Danielle lived in a block of apartments on her own. There were about forty apartments all together. It was Christmas Eve and Danielle had planned to catch a plane and fly to her parent’s home for Christmas. Bad weather cancelled all flights.
She was wondering what to do and thought she had better get to the supermarket to buy something to celebrate with – a bottle of wine and a few slices of something nice. She had just set out in the corridor when she bumped into Bernard.
“I thought you were going home for Christmas,” he said.
“Same here,” said Bernard. “Look, why don’t we share the Christmas meal? In fact, why don’t we leave a note at every apartment door saying if you’re alone this Christmas bring you food to my apartment and we’ll all celebrate together.”
It was an excellent idea. Danielle printed off a pile of invitations and she and Bernard went around the apartment building. They planned what to do if a number turned up on Christmas day. So far they have had a response from eleven people. If it’s anymore they’ll be spilling the party out into the corridor.
Nothing riled Nora more than Jonathan putting up the artificial Christmas tree crooked. Year after year it would be crooked; just on a slight angle; not much mind you, but just enough for Nora to notice it every time she passed. The tree would go up on Thanksgiving.
The glittering baubles hung on a small but observable angle. Each year Nora would wait for Jonathan to leave the house and no sooner had he gone than she would crawl underneath the tree with a small plastic clothes peg and poke it in the Christmas tree stand against the trunk to make the tree perfectly upright.
Then when she went out herself she would return only to find the peg had gone. It had been taken out and the tree was once again on the tiniest angle. Nora knew exactly what she would get Jonathan for Christmas; something he seemed to want so much: some clothes pegs from the dollar shop.
This ritual had gone on for years. In fact, it had become a Thanksgiving Day tradition. I forgot to mention that Nora and Jonathan were next door neighbours – I suppose you thought they were wife and husband. They had been neighbours for over forty years, and both widowed for about ten. Thanksgiving was a time for them to help each other put up the Christmas decorations. Then as the evening approached – they always observed the day in the evening – their respective families would arrive in each household for the celebration.
This year however it was going to be different. Both families were meeting at Nora’s house to celebrate an accepted marriage proposal.
Happy Thanksgiving to my USA readers and their families – and anyone else who happens to be thankful!
This house is going to be largely about dogs – canine and human.
Even prior to being ousted from the previous place we had found a house in town to live in. In fact, although we would spend part of each day at the previous place we had shifted most of our belongings to the new address and slept in the new place at night. We still had the cow and the goat at the old place. The end came suddenly and before you could blink we were ensconced at 27 Saint Annes Street, Levin.
It was a large two-story house with a steep staircase that had no bannister. To get to the main bedroom you had to squeeze past the staircase, which suggested that the upstairs had been an afterthought. Outside in the front were two gigantic trees; a gum and a copper beech. Next to them was a fairly busy road. At the back of the house was a substantial lawn with a large, but old, garage and workshop. We put in trellis gates to keep the dog at bay.
We always regarded this place as being temporary. It would give us space to search anywhere in the country for as near-perfect a house as possible. We made a list of what a rented house would have to have, and a list of what would be nice but not necessary. Every day we looked online at the houses available, from the top of the country to the bottom. In the meantime we got on with living a life.
We were permitted to have a dog, so of course Delia came too as did the cat. Delia didn’t like the place much. She was used to expansive rural settings where she could roam at whim. And then she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Luckily an expert dog surgeon was visiting the town. He said an operation would be touch and go. We held our breath, but within a week Delia was happily home as large as life. Six months later we went for our daily walk. We came home. Delia sat down and died – tail wagging.
A month or so later we had the opportunity to get a puppy – a black and white Springer Spaniel. We named him Bubble.
On one side of the house were neighbours Pearl and Norm. They were an older couple, and delightful. They would frequently pop in for a chat, as indeed we too would pop over to their place. Norm was into making home brew and I wasn’t beyond making a brew myself. Norm was a car mechanic and was called upon several times to fix our car. Pearl cared for half a dozen homeless cats.
There was a neighbour on the other side also called Norm; Norm and his partner Chelsea. All day, and for a good part of the night, you could hear them screaming obscenities at each other. (You get the idea). They had seven dogs; half a dozen fluffy lapdog yappers and a vicious Rottweiler. The Rottweiler knew how to jump the fence into our property right at the back where Norm had his marijuana garden. We were at times scared to go out on the back lawn, and little Bubble wouldn’t go there to pee. Luckily, Levin had a dog park of about ten acres. We would visit the park each day and Bubble would play and run with packs of other dogs of all shapes and sizes.
I continued to play the piano at the Levin Library when invited to give a concert. Usually I would play Scarlatti Sonatas or Haydn Sonatas. I loved it, and the library users appreciated it too.
Another thing that happened was a 7.8 earthquake. It was a biggie! It went on and on. In fact it was two earthquakes following one another without a break.
Rainwater had no escape from our back lawn, and the water from the roof of the house also gushed there. The back of the house with the wretched running Rottweiler became a muddy swamp. We made some raised beds to grow vegetables.
Then disaster struck. Norm-of-the-obscenities dropped dead at his front door. The body was taken away and the partying began. Crowds revelled at the house and a few stayed the nights. A second Rottweiler made an appearance. Chelsea could not control any of the dogs. They ran amuck. A month or so later their landlord called to ask why the rent had not been paid. He booted all out. The house had been trashed.
