Closed blinds hide prying eyes. Neighbors fall along the spectrum between obsessive ex-girlfriend and misanthropic xenophobe, but small strips of hard plastic along the window are the ultimate equalizer. It’s rare when any of them are worthy of serious attention without being single, blond and “gifted” but there are exceptions; neighbors that disturb coexistence set themselves up to become pariahs. Young upstarts need to be spanked. As such, The Browns had to pay the price for their hypocrisy.
For four years I’ve lived on The Lake, and for four years I’ve fed its denizens. Flapping wings, squawking mouths and wobbly gaits were commonplace on the waterfront. So was cheap dogfood, a solid nutritional choice for the wildlife contrary to what one might expect. Feeding the birds had been an interesting diversion to the daily dampening of mental faculties via dumb labor and dumb people. It was an opportunity to breathe, to reflect, and to contribute to the survival of inferiors.
The lake life knew my look. Every day, around four in the evening, a parade of Mute Swans, mallards, and Canadian geese would find their way to my dock. For about forty-five minutes, I’d feed everything. And I’d watch. The geese, one of whom was missing a foot, would nip and pull at one another over feeding rights. Mallards, because of their weakness, gave a wide berth to the bigger lake birds and waited their turn. My favorite of all were the swans.
Swans look like such delicate creatures. They move gracefully on the water. Their mating calls and the heart they sometimes form when they come together in ritual warms the cockles. But it’s a false front; Swans hold a terrible rage inside. They bully other birds whenever they want to partake in meals. Swans care nothing for delicate Mallard bodies, lifting them out of the water by their tail feathers with a hard bite. They fight among each other, often bloodily, over mates. They even have the gall to approach humans with aggression. The human perception that they’re peaceful nature belies their alpha status on the lake. They’ve fooled everyone. They even fool me sometimes.
Needless to say, I enjoy such character. Even though they’re stupid, imperfect creatures who would struggle to survive if I didn’t meet the expectations of their dependency.
Inferior creatures as they were, they lacked the failings of humanity. In particular, these lake birds had precisely zero qualms about the existence of The Browns. The reverse was wholly untrue.
The Browns were stuck-up newlyweds, who lived on the property next door to me during the holidays and summer season. Most people around here were hoighty-toighty. Even I turned my nose up at the occasional provincial. But The Browns had no bearing. No shame. They were new money; Kelvin Brown ran a successful (and probably dirty) upstart law firm as a defense attorney, while Nancy Brown hit the genetics lottery (she was quite a looker) and ran into Kelvin at the right time. They thought they were celebrities, rubbing their pretty little shoulders against ours like they were god’s gift. The new generation reeks of perfume and posturing. They shoved their noses in every affair, including the lives of feathered specimens that had long predated any kind of settlement here. Constant complaints from the new blood served for a few laughs among acquaintances. But complaint, as it often does, turned into conflict.
Animals shit. This is a fact of life. Animals that live in the wild have no need for toilets; all the world is a latrine. An animal doesn’t think twice, unless it is trained, about dumping the contents of its bowels into someone’s yard. The yard belonging to The Browns is not an exception to this rule. If you refuse to place a fence around your property, then you accept the consequences. The consequence, in this case, is to allow your backyard to become a literal dumping ground for geese, swans, and ducks.
I conversed, as I sometimes did to understand the affairs of the domain, with some other neighborhood types. Through Steve Caldwin, a walking lobotomy to all those he conversed with, I discovered that The Browns were not pleased with the use of their yard as nature’s toilet. One of their little ankle-biters, a sausage dog whose cousin might be in Taco Bell commercials, had eaten a pile of Mallard refuse and nearly died. They decided to set up a makeshift fence to keep the animals away. Internally I scoffed. Externally I kept a game-face that would put poker players to shame, suffering through Caldwin’s hour-long dribble about The Browns, golfing, and his whoring children.
