You’ve no idea the trouble Ivy went to, to get twelve lovely photographs of the wonderful family who lived next door. There were five in the Winchcombe Family: Mum, Dad, and their three beautiful daughters. The Winchcombes were about as ideal next door neighbours as one could hope for. And every Christmas they would bring Ivy a basket of the tastiest homemade shortbread possible. Glorious!
The trouble was that Ivy always had trouble knowing what best to give them in return. She’d done chocolates at least five times. And then she got this idea. Wonderful!
She would get a calendar printed with a different family photograph each month of the year. Ivy started early gathering the photographs together. It was a difficult task because she didn’t want to let her secret out. The photos were perfect. There was a beautiful one of the family gathering mushrooms in a green field. Another shot was of the family at a fair ground. The loveliest photograph of all was an official portrait taken of the family sitting on a rug in front of a lake. With swans. And trees. And flowers. And… oh lovely! Just lovely!
Ivy was so pleased with the calendar when it was finished that she couldn’t wait to give it to the family. But she must be patient. She mustn’t jump the gun. Only a week to go!
And then the three girls called in with a basket of Christmas shortbread and said that their parents were getting a divorce.
My name is Margot. I don’t think much of the new neighbours. For starters, they are foreigners and don’t fit well into the area. In fact they lower the tone of the suburb considerably. Not that I’ve anything against foreigners, but when people come to a country that is not theirs they should make some effort to fit in; meld into the surroundings. You’d think they would; that’s what rats do. Peacocks strut around, and when a peacock shows off and spreads its tail you can see its arsehole. These people strut around like they own the place.
The new neighbours, so I heard, are Antoinette and Leon from Beijing or somewhere. China anyway. You can tell these things even though they’ve taken Western names. I thought communists were meant to be not so well off, but you should see their three cars! And the house they live in (I presume they rent and don’t own, though why the landlord thinks it’s okay to rent to communists I have no idea) is one of the most lavish houses in our neighbourhood. And that’s saying something. They’ve got three young children. No wonder the world is overrun.
Here comes the one called Antoinette up my path now. Presumably she’s going to ask for a cup of noodles or something! Chop! Chop!
Ching Chong Chinaman Coming up my path I shall pretend to be foreign Just for a laugh.
“Hello. My name’s Antoinette. I’m the new neighbour. I thought I’d come over and introduce myself.”
“When you come from China?”
“When you come from China to dis place?”
“From China? I didn’t. My family have been here since 1824.”
Flora was true to her name. She had planted her large property in plants to attract butterflies and bees. When summer came there were flowers flowering and butterflies fluttering and bees buzzing. She planted shrubs to attract nectar-eating birds. Who needs wind chimes when choirs of bellbirds tinkle in the breeze? And to lie in bed a little longer in the early hours of a summer’s day and hear… the birds!… oh! the birds! The dawn chorus! It was a piece of heaven fallen from… heaven.
Flora’s new neighbour didn’t appreciate Flora’s slice of bliss. “Those bloody birds wake me up every morning. What a racket. As for the bees – I see you’ve put in a hive. Some people react to bee stings. The bees are a menace. And as for flowers, especially lilies, don’t you know people get hay fever from the pollen? I suggest you pull a few things out and start recognizing the needs of other people who live nearby.”
Flora didn’t flinch.
The neighbour’s property was empty and well sprayed. There wasn’t a weed in sight. For that matter, there wasn’t a plant in sight, not even a blade of grass. “We’re getting ready to put it all in concrete. It’s so much nicer, and easier to maintain, and we’ll charge only a few dollars for every kid who wants to play.”
Flora left her paradise for one and a half weeks to go on the Horticultural Society’s Grand Garden Tour. It was one of the highlights of her year. When she returned her garden was dead; no thriving nectar-producing trees, no bellbirds, no lilies, and butterflies, and bees. Even the hive sat silent. Flora asked the neighbour what had happened.
