the writing disorder


New Fiction


by Frances O’Brien

      First, let me say this: I would never intentionally strangle anyone. Not even if that person were coming at me wielding a lit cigar like a weapon, and my only hope of escape were to wrap my hands around his neck and squeeze. Strangling takes too long under the best of circumstances, you need to have a strong grip, and if you happen to be dealing with a neck of greater circumference than average, well, it just isn't a very efficient way to get your point across. Besides, I'm a lady — a church-going lady — not a strangler. Lord knows we religious folks have passed much harder tests than putting up with bad neighbors.
      Secondly, I'm a dog lover. Lover. Ask anyone. I grew up in a household with a dog who was practically a member of the family. Whenever I go to someone's house, if there's a dog, he invariably comes over to me wagging his tail like we're best pals. I could walk into a kennel unaccompanied and instantly be one of the gang, because dogs can tell from a mile away if you're a friend or foe, and they always recognize me as a buddy. Never fails.
      The third thing you should know about me is that I am not obsessed. What kind of person has the time on her hands to sit by the window waiting for some paunchy old neighbor to saunter by smoking a giant, malodorous stogie, walking his yappy dog, with no legally-required excrement-removal device in sight, simply to see whether or not that balding, boxer-shorts clad neighbor allows his mange-ridden beast to destroy her carefully-manicured and remarkably-expensive lawn? Especially on a daily basis.
      Why am I telling you these things? Because an enormous injustice has been perpetrated upon me. Me. I, who've gone out of my way to be a good neighbor, a moral person, a fine example to follow.
      But I realize that's a bit much to ask you to simply accept at my word. So, I'll start from the beginning.
      About a year ago, my beloved next-door neighbor, Harry, passed away, God rest his soul. Whether or not Harry and I were having an affair is irrelevant. The fact is that he died (in his own bed, thank you very much), and his wife sold their house and moved to Montana to live with their kids who, I'm sure, were thrilled to have their elderly grandma shoved into their all-too-adorable family pictures.
      Naturally, when the new family moved in next door here — the husband, the wife, the way-too-old-to-be-living-with-his-parents son — I knew they'd never be as wonderful to me as Harry, who could fix anything at all hours of the day and night and who never, not once, accepted a single red cent in payment for his efforts. He was just that kind of guy. His wife never appreciated him enough.
      But as for the neighbors, I tried to make friends with them, really, I did. I was over there as soon as the movers pulled away, with a homemade cake in my hands, introducing myself and offering to show them around the neighborhood.
      I even tried making friends with the wife. I said, "Zelda (or Zorda or Zoona or whatever it was)," I said, "I belong to a book club that would just love to have you as a member. We meet every month." Now, I didn't know what her cup of tea was, so, when she didn't respond to that, I said, "There's also the pinochle club that meets bi-monthly." That caused little more than an eyebrow raising. "How's about the knitting society that makes blankets for the children's hospital every Thursday?" I'm telling you, that woman looked at me like I was nothing if not insane.
      "No thank you," she said. Just like that. Almost like I'd asked her to lick the back of my neck. Well, far be it from me to try to change a person's mind. I am not here to judge. If she doesn't want to so much as try a single one of those heartwarming, soul-fulfilling activities, that's her prerogative.
      So, I moved on. I thought I could still show some neighborliness by having a chat with their son. I know how difficult it is to tell your own child flat out that it's time to find himself meaningful employment and an apartment of his own. I had to do it myself. And I sincerely believe my son is the mature, responsible man he is today because of it — so responsible, he almost never has time to talk to me. Anyway, I waited until one day when I saw the neighbor boy sunning himself in their back yard. Lord knows I almost broke my neck climbing up onto that patio chair I'd put the upside-down planter box on just to see over their fence, but I'm always willing to help.
      "Hey, there, Sonny," I said. They'd told me his name no fewer than three times, but I couldn't understand it. Oogledeck, it sounded like they were saying. Frankly, I thought they were just having a little fun with me, but who knows. Anyway, after I was finally able to get his attention, I asked "So, what do you do for a living?"
      "Nothing," he says, barely turning his head in my direction and not even opening his eyes.
      "Nothing?" I asked. "Are you a full-time student?"
      "Nope." Real charmer, this kid.
      "How old are you?"
      "Twenty-one," he said, turning over so his back faced me. I'm telling you: youth today.