The “fence” was a joke. Wires, string, and wooden sticks. Kelvin Brown, for a defense attorney, lacked certain functional fundamentals with his arguments against nature. Even without me cutting a few strings during the night, the Mute Swans could have bowled over it. But I would have missed out on some satisfaction had I left it to the birds. The Browns were bothered at the ice cream social the following evening, with Nancy complaining about how Kelvin had bought cheap string. Repeated attempts to rebuild the fence kept resulting in cut wires, a dumbfounded lawyer and whimsical smiles from my dock during my feeding routine.
The Browns difficulty in adapting to nature was an amusing diversion. At first. Then, things escalated. The Browns, recognizing that their fence was pointless and deciding they would not invest in an actual enclosure, resorted to a medieval effort of defense.
I was watering the plants on my deck. The tomatoes were growing nicely despite the heat. My green thumb was nothing spectacular to behold, but I took pride in my recent ability to give life. I had often been enamored with the dark side of creation, but this was my attempt at turning over a new leaf. Due to some morbid curiosity, I spied the twisted, tangled mess that was The Brown’s rope “fence”.
Metal nails. They lined the base of the five-dollar, DIY fence line in worrying number. Each tip had a sadistic shimmer, a gleaning beacon to draw curious creatures into self-harm. The Browns had declared war on birds of all creed, color, and species. And, in doing so, earned my attention.
As a neighbor, I probably come across as the quiet old widow. The reality is that I’m very much active. I’ve shaped my neighborhood, not the other way around. I’ve ended relationships that disrupted the stability of the region. I’ve changed policies with my checkbook. I’ve brought people in and kicked them out. I may as well be a Corleone, albeit one that works mostly within the law.
I would be pulling out all of the stops for The Browns. This current injustice could not be ignored. They had to be taught the terrible consequences of their inability to invest in security. In more ways than one.
I planted seeds much like my garden. Ones that would give life to something great and terrible.
Grace Wilkinson, my other next door neighbor, had active lips. She also invaded many households with her infidelity, including mine on a few occasions. Word, among other things, traveled far and wide on the wings of her talents. She would be my vehicle for something vicious.
Kelvin Brown was home three out of seven days during the week, doing next to nothing with the time save pampering their miserable little bastard dogs and watching reality TV. Nancy, owing to her modeling career, was arguably busier than her lawyering husband. She was also insecure; she held a fishing pole from her lips to reel in every possible compliment on her appearance, intelligence, personality ad nauseam.
She wouldn’t have much trouble thinking, then, that Kelvin might be having an affair. Maybe Kelvin, on those three days off, leaves the house in the morning and returns with something exotic. Something saucy. Maybe the quiet neighborhood is loud for a few hours. Maybe Kelvin and his guest come out smiling and laughing as he takes her back to whatever hole he found her in. Maybe Kelvin enjoys his days off with more than TV shows and library books.
Or maybe not. Who knows? But Grace Wilkinson likes a story. Grace likes to be the center of attention as she starts closing in on the far end of forty. She wants to be young again. So she gossips. And the neighborhood believes Grace because “she has an ear for these things”. And because they too, in their waning years of life, want to pathetically recapture some sense of youthful vitality.
Needless to say, this gets back to Nancy. Nancy is pissed despite Kelvin’s protestations. She starts taking less time out for her work. She starts forcing herself on Kelvin more and more, trying to eye every move. She even shows up at his office during the day at random hours. Kelvin can’t handle the stress; his cases are going poorly, and top lawyers in his firm start hopping off of the sinking ship.
But it isn’t the end. That spicy little number I’ve cooked up in my head? She’s mad too. Kelvin hasn’t called her in a long time, so she comes by at night only to see The Browns lovingly watching some half-baked reality show. A keyed car, broken windows and slashed tires would naturally follow. Kelvin bought an expensive car. Now he was basically buying it again.
