Extraordinary Neighbors

By Dawn Wilson

Miriam yoo-hooed. I hate it when Miriam yoo-hoos. She sounds like a yahoo. And I’ve told her so. She never listens. She’s from a small town where all the women go around yoo-hooing each other all the live long day. It’s unpleasant. She does the flicking wave, too. One arm out straight, heil Hitler, and the wrist bending aw-shucks. These were women schooled on Liberace: real men twinkle.

The man who’d just moved in next door, the one Miriam was yoo-hooing while I tended her precious flower bed, did not twinkle. He was your basic everyday man’s man, I figured. A very brown man, often covered in dirt. He wore a baggy black sweatshirt. He had Italian hair, pepper black with gray salt, slicked back.

“Yoo-hoo!”

The man turned.

“Oh, hello.” As if she was surprised to see him, or surprised he was real. When he turned his gaze on you, you just sort of did that, forgot what you were doing. I stood up with the little trowel, in case she needed backup. “I never saw a moving van.”

“Didn’t need one.”

I took a step closer. Miriam was sure to need me.

“I’m Miriam. But I guess you knew that.”

I put my trowel down. It wasn’t likely to be much help. The man was huge and small, stout and svelte. I couldn’t get a good hold on him, so I moved closer still. I sort of suspected he was who he hadn’t said he was. Which was intimidating.

“Are you married?” Miriam asked.

“No. And yes.”

“I’m Tom,” I said, accidentally moving into his line of vision. He turned his eyes on me and, well, all the manliness went out of me and I felt like crying. But I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I mumbled, “Just moved in, huh?”

“Yes. And no.”

He’d been there all along, the bastard, the whole time they’d been building the house, and a hundred years before, too. I hated it when people answered me in my own head.

“You think it’s more polite just to say whatever comes out your mouth?” he asked me.

I shrugged. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

“Speak up, boy.”

He was older than light. He could say whatever he wanted. He could be rude, crude; he’d invented it all. He could turn me into a snail, if he wanted. “Thank you,” I tried, as in, thank you that I’m not a snail.

“Stuff it,” he said. “I got better things to do.”

The tears actually did fall, now.

He turned to go back in his house, but Miriam, dear old Miriam who couldn’t leave well enough alone, said, “Would you like to come over for the game? We’re just having a few friends. If you want…”

Stuff it, Miriam. Don’t you see how far God has fallen? A little tract house, not even a stitch of furniture to his name.

“No thanks, Miriam, I can tell when I’m not wanted.” He glared at me. “He always blames me when they lose.”

I could see now, God was not in charge of sports scores, not even football, not even the Huskers.

Damn. Then who was?

“Be careful, Tom,” God said.

I lowered my head. But then I stepped on my trowel and twisted my ankle. A stream of cuss words came out of my mouth. “Sorry!” God went inside.

Miriam helped me into our own modest house. “What’s he doing here?” I grunted. She fetched ice for my ankle. I thought maybe there’d been another coup in Heaven.

“The Mariners at church, they prayed for him to come.”

“Huh?” I swore again as she elevated my ankle.

“You should pay better attention.”

“Yeah. I really should.” I really should. Because surely God had added uncharitable thoughts to my list of transgressions. “Should I apologize?”

“Not tonight, dear. He’s got a full schedule. And I’m afraid you’ve already done enough. Not exactly the welcome wagon.”

Nope. The welcome wagon, as we all knew, went Yoo-hoo.

*

Do not try to make peace with God.

Miriam decided to save my everlasting soul by making God next door a Jell-O.

Too easy.

God did not want a Jell-O. “Plain?”

Not to mention it was just cut into little jiggly squares and wasn’t in a shape or anything.

“Try again.” He gave my wife back the untouched plate. “Oh, and orange? Not my favorite flavor of Jell-O. We’re talking manufactured flavors here. I like real oranges. But when it comes to citrus, the manufacturers got lazy. They think anything with a little tang and some food coloring can pass as orange, lime, and lemon. Not so, my friends, not so.”

Friends? He’d just given us back our peace offering.

Miriam, who wasn’t a gentle soul in any regard, was shaking. You could tell by the way the Jell-O cubes shook.

It took her three weeks before God finally accepted our welcome to the neighborhood.

*

I tried to talk to God about this. “You broke my wife,” I stated as we were both getting our mail. I had bills; he had packages with shiny wrapping.

He poohed me like he was a society matron. He squeezed one box until it burst and it started to snow in his yard. “You want one? This one’s kind of heavy.”

“Er… no thanks.” I skittered away before he unwrapped a tornado.

“But I owe you for all that Jell-O!”

*

It wasn’t enough that God was out there every day on his riding lawnmower, as if he didn’t have anything else to do with his time, and that his grass was always perfectly trimmed. “Hey, Tom!” He waved from his mower. “Hard week?” I could see the reflection of three earthquakes and a tsunami in his picture window. God was busy saving, destroying, upending, whereas I merely had a report due. Yet my grass bent precariously over the sidewalk, almost half an inch too long.

His flower beds were filled with out of season flowers. He had fresh orchids and South American lilies and a thicket of bamboo.

His yard was surrounded by semi-mechanical trees (sixty feet tall, eighty years old, and here he comes and mechanizes them) that greeted people with song.

