Monthly Archives: January 2014

Abandoned, by people I hardly knew…

The For Sale sign appeared without warning and before many days had passed, the word Sold was nailed on top, the letters much bigger than the ones in the sign below, tacky in their obvious bid for attention. It hadn’t even been a year since those neighbors had moved in and our reaction was swift and strong. How could they possibly leave us?

M came over to deliver the news in person. She didn’t know me well, but somehow she knew I would be devastated. We were very much alike, she and I, if you discounted the twenty-five years between us. She had been offered a dream-job in Pittsburgh, no, she hadn’t been looking, and had convinced her husband to make the move. They would be leaving with their two young children before the month was out.

The age difference tilts the other way with the neighbors across the street. H and J are my parents’ age and have been keeping an eye on us for years, taking care of our cats when we go away and spoiling Hannah. M told me that after her mother met me she said she was relieved that we were next door, presumably because we could act in loco parentis if necessary. I probably am M’s mom’s age, but I didn’t feel maternal so much as connected.

M and J seemed to be younger versions of ourselves.  They were like-minded, sharing our worldview, our politics, our sense of humor, our religion. At least, I like to think they did. We didn’t actually spend much time together. We meant to, really we did, but since they had young children we weren’t sure how to go about socializing with them. I was looking forward to the spring when we’d be able to hear each other in our yards and could call back and forth to initiate a visit. If we’d been better, more proactive, neighbors we’d have more reason to miss them, but that’s cold comfort.

The house is actually on the street that runs perpendicular to ours. We see the right side of it from the back of ours. Before M and J moved in last spring, it was occupied by two elderly sisters. The shades were always drawn, and we rarely saw lights in the windows on the side facing us, so we never bothered to put curtains up in our kitchen. There didn’t seem to be any need for privacy. We reassessed when M and J moved in, knowing that one of the rooms facing us had their infant son in it, and the other was their bedroom. They assured us that they weren’t bothered by our lack of curtains, so our windows stayed naked. Recently, when it was time for their son to go to bed, we made faces at each other from our windows. I could feel the affection.

The Gentle Giant moving truck was here yesterday. The movers loaded up the contents of the house and rumbled away, Pittsburgh bound. Last night the house was empty. It won’t be for long, but that knowledge doesn’t help. I don’t want to get to know new neighbors. I want the ones we had. I’m sure that over time my feeling of abandonment will fade, but I’m going to go buy curtains for the kitchen anyway.

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Short fiction

This week, short fiction for a change of pace.

*******

I was on the phone with my husband, Stanley, idly looking out the window while he debated with himself whether or not to buy a new video camera for our trip to Paris, when a banana peel came flying out of the green Jeep Cherokee parked across the street.

“Hey!” I interrupted him. “A woman in a car across the street just threw a banana peel out the window.”

“Go pick it up,” he said.

“While she’s sitting there? What if she has a gun?”

“Don’t be silly. Besides, why would she shoot you for picking up her garbage? Go get it and put it in the compost bin.”

“I’ll be totally exposed. What if she takes offense, or is annoyed, or just embarrassed? It could get ugly.”

“Take me with you. It’ll look like you’re absorbed in our conversation. When you get to the peel, you say, ‘Hang on,’ to me, pick it up and say, ‘I’ll throw this out for you,’ to her. It’ll seem totally casual.”

“Alright, I’m going downstairs. I’m on the porch, pretending to check the mailbox; nothing there. Now I’m on the front lawn. I’m walking across the lawn. This is so stupid; I can’t believe I’m doing it. I’m crossing the street.” The woman looked up as I neared the car. I reached down and straightened up with the banana peel held between the tips of my fingers. I said, with an edge, “I’ll throw this out.”

“Whatever,” she said, barely glancing at me. She was younger than I thought she would be, probably in her early twenties, and hard looking; too much makeup and a string of studs outlining her ear.

I couldn’t marshal anything appropriate to say, so I harrumphed without content and walked away. “I’m heading to the backyard,” I said to Stanley. “And I don’t have a bullet in my back so I guess this worked out okay.”

“Glad to hear it. So, like I was saying, this camera would be easy for you to use. It’s pretty much one-button operation so I think I’ll go ahead and get it.”

It was all the same to me. We both knew who was going to be using the camera. I dropped the peel in the compost bin. “Mission accomplished.”

“Look, I’ve got to get back to work.”

“You called me, remember?”

“Whatever.” That was what the woman in the Jeep had said. He hung up.

I walked back to the front of the house, holding the phone to my ear so it would look like we were still talking. Inside, I curled up on the sofa in the living room where I could keep an eye on the Jeep. I was still there when Stanley got home from work, and so was the girl in the Jeep.

Stanley parked his black Rav4 in front of the house, put his keys in his pocket, and crossed to the Jeep. I wondered what he could possibly have to say to her. A moment later, there was a loud noise and Stanley slumped to the ground. She had brought a gun after all. What a relief.

I waited for the Jeep to drive off and took some time to arrange my face. Then I picked up the phone and called the police.

Skids and a cop-out

It was early in the storm. The plows hadn’t been out yet. The ground was solidly white, but the snow seemed light enough to drive on. Besides, it’s New England; we can’t grind to a halt every time it snows. So I bundled up, hopped in the car, and backed out of the garage. I chose the flattest path out of my neighborhood, sensibly avoiding the hills down to Mass Ave., and drove slowly down the street. At the first corner, going slowly, I turned the car to the left and it slid to the right.

Steer into the skid sounds like a simple enough thing to do, but in the moment, who can? It’s so glaringly non-intuitive. Even more compelling is that steering into the skid doesn’t guarantee you won’t hit anything. If skids happened conveniently, the odds of successfully executing the prescribed maneuver would probably be quite high. If, for instance, you were on a track taking a defensive driving course, or you were the only car on the highway, in the middle lane. Most skids, however, are, by definition, inconvenient.

I regularly skid on local streets; narrow streets with cars parked on both sides, bordered by sidewalks peppered with trees. When I skid, my heart stops. In that terrifying moment when my car animates and develops a mind of its own, all I can think is “Shit!” I may instinctively steer into the skid, but I can’t say for sure. It’s over so fast and the relief is so palpable, there’s no room for anything else in my head.

At this point, I have to admit that this piece is screaming to be expanded into a metaphor for life. You see it, don’t you? But that would be so facile. If I did it, you would probably shake your head and say to yourself, “Really? She couldn’t dig deeper than that?” And yet, I’m so tempted I’m practically sitting on my hands to stop myself.

So now what? Remember the story I told about the person who posted a picture of a cat with a pancake on its head to interrupt a flurry of “reply all” emails that should have been sent as “reply” only? I’m feeling a little backed into a corner now and the only thing I can think to do is disarm you all with a similar pictorial non-sequitur. I give you Harper with her head in my Fresca.

harper in fresca