      Well, I told him all about this job fair being held that very week at the convention center downtown. I even offered to drive him there and told him I'd take him to dinner afterward as a little added incentive. But poor old Oogledeck, I guess he was just too exhausted even to respond. This boy will never be too busy to give his mother a call, that's for sure. Anyway, I let it go.
      Their dog, Lola was another story altogether. She went off like a fire alarm every time anyone had the audacity to pass within two blocks of us. But far be it from me to complain. No, what I did was stand well within my property limits and speak soothingly to her. "Lola," I would say, "please be quiet now, honey." Sometimes, after asking her politely eight or ten times, I'd grow the tiniest bit impatient. "Sshh, Lola, ssshhh! Ssshhh now, Lola, sssshhhh! Ssssshhhhh sssshhhh! Lola, Ssssshhhhh!" And it may be true that one time I used the word "bitch" accidentally, but really, she is a female dog. Simply because the word "brainless" came out before it does not change its essential definition. Nor does it render it a threat.
      However, my decision to be the good neighbor and not to bother them in any way does not give that evil, irresponsible man the right to allow his godforsaken beast to poop on my lawn. Am I right? When I first approached him — in a friendly way — about the problem, he denied it. Then he claimed he always cleaned up after Lola. I have seen that tobacco-smoking Neanderthal walking her day in, day out, and I have never, not once, witnessed so much as a tissue in his hand. Then came the day when, next to the poop I found a cigar, and I tell you, I lost my cool, just the tiniest bit. The first thing I did was pick it up — the cigar, not the poop — with a pair of tweezers just like they do on "CSI" and send it off to a lab to be analyzed for DNA. I had no idea that could take so long; it never does on TV.
      After four straight days of being told they were "working on it, lady," I purchased myself a little video camera, as backup. It's simply not true that I sat in the window all day every day waiting for him to walk Lola. I just happened to catch them one day in the act. And, when Lola was all done, I went out to speak to him civilly. Of course, immediately Lola exploded viciously and began pulling at her leash like she wanted to break it. I kept trying to tell the man what I'd witnessed, but he kept pretending he couldn't hear me over her. So I showed him on the camera. Do you know he had the nerve to accuse me of being crazy? He started going off about how I'd trespassed onto his private property, I'd harassed his wife and flirted with to his son, and that I'd threatened his "poor, little, defenseless" dog, who was at that point hysterical, and tried no fewer than three times to bite me. Then, get this: he said I'd been stalking him. Me. He claimed he'd seen me watching and videotaping him for months.
      "My wife heard all about you from the neighbors," he tells me.
      "Oh, really? And exactly what did she hear?" I asked. "That I volunteer at the soup kitchen? That I donate blood on a bi-monthly basis?" What else was there to be said, right?
      He paused a moment, then leaned in closer, with that enormous incendiary bundle of arson protruding from his face not two inches from my own and said to me, "She's heard all about how you steal other women's husbands."
      Well, you can just imagine how I felt. I was out there all alone and unprotected. I had that ferocious beast trying to eat me alive, and this monster trying to set me ablaze. Seriously, what would you do in that situation? Of course I pushed him away with my hands. I did not wrap them around his giant, sequoia-like neck; that's absurd. Nor did I kick his dog. If that depraved little brute chose that very moment to jump over to the sidewalk and lie down, that was her right entirely.
      You can try to envision my shock when I heard the sirens a moment later. Apparently he and his little strumpet run a two-man operation. One of them sets up the trap, and the other calls the police after it's sprung with its innocent victim inside.
      Anyway, long story short, that's why I'm here behind these bars. The problem is the authorities have confiscated my video camera, and I'm afraid my own evidence will be used against me. See, I had to run a few tests with the camera. I'm hardly an electronics whiz, so I had to practice recording a few times to make sure I had the hang of it, and it turns out I forgot to erase those little experiments. Of my neighbor. And his son. Who really spends entirely too much time laying out in the backyard semi-naked and glistening like some sort of magazine model at the beach.
      Anyway, I hope the judge will believe me. I took those videos because I saw an injustice. And it's not like I'm the only one who lives around there, after all. What I did was for everybody's well being. I was just trying to be neighborly.

Frances O'Brien is a fiction writer living in Los Angeles. Her other short stories have appeared in PENsieve, Genre Wars and The Shine Journal. She is currently editing her novel PUSHING PUDDLES. In 2010, she received a B.A. in English from California State University.

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