“I done nothing,” said the neighbour. “We’re putting our concrete backyard into a go-cart race track for the local kids. You could learn a trick or two from that as to how to be neighbourly. No bee stings. No hay fever. No bird poop all over the go cart track.”
The front of Melanie’s house was next to the road, but the back lawn had a different neighbour bordering each of the three sides.
Melanie had a little dog, of which she was most fond. It was a Pomeranian and its name was Pom-Pom. In fact, Melanie got on better with her dog than she did with the three bordering neighbours.
You’ve no idea, said Melanie, what Anita Jones is up to. Her husband’s corpse was still warm and she was out cavorting with another man. And then barely three weeks had passed and he’d moved in. Moved in! Anita Jones, I’m telling you this to your face. You’re a cheap harlot. That’s all. Cheap harlot! My Pom-Pom has more principles.
Herbie Davidson, said Melanie, is overweight and disgusting. He walks around in his back yard wearing only his underpants. He’s too fat to do that. He’s gross from top to toe. Nor has he any manners. Herbie Davidson, I’m telling you this to your face. You’re a grotesque, obese piece of lard. That’s all. Lazy lard! My Pom-Pom has more principles.
And as for you, Andy McAlister, we all know you watch porn. You sit at your computer half the night grovelling over it. I can see it through the window. I’ve a good mind to report you to the police, you filthy-minded pig. Andy McAlister, I’m telling you this to your face. You’re a dirty gutter rat. That’s it. Gutter rat! My Pom-Pom has more principles.
One day Melanie saw rat poison tablets scattered on her back lawn. Pom-Pom must have eaten one. It was dead.
This evening after work I’ve got my two grown-up kids coming around with their young families. We’ll cook a few things up on the barbeque to celebrate the occasion. What occasion? Well, it’s not much really, but I’ve lived in this same house on this same street for twenty years! I buried my husband from here!
Next door there’s a lady who lives alone although she’s not there very often. She’s from somewhere in Africa. She has three or four lemon trees. They’re absolutely laden with fruit, and occasionally when she’s not there, and I’ve a need, I go over and “borrow a lemon”. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.
My neighbours on the other side of me – I’m not sure what they do but a van advertising electrical supplies comes and goes, so I presume he’s an electrician or something. I think he and his wife have a couple of kids because I’ve seen her walk with the kids in the direction of the local school. They haven’t been here very long; about five years.
Across the road is a lady who seems to collect cats! She doesn’t seem to work but she’s out on the curb about ten times a day calling “Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!” Cats of all colours seem to come running. It’s sad really. Possibly the cats are the only thing in her life. People with that many cats must be lonely. I think.
Next to her is a fairly rowdy couple. They have a son who comes and goes with the music blasting in his car. He comes and goes at any hour of the day and night. The pulsating beat of the music drives me nuts, but fortunately he comes briefly and drives away again. I’m not sure if he lives there with his parents or not. At least I presume they’re his parents. Apparently they also have a daughter, but she’s in an institution for the-something-or-rathers.
As I say, I’ve been here twenty years now; the longest on the street I believe. I’ve been meaning to pop around and introduce myself.
My bedroom window looks straight out onto the road, and across the road into the window of my neighbour’s sitting room. I can see their television from my bedroom. At least I can see what it is they’re watching. No sound of course. If they rigged up speakers I could sit in bed and hear whatever it is that they’re watching. But it often doesn’t matter because half the time I don’t need the sound to know what’s going on.
Some people have no idea when they’re watching a video that people can see from outside. They could at least draw the drapes or something. But no, these neighbours have to watch videos or, if not, similar stuff on some channel or other. There’s no privacy. I’ve seen kids zoom by on their scooters and slow down for a peek. Up and down the road. One day some kid is going to be looking at that television and run straight into an oncoming car.
If I knew their name and phone number I’d tell them to pull the curtains. I’m sick to death of it. If I have to sit through another National Geographic program on giraffes I’ll scream.