Peace at last, but we’d had enough of the place. With greater urgency we searched for a house we could call a home. We drove several hundred miles to view a place, but that is the next story. Eric went ahead to set up the new abode; internet and power and phone and so on. I stayed behind to supervise the removal truck and to shampoo the carpet. Three days later, with dog and cat, I set sail and left the wretched place behind.
Steve’s next door neighbour, Noel, was a pain in the proverbial. He was forever “popping over” to visit Steve. He’d pop over for this. He’d pop over for that. Steve was the practical sort; a down-to-earth salt of the earth sort of guy. He was sick of Noel’s intrusions. There was only one thing for it: he would have to do Noel in. Permanently.
Steve planned Noel’s demise scrupulously. He would suggest to Noel in the jolliest of ways that perhaps they should spend a few hours together at Halloween at the Fair Ground that was coming to town; a sort of Halloween “Boy’s Day Out”. Then when they were in the Haunted House he would murder Noel. There was lots of screaming going on so noisy shrieks wouldn’t be a factor, and anyone who saw the deed and viewed the corpse would regard it as simply no more than further action in the Haunted House.
Steve went through the Haunted House several days before to plan in which room he would stab Noel to death. It would be in the third room of the four. It was dark enough, with rather silly holograms doing a sort of spooky dance to spooky music. Even on his first visit people were screaming. Dare he say it, but this murder could be fun.
Off Steve and Noel went to the fair. Steve had the knife (with folded blade) carefully concealed in his jacket. The time came to go through the Haunted House. Steve was nervously excited.
Jiminy Crickets! It was Halloween. They had upped the scariness since Steve had been through earlier. He was never so scared in his life as in that first room. In the second room Steve was screaming obscenities like they were going out of fashion. The third room was devastating. To hell with Noel – wherever he was – Steve just had to get out of that terrifying Haunted House. He ran through the fourth room. He escaped to the outside.
Son of a monkey! Suffering succotash! Dang rabbit! Steve was shaking like a leaf.
Noel appeared through the Haunted House’s exit. He was calm as can be.
“WOW!” he said. “That was great! Let’s go get some cotton candy.”
Valencia had had enough. It rained and rained and rained. She wasn’t too worried about the Bloxham family, the neighbours on the left hand side; she was more concerned about Janet on the other side of the road. Janet lived alone, and with total lockdown demanded by the government, there really was no way that Valencia could check on Janet.
In the end Valencia could take it no longer. She had obeyed the lockdown orders for two months now. She left her house, strode across the road, and knocked on Janet’s door. Janet answered.
“I was just checking to see if you were okay and if there was anything you needed,” said Valencia. Everything was fine, so Valencia returned home.
It can’t have been more than twenty minutes before the police arrived. The Bloxham’s next door had seen and reported. Their neighbour was wandering the neighbourhood indiscriminately. Valencia explained to the police that she had been checking on a neighbour. That was not good enough. Valencia was issued with a warning.
Valencia had had enough. It rained and rained and rained. She went into the kitchen, turned on the gas, and stuck her head in the oven.
I mean, what can one do? The next door neighbours have been very kind. When my little girl was ill and I had to spend a lot of time with her in the hospital, the neighbours came over and mowed my lawn. Wasn’t that kind? I am a keen gardener and my property is not exactly tiny, so the lawn takes over an hour to mow. But that was no trouble to Nadine and Todrick, and what a lovely surprise to get home and see the lawn all shipshape.
Now it’s the end of the harvest season and the shops haven’t messed around in putting the price of vegetables way up. Tomatoes especially are a hideous price. So I picked the last of my tomatoes just before the cold weather set in, and I’ve been ripening them in a turkey dish sitting in the sun on my dining table. When they are all ripe I’m going to put them in a bag and take them over to Nadine and Todrick’s by way of thanks.
At least, that was the plan. My mother came in to baby sit my little girl while I went job hunting. It’s almost impossible these days to be a parent and look for a job. Once a job is found it’s easier to settle into some sort of routine. But looking for a job is erratic and hit-and-miss.
Anyway, when I got home my mother had kindly cut the tomatoes up and had made a green tomato pickle. That was sweet of her, but the taste is atrocious. I couldn’t possibly give the neighbours a jar of this pickle so now I’m all at sixes and sevens as to how I should thank them for their kindness.
Oh thank goodness! There is a God after all! I have just heard that Todrick is in hospital and gravely ill. Nadine spends all her time at the hospital of course. It will give me the opportunity to mow their lawn.
Dolores had lived next door to Mrs Grimmer for years. For years Mrs Grimmer would turn her bathroom light on three times a night. For years, three times a night, Mrs Grimmer’s bathroom light would shine over the boundary fence, across the lawn, and into Dolores’ high bedroom window. For years, Dolores had woken three times nightly.
And then, the impossible happened; one night the light didn’t go on. Dolores lay awake waiting and worrying. The next day she tapped on Mrs Grimmer’s door.
“Are you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright,” said Mrs Grimmer. She never was the nicest of neighbours. “Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Your bathroom light didn’t go on last night, and I thought I’d check.”
“I’m perfectly alright. There’s no need to go snooping around my house. I’m old enough to look after myself. Stop bothering me, you nosey-parker. If I want someone to meddle in my affairs, I’ll let you know.”
Dolores left. The thrice nightly bathroom illumination recommenced.
And then, the impossible happened; one night the light didn’t go off. Dolores lay awake waiting and worrying. The next day she did not tap on Mrs Grimmer’s door.
It’s amazing what a stroke can do. Sometimes you lie on the bathroom floor for days before you die.