My shoulders sagged and I turned back to the house. I used to like gardening.

*

God started holding barbecues and inviting the entire neighborhood. I swear, you’ve never seen such good manners at a picnic table.

Miriam never recovered from welcoming God to the neighborhood. The week before God holds a barbecue, all we eat is Jell-O. Clear with fruit, opaque with ice cream, vintage with celery. Miriam decided that they must all be in the shape of fish, the only perfect animals, the ones God couldn’t kill in the Flood. There’s no room in the fridge for real food until she gets a pristine fish the perfect tart-sweet balance.

God says he doesn’t care about such things, but you know it’s a lie. Why else would he hold so many barbecues? We know he watches us scramble around to get ready on his television. He doesn’t have satellite or cable, and the contraption isn’t even plugged in. It’s got those old cathode ray tubes or whatever, the ones that glow and get real hot. My kid turned it on once—he excused himself politely to go to the bathroom—to the bathroom in God’s house, mind you; Miriam was horrified—and later I heard him telling one of his little skateboard friends that he saw Jenny Pacicek the kindergarten teacher naked in the bubble bath, singing and carrying on. Thankfully all my son had to say about that was that he was real grateful his mom didn’t carry on like that.

I guess he’s at that age where sex appeal is okay so long as it doesn’t extend to his mother.

Miriam started wearing housedresses and changing her clothes in the dark in the closet ever since God moved in. My wife. My kid’s mother. Housedresses.

No one ever asks me if I miss the soapy bubble bath days.

Sometimes I think my wife’s afraid that if God sees her doing wrong, it’ll bring about the end of the world.

I don’t. I mean, since he moved in, God’s already had three baseballs through his windows—and not all from my kid, thank you very much. Plus we have that nymphomaniac couple down the street. With God’s TV, it doesn’t even matter if you keep your blinds closed—or change in the closet. And then there’s Ralph. Not that I like to drag the neighbors through the muck, but Ralph hit his wife Jeanie that once. Actually, you know that it wasn’t just once. It’s never just once.

But I’d guess God approves of that. That’s just discipline.

*

I caught God raking leaves and throwing them over the fence into my yard. And I’d just finished raking, too. So you can tell my state of mind. I just had to be an ass and demand of God: “What do you think you’re doing?”

He said, “Getting your attention.” And then he scooped up another rake-ful.

“You’ve got my attention! You don’t need to keep dumping your leaves.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to do with them.” He had made quite a pile by then. “But you seem to know exactly what to do with them. Yours are all gone. Maybe you need more.”

Football season, and the deity next door thinks I need more leaves. “Enough!”

“I’m not done yet.”

“Get some yard waste bags, put your leaves in there, leave them for the garbage men.”

“And then what?”

I’m not very good with toddlers, but I tried. “The garbage men take them away.”

“I mean, what happens to the leaves?”

“I don’t know. They go in a giant compost pile? They get burned? Does it matter?”

“Why would you give them to garbage men when you don’t know what happens to them? They’re your leaves.”

“No, they’re your leaves.” If you want to get all existential. Though he never talked about stuff like that.

“What about the ones at the bottom of your driveway?”

“Still yours.”

“And?”

“I don’t want them.”

“Why not? They’re mine. I gave them to you.”

“What am I going to do with them once they fall off the tree?”

He dropped another rake-ful. “And yet you ask me why I’m giving them to you, as if I would know what to do with all these worthless dead things.”

I was getting grumpy. And then my son came barreling out of the house with a great big Oh Boy! and he launched himself into God’s leaves, scattering them everywhere. A fool before God.

“See? He knows what to do with them.”

*

I usually strung up a few pretty lights on the front of the house for Christmas. Maybe, if I was feeling perky, I would throw a net-light over the bushes.

Mr. Cooper who used to live down the street was one of those gung-ho types with the animatronic Santa and the reindeer landing pad on the roof, and it was going to be a pleasant year now that he’d had a stroke and moved to the nursing home.

“Whatcha doin’?” God called. He was tending a small rainforest plot next to his perpetual snowman.

“Um, Christmas lights.”

He stood up. “Thanks for the heads’ up. How embarrassing, if I would have been the only house on the block without them.”

“Yeah…” By the time I got my ladder leaning against the porch roof, I heard a thousand Christmas elves. And there, at God’s house, beneath the hovering choir of angels… well… you don’t even want to see what God does for Christmas.

He takes the fun out of everything.

A graduate of Bath Spa University in England, Dawn Wilson has had the pleasure to dabble in kitsch, surrealism, and espièglerie. Her work can be found in Gone Lawn, Paper Darts Magazine, Metazen, New Dead Families, Drunk Monkeys, and Punchnel’s, among others, while the author herself can be found dismantling the kitchen for wearable items, or at nightdawn.wordpress.com. She has recently completed a madcap novel. Her home on the web is nightdawn.wordpress.com, and she can be found on Twitter @LinLinAndPedro.

Photo Credit: Úklid listí by cs:ŠJů

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One thought on “Extraordinary Neighbors

  1. Pingback: Good Neighbors, Bad Neighbors, and Those Damned Extraordinary Neighbors | Mine Own Oxymoron

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