MONDAY: Speak Softly

BY CATHY HENDRIX

Cathy Hendrix is a retired teacher with a life-long love of language and literature. Copyright is held by the author.

WAS THAT SOMEONE at the door? wondered Mary. She turned down the volume of the small TV, which due to her slight hearing loss she had cranked to a level where she could comfortably hear Oprah’s interview with that new young starlet.

Yes! Someone was knocking on her front door. Rather insistently to boot. Mary wiped her wet hands on the dish towel as she walked through the front hall. She could see the outline of a person through the frosted glass — colours, red top, blue, probably jeans on the bottom, short blond hair. Oh no. Mary’s stomach clenched. What did Kim want? A thought suddenly flit through her mind. Could she get away with not answering the door? She quickly glanced at the entrance to the family room, mere yards away. Did she have the nerve? Too late. Kim had seen her. Mary grasped the doorknob, forced a smile on her face and opened the door.

“Kim!  Hi!” she said, hopefully inviting a pleasant, or at least non-confrontational response from her next-door neighbour.

Kim stared at her, the corners of her mouth drawn down giving her quite attractive face a rather pinched and, to Mary’s mind, self-important expression. One fist rested on the curve of her slender hips, giving no room for misinterpreting her mood.

After several uncomfortably silent moments, Kim replied. “I have something for you.”  She turned and picked something up from the porch behind her feet.

Mary frowned. Something for me? This can’t be good. As she caught a glimpse of what was resting in the lid of the cardboard box and then caught a whiff of the most unmistakable odour, Mary knew.

“Kim, Buster has been in the yard all day. It must be another dog.”

“Oh? I don’t think so! I know Amber took him for a walk this morning. I saw her leaving when I got the morning paper. I think she did it on purpose! She doesn’t like me. I know it! Not since that incident with the police.”

Mary sighed. She’d prefer not to dredge up that unpleasantness. Nothing was easy with Kim. “Look, I’m really sorry. I’ll speak to her and find out what happened. But believe me, she’d never do it on purpose.”

Kim’s nostrils flared. “I just might have to call the police again if this continues. My little Xavier is only four. My baby could have stepped in this if I hadn’t been watchful.”

Well that would never happen, now would it? Kim never let her kid get more than two feet from her. Ever. You’d think he was made out of porcelain. “Well, as I said, I’ll speak to Amber. Wait till Xavier’s a teenager.” Mary put on her best commiserating smile.

“Suddenly they have attitude and don’t pay attention to ‘unimportant’ things like what the dog is up to.”

“Hmph. Any mother worth her salt would teach her child right from wrong!” Without another word, Kim turned and stomped down the stairs, disappearing behind a shrub on the way to her home.

“What did the bat lady want?”

Mary turned at the sound of her daughter’s voice. Long chestnut hair, perfectly straightened, surrounded Amber’s pretty face. She’d be even prettier if she’d stop scowling all the time, thought Mary. “Did Buster poop on the Piper’s lawn this morning?”

Amber shrugged. “I dunno. That bitch is never happy. If Buster did, then good for him. She deserves it after calling the police on me.”
“Amber, don’t provoke her. She could cause you and me a lot of trouble. She’s that kind of person.”

“Oh Mom, get some backbone!” Amber came down the remaining three steps and stood in front of Mary. “She only picks on you because you let her.”

Amber’s eyes suddenly shifted to her hand where her phone had begun to blare some unintelligible pop song. She immediately put it to her ear and turned away, already deep into conversation with one of her myriad of friends. Just before she disappeared into the family room, she whisked around and said, “Oh, I need the car tonight. Jen’s having a party.”

A moment later, Mary was alone in the front hall holding the lid. The aroma was threatening to permeate the entire house at this point. She grimaced and quickly went through the door to the garage where she disposed of the evidence. As she walked back to the kitchen, she realized that her head had begun to pound. Her shoulders slumped. It must be the humidity. Everyone gets cranky when they’re hot. Sighing, she went back to preparing dinner.

“Is this dinner?” Bob demanded as he sat down at the table. “My mother made me eat meatloaf once a week all my life until I finally moved out. I can’t stand the sight of it!”

“Your mom said it was your favourite,” Mary said in dismay, her heart sinking. “You said you were sick and tired of our usual meals so I thought I’d surprise you.” In a smaller voice she added. “It’s your mom’s recipe.”