Money becomes a vice. It constricts. It starts to put pressure on everything else because of its universal effect on all aspects of life. Nothing is safe from the touch of money. It sets itself like a noose around the neck; the less give in the rope, the less air you get to breathe. And every emotional outburst takes even more of your air away.
I’d set the noose. Now I needed to hang The Browns.
I had long seen The Browns and their day to day living. My job kept me at home often, and my own animals took up a significant portion of my time. On my trips outside, I would see The Browns performing maintenance, letting their little dogs piss in the grass, yucking it up with other well-to-dos and sharing a pathetic, romantic fire-pit during the night. There was less fire-pit lately, but most of the rest stayed the same.
On the morning of reckoning, I was having my usual breakfast with a side of raspberry. My own four-legged beasts were in my yard, enclosed and safe from nature’s effects. I was simply waiting for a habit to kick in. And a disruption to take place.
I heard a sliding glass door being swiped aside, and the jingle jangle of collared necks sprinting full speed.
Those little shits. Ankle-biters in every way. Yip-yapping, snarling, midgety mongrels with similar bearing to their owners. A match made in Hell and sent above ground to disrupt my peaceful living. No longer.
The two little mutts were unaware of what was in store. Both of the sausage dogs slammed their delicate paw pads onto sharp, rusty nails. The yelps were ripe with terrible bliss, a cacophony of variable tones punctuating the air waves. They crashed and flailed around, collecting more nails much like a furry magnet. Soft whines built up to successive yelps, like a hum leading into a sweet song. Nancy cried out in a tongue shriller than all the music. It was like the opera, played to satisfy an audience of one.
I’d never seen such majestic tears. Nancy had never seemed so ugly, Kelvin had never seemed so distraught, and I had not once in life been so pleased. Not even at my proudest moment could the feeling compare. A wave of accomplishment flowed over me. I’d done it. Old money had beaten new money. I knew then, with the scene of fur-ball blood and comical misery unfolding before me, that I’d done it.
The Browns had been broken.
Nancy, in her panic, put all blame for this maiming on Kelvin and demanded that he warm up her car. He complied, all the while underscoring his role in the beauteous scene before my eyes. Tears rolled down Nancy’s eyes as she held her little shit-machine, its nasal whining and labored breathing driving her climactic cries to God. Kelvin was in a rage, angry at Nancy, himself, the nails, the world maybe. Who knows? Who cares? It all played out the same.
Nails and wind typically don’t mix. You never know when a nail laid in one spot might work its way over to another. You also never know how many nails might do the same.
Dogs and nails don’t mix either. Soft paw pads coming down fast on hard metal results in a few gimped animals and a massive veterinary bill. It may also result in shouting matches with your significant other, and sensitive information about sexual organs being broadcasted loudly to your neighbors in order to alienate.
The arguments persisted, the fabric had been broken. Their “perfect” little marriage that they’d bragged so much about collapsed under the strain of mounting bills, Kelvin’s infidelity, and, most of all, bird shit.
All of that happened in the second week of June. It’s nearly September, and The Browns have yet to return. From what I gathered from neighborhood gossips, Nancy Brown is using her maiden name, Kelvin sold the firm and moved to Manhattan, and the property is on auction. Lack of a prenuptial allowed Nancy to win the asset. She can’t stand to look at it anymore after the pain it caused. All the veterinary work in the world couldn’t stop whatever terrible disease took hold of her ankle-biters following the rusty nail “accident”.
The realtor must be rubbing his hands together, patiently waiting to exploit the view and location for a substantial commission.
I rub my own hands together to sprinkle the crumbs along the deck. Cheap dog food crumbles easily, a fickle composition to be sure. The birds walk freely along The Brown’s vacant yard as they approach my dock. There are no squawks of pain, no snaring of wings on the fence. There is only satisfaction. The consequence of a job well done.
Maybe I’m no better than The Browns. Maybe my cruelty is just as gross and terrible as theirs. Maybe, in this withering body, a monster growls from time to time.
But you’d never catch me admitting it.