrapped in the shadows of nearby trees.
“I was just about to have dinner. Have you eaten?” Mr. Rogers zippered his sweater higher to guard against the damp night air and wet wind.
Count Dracula’s eyes widened, and he smiled behind the cover of his black satin cape. “How convenient. I was just going out to find something to eat.”
“Won’t you join me?”
Dracula, careful to keep most of his face hidden, said, “Perhaps, I will.”
“I’ve prepared a lovely garlic chicken. I hope–”
“NO!” Dracula shouted. “I avoid garlic.”
Mr. Rogers said, “I’m sure I have something here that you can sink your teeth into.”
“I’m quite sure you do.” Dracula lowered his cape and walked slowly from the shadows toward Mr. Rogers back door. He stopped and backed in to the shadows when voices broke the quiet of the night.
Mr. Rogers’ doorbell rang, and he heard some friends call to him from his front porch. “We’re here. Came to brighten up the evening with some games and snacks.” Lady Aberlin, Handyman Negri, Mr. McFeely, and Officer Clemmons were outside, and they brought along Bob Dog, too.
Mr. Rogers called out the window to his new neighbor. “Isn’t this wonderful? You will get to make lots of new friends tonight.” But his new neighbor was gone. “Hello, Mr. Count?”
Quiet and darkness. Mr. Rogers heard a flapping sound, like large wings, rustling the leaves in the backyard tree. He looked toward the trees and saw something large and dark moving through the branches. So he wouldn’t scare whatever was lurking in the tree, Mr. Rogers spoke in a low voice, “My, that is a very large bird. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in our neighborhood trees before. It must have very large wings.” He looked down to find Count Dracula, but didn’t see him. Where did he go? Mr. Rogers spoke more loudly out his window so his new neighbor could hear. “Feeling shy happens to all of us. I have felt shy myself sometimes. But I’ve always found it was not good to bury ourselves in loneliness. Friends help us feel better. I know you will like everyone, and everyone will like you, too. Are you there?”
The rustling stopped. Silence and darkness. Suddenly, something large and black flew from the tree. “Why, that wasn’t a bird at all. I think that was a bat. That is wonderful. We have never seen a bat in our neighborhood. Some people are afraid of bats, but I think they are fascinating creatures. My friends will be so interested to hear about this.” Mr. Rogers looked for his new neighbor again. I wonder where he went. Mr. Rogers closed the windown. I better go greet my friends.
Mr. Rogers went to his front door. “Welcome, neighbors. What a friendly idea. Thank you for coming.”
Lady Aberlin placed a devil’s food cake she had made on the table. “It’s such a damp, dreary night. Only the dead would be out and about, so we thought it would be a good idea to do something cheery after a stormy day.”
The group set up a game of Night Stalker. Officer Clemmons said, “I just bought this new board game downtown at Stoker’s Department Store. The object of the game is to answer the questions correctly and move around the board before the sun comes up. The timer here will let us know who wins.”
“Thank you, Officer Clemmons, for sharing your new game. I thought our new neighbor would join us tonight, but maybe he’s a little shy. Night Stalker. I think he would like this game.”
“Do you hear that?” Mr. McFeely asked.No one had heard anything. “I hear a flapping noise. Listen.” They all went silent. “Now do you hear it?”
They all nodded or answered yes. So, Handyman Negri walked to the heat vent and put his ear near the grate. “Nope. Nothing in the ducts.” He went to the kitchen and turned the sink tap on and off, on and off.He listened. “Not the pipes.”
“Maybe I didn’t close the window properly when I was talking to our new neighbor earlier. I’ll check.” Mr. Rogers went to the kitchen. As he reached to be sure it was closed tightly, he saw a shadow, then, something that looked like that bat again disappeared into the maple tree in his yard. While pulling the curtains closed, he saw a man walking out from the dark beneath that tree. As the man stepped into the moonlight, he realized Count Dracula was walking toward his house. He quickly opened the window. “Hello, there. Have you changed your mind? Would you like to come in and have something to eat?”
Count Dracula looked up and smiled. “Thank you for the invitation. Yes.”
“Come in. It’s a perfect night to make some new friends,” Mr. Rogers said. He rushed to open his front door and waited for Dracula to approach. He watched as the Count walked slowly, arms down straight at his side, each hand grasping the edges of his cape. As Dracula crossed the threshold, Fred Rogers offered to take his cape.
“No.” Dracula took a step back. “I prefer to keep it on, if you don’t mind.”
Mr. Rogers reached out to shake his hand. “You are cold. I’ll turn up the heat. You’ll be comfortable in no time.”
Dracula nodded. He looked at the group assembled in the living room and noticed one, Lady Aberlin, had her eyes fixed on him. Taking advantage of the moment, Dracula held her gaze until she had no power to look away. Because Officer Clemmons, Handyman Negri, and Mr. McFeely were busy setting up the game, and Mr. Rogers had gone to the kitchen to get a plate for the Count, no one noticed Lady Aberlin slowly walking toward Dracula.
Count Dracula waited patiently for dinner to be served.