Sunday, 21 September 2014



Short Fiction


The day’s mail included a warning from bylaw enforcement informing me that my cat Mort was not only unlicensed but apparently free to roam out of doors. I know who placed the call.

My neighbour Dave is one of those people who consider themselves engaged. He talks too much when the community league meets. He pesters our ward’s city councillor and probably dogs our Edmonton riding’s MLA. Our MP in Ottawa is a backbench party hack nearing his dotage and therefore likely immune to Dave, too old school to pay attention to missives from a self-described activist. Suffice to say, Dave pretty much annoys everybody and not just me. There is a well maintained and solid fence between us although we’re civil to one another.

Dave lives in an infill, corner lot. His home is nice enough in an absurd Cape Cod way and he’s proud of the solar panels on the roof. I had to replant my tomatoes and peppers once I gleaned the pitch of his roof and calculated the area of shadow it would throw on my vegetable bed along the garage’s south wall.

The eyesore on the other side of me is a bungalow, post-war rock-dash, crumbs of broken glass sometimes wink and glitter from the mixture depending upon the angle and intensity of the sunlight. The roof shingles have curled like burnt bacon. All the accents and trim need a thorough scraping and a fresh coat of paint. The long term solution is a new owner who would either reno or demo, but for now it’s a rental property.

The neighbourhood is in transition and I suppose I reside in a sort no-man’s land between the new and the wretched.

The tenants are kids, a couple of guys who work in the trades, and their girlfriends. They’re friendly enough and we know each other’s names. The four of them like it when Mort the friendly neighbourhood mouser pays them a visit. The only work they’ve put into the place is in the backyard which is something to behold. There’s a gerry-built cinder block fire pit; garden gnomes and painted plywood animal silhouettes; fairy lights strung in the trees; Japanese lanterns; and three sets of tinkling wind chimes that annoy me more than Dave does. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be ironic or if they’re just constantly high and think the atmosphere is groovy pagan or Peter Pan.

Once the winter weather finally broke around Easter things really livened up behind the bungalow. The constant smoke from the fire pit, the barbecue, their cigarettes and their pot reminded me of my clean up stint in Kuwait after the elder Bush’s Gulf War. Have you ever seen a black sky at dawn? I’ve had to close my windows because Mort becomes anxious and the smell might linger for days inside on the dining room drapes and kitchen curtains. The noise carries too, the constant screeching, swearing and laughter. The music is loud and that’s a generational thing: I’d rather cry 96 Tears than be subjected to someone else’s litany of 99 Problems. Underneath it all is the insane ting, ting, ting of the goddamned wind chimes.

I have never lifted a finger to complain because I know Dave two doors down from the kids will summon a prowl car at exactly 11:01 PM. He’s reliable that way. And those kids know who places those calls. This gave me an idea.

All I would need was a pair of wire cutters and the opportunity. At first I thought I’d simply snip off the spatula blades at the bottom and maybe the pucks suspended inside the circles of cylinders. Then I wondered if maybe it would take too long for the silence to be heard. I decided instead to steal the complete mechanisms figuring their absence from the bungalow’s backyard dreamscape would be more readily apparent. I considered dumping the chimes in Dave’s rear lane garbage bins but concluded he wouldn’t be that stupid. However, he might be devious enough to dump the three sets of hardware in my own bins, clever boy.

My little wind chime caper gave me an adrenaline surge I hadn’t felt since those early days in Kuwait City when we’d slip out in search of a decent cocktail, evading the clockwork though sloppy Iraqi patrols, hoping all the while that someone unseen from the CIA had our backs. We went in through the back gate, me and Mort. I was dressed in dark clothing. I crouched in the shadow of a massive fir and watched the bungalow for a few minutes. He investigated various things of interest to a cat. The lights were out; there was nobody home. I cut all the chimes down without too many tinkles, bagged them and then slipped back into the alley. It was a little eerie being out there in the dark between the rows of fences and hedges. The night sky seemed unusually low as if the web of branches and wires above my head was holding it up. I knelt in the dirt by my garage and damaged each of the damned chimes beyond repair with quiet precision. As I placed everything in my garbage bin Dave’s motion sensor security spots lit up. I ducked low and crept back into my own backyard staying in the black shadow of the fence. Mort could play the patsy. I heard Dave come out his side door to investigate. The cat squealed. He swore.

There was a lag of blessed silence before things erupted along the street, but they did. I was tending to my tomato plants one evening when one of the bungalow girls let out a shriek. All was awry in fairyland. I dug weeds and listened to the consternation and speculation a while before wandering over with my innocent discovery.

I met the blonde who wears her earrings in her lips and nostrils at their back gate. “I found these in my garbage can,” I began. I chatted about fishing line and maybe hammering some of the tubes straight. As I finished up I made sure she saw my eyes stray toward the second storey gable windows of Dave’s looming infill, “Probably just some neighbourhood kids’ idea of a lark.”

That weekend both Dave and I were out mowing our front lawns. He does his twice, once vertically and once horizontally. I just do mine once; life’s too short. The bungalow renters pulled up and piled out of their truck. The girl with the hoops in her face screamed at Dave. He looked at her bemused. She sprinted across the grass and slapped him across the chops. I don’t think his wispy little NDP goatee provided any padding. I interceded before he was swarmed. I dragged him into my house to a chorus of taunts and cursing.

“What was that all about?” he asked me.

I handed him a cold can of beer. “Drink it or hold it against your cheek. Or both.”

“What was that all about?”

“Beats me,” I said. “Could be she’s on something.”

“You saw it. She just attacked me.”

“She did. Do you want me to call the cops? Or should we speak to the landlord?”

Mort leapt up on the table and Dave gave the tabby an absent minded scratch behind his ears. “Both,” Dave said. “I’m not going to let this thing go.” Of course not. And so Dave went to war, which cast me as the voice of reason in the middle of a feud. Meanwhile Mort’s excursions are off Dave’s radar and the renters are a lot quieter on Friday and Saturday nights. Some people pull strings while others cut them. I’ve managed to do both. It’s all good on my side of the street.

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