Mary’s hand hurt and she realized she’d been gripping her fork until her knuckles were white. She deliberately set it down and put her hand in her lap. “But if you don’t want it, I can make something else.”

“Something else? I don’t want to wait another hour to eat.” Her husband looked sourly at his plate. “I’ll have to eat it now if I don’t want to starve.”

“Kim came over and was yelling at mom again,” Amber informed her father.

“What?” Bob’s eyes flew up to glare at Mary. “What did she have to bitch about now?”

“Buster pooped on their lawn again.” Mary could feel the headache returning.

“How could she know it was Buster? Did she see him?”

“Apparently she saw Amber taking him for a walk this morning.”

Bob snorted. “Can’t people take their dogs for a walk without her making a big deal over it? What did you tell her?”

“That I’d speak to Amber about being more mindful of what Buster’s doing while she’s walking him.” She looked pointedly at her daughter.

“Me?” Amber’s eyes opened wide. “I didn’t do anything! That’s the thanks I get for walking Buster? Mom, you should have stuck up for me!”

Mary’s head felt like it was going to split open. She stood up and took her plate to the counter, then walked out of the kitchen and out the front door. She needed some air. The early evening sun had cast everything in a warm golden light. She smiled at her red geraniums that marched proudly beside the garden walk over to the driveway. Then she frowned. Kim’s husband Ray had obviously been cutting the grass. Huge sodden green clumps lay strewn all over Mary’s newly sealed driveway. Anger suddenly bubbled up from somewhere deep down and filled her chest with a burning pressure. Turning into her garage, she snatched up the broom. Tsking with every sweep, she began vigorously removing the unsightly mess, her hands squeezed tightly around the smooth wood of the broom handle.

Crash! Mary froze, then looked fearfully to her right. One of Kim’s expensive flower pots that lined their side of Mary’s driveway now lay in shards on the grass, oozing soil and petunias.

“Hey! Look what you’ve done!” Kim shouted from her garage. Kim grabbed a broom hanging from a hook and hurried over to survey the damage. “Oh, my beautiful pot! Can’t you be more careful?” Kim bent down and picked up two large pieces of blue ceramic pottery. “You’re going to have to pay me for the damages. I’ll need to find a new one. I don’t know if I’ll be able to match it with the others now. If I can’t, then I’ll have to replace all three. You’ll pay me for that!”

“Excuse me?” Mary couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “All three? I don’t think so!”

“That’s so typical of you Mary Jansen. You never take responsibility for anything. Well, you’ll pay for this.” Kim took an angry swipe at Mary’s broom with her own.

Mary felt the hateful vibration transfer from the broom handle up into her wrists and as far as her elbows. But it didn’t stop there. The emotion that it had carried seemed to aim straight for her heart and Mary gasped. She felt her hands grip the broom handle convulsively, then, as if of their own volition, they raised the broom and brought it down with a crack against Kim’s. Kim let out a cry and jumped back. But only so she could raise the broom to take a better swing.

A couple out for an evening stroll heard a strange clacking noise and stopped and gaped at the two women who seemed to be fencing with brooms in the driveway across the street. They watched as the dark-haired woman’s broom made contact with the shoulder of the blond. A loud shriek filled the peaceful evening. The broom handles were whizzing furiously and now both women were shrieking at each other. A cyclist pulled up beside the couple and stopped to watch. He winced when the brunette landed a solid blow on the blond’s head. Blood started to trickle down her face. He pulled out his cell phone.

***

Mary rubbed her forehead. It was cool and dim in the room. Her headache was finally disappearing. She sat back against the cinder block wall and looked around. It wasn’t at all what she had imagined it would be. Not at all like on TV. There were no bars to be seen in the cell. The walls were painted pale yellow. The metal door with the small glass window was that gray-green institutional colour. The cot that she was sitting on at the moment was actually not uncomfortable. The silence was heavenly. She smiled and let out a soft sigh. Her shoulders straightened. Apparently Kim would be facing charges too, but not until she returned from the hospital. She grinned more widely, then closed her eyes and imagined it was Bob’s face in front of her as she wielded her mighty broom. What was that old saying about carrying a big stick? She chuckled. Well it certainly beat speaking softly.

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