Quiet Neighbors (A Short Story)

There were seven of us in the beginning. Ada, with her gray hair and storm cloud eyes, and June, who loved to laugh and to sing. There were Tilson and Thomas, the stoic farmer brothers, and Clancy, withered and whiskered, always with a flask in his jacket pocket. And then little Marie, a freckled thing with bright gold ringlets and a toothy grin. And of course, me.

It took me a little while to get used to things, but I’ve got a knack for making quick adjustments.

“You could save the whole world with a toothpick and some twine,” my mother always told me. “If only you’d keep you head out of the clouds.”

Yes, there was that. I’ve always been practical, but a dreamer. There never really was a good place for me, and so this new place was as good as any, and over the years, I became the storyteller, the collector, in a way, for all of us. I figured somebody should keep it all straight, and maybe embellish it a little, because what would that hurt, really. We weren’t going anywhere, that was for sure.

In the early days, we sometimes had visitors. They never stayed long, and eventually, they stopped coming altogether. It was just us, and we settled into the way things were.

Some nights, June and I waltzed under the moon and sang ballads for the stars.

“You crooner,” she purred, and flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder. It waved down her back, an obsidian river. “Some theater sure is missing its main attraction.”

I agreed.

And Marie. Marie, all of six and proud of it. Ada tried to tame her curls every day, and in the evenings, June sang her old lullabies. She liked to chase the lizards in the spring. She liked their bright blue tails. And she liked the bluebells. Every April, we’d find ourselves surrounded by the bluebells, growing in every direction.

“Blue’s my favorite, like the sky,” Marie always said, as she touched each cluster of flowers one by one.

Over the years, our number grew, though never by much at a time and ultimately not by much at all. We added Dorothy, a baker with red-tipped fingers, and Joseph, tall and proud with his chest covered in military medals.

“That little girl needs discipline,” he said once, not long after he’d arrived, as we watched Marie chase the fireflies.

“She needs more than she’ll ever have,” Clancy told him. “Reminds me of my own little girl.”

Then came the married couple, Henry and Abigail, who sniped at each other constantly but always held hands.

There were a few others, but they stayed away. If we saw them at all, which we rarely did, they’d seldom even tilt their heads in greeting. Ada didn’t much care for that. She called them rude. I told her they had every right to keep to themselves. “It’s not easy for everyone,” I said.

They were good years, and eventually we came to understand that the world had mostly forgotten us. But we had each other, our own makeshift family, and if you have a family, you have a home. And if you have a home, then you have a whole world right where you are. Though I won’t lie. It always irked me a little that I’d never see the ocean, or the Eiffel Tower.

I suppose things had been changing for a long time before we noticed. I imagine that the fields got smaller, that the houses got larger and people built more of them, and we just didn’t give it much thought. What did it matter to us, after all, if someone built a new house or cut down a tree? We were apart from all of that.

“It’s not our place to worry,” Dorothy said. “I did enough of that for three lifetimes, and I’m not about to give in to an old bad habit when I’ve earned a modicum of peace and quiet.”

It was the noise that changed things. It got to all of us, eventually. The constant hum of motors, the banging of a hundred hammers, the whir of drills and the scrape of saws. It started to drive us crazy, especially Dorothy.

“All that racket!” She stomped and seethed. “Damn it, I earned my peace! I earned it!”

And just as quickly as it seemed to have started, it was over.

And things were different.

“Do you suppose they forgot we’re here?” Ada shook her head. “Surely not.”

“I reckon they don’t care,” said Thomas.

“There aren’t all that many of us, and the weeds cover most everything. Wish I had my garden hoe,” added Tilson.

“Wouldn’t do much good,” Thomas said. “The weeds are too thick for that.”

I looked around, and realized he was right. Green Virginia creeper snaked all around us, blanketed the ground and rested over every gray stone surface.

“They’re awfully close together.” This from Joseph, sharp eyes forward and focused.

“I suppose it makes for fast friends,” offered June, with a small smile.

“More like enemies,” answered Clancy. “Won’t be any secrets kept, packed in that way. Like animals in a cage. No way to live.”

“What does it mean for us?” June looked over at me. “Will things change?”

“Things don’t change for us,” I told her.

I looked out ahead of us. Over the years, we’d seen young trees grow old, seasons and seasons of bluebells and snowstorms. We’d seen children play, and later return to play with their own children. That had been hardest for Marie. We’d watched, we’d witnessed, and no one knew. Now, we’d watch this, this seemingly endless sea of houses, and all of the people who lived in them. I didn’t know what we’d see, but we’d watch, as we always had, and we’d be here, and just like always, no one would ever know.

“Things don’t change for us,” I repeated, “and we’ll certainly be here longer than they will.” I thought for a moment, remembered the early days and the days after, and added, “Hopefully they’ll at least be quiet neighbors.”

************

Thank you for reading! This is the fourth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first three stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of May.

24 thoughts on “Quiet Neighbors (A Short Story)

    • I’m glad to hear that! I wasn’t sure if it would work or not, as a story, but I’m pretty happy with it. And yes, of course! The bluebells, too. 🙂 I’ve still got spring on the brain. I just can’t get enough this year.

      Liked by 2 people

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  2. You definitely have the Virginia descriptive landscape down. I appreciated your verbing of the word snake to describe the creepers. Spot on. Hair as a theme is interesting too. My favorite reference to it is when you call it ‘an obsidian river.’ A lot to unpack there given the geology of that rock.

    Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

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