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September 18, 2023

The Little Place Next Door

By Carl V. Nord

I almost always look up at the evening sky on clear nights. Here in the high desert, there is a complete absence of city lights and with four thousand feet of elevation, the number of visible stars is overwhelming. The Milky Way fills the heavens from horizon to horizon. The Big Dipper shines brightly and the very tip of its cup points roughly at Polaris, The North Star. It is directly off to my left, so I know I’m heading in an easterly direction towards home. Next time I’ll remember my compass which is sitting on the kitchen table. I’m still a rookie.

I have Shiloh by my side. She is seventy-five pounds of German Shepherd, Doberman and God knows what else. There’s also my old .45 Colt Army revolver in a leather holster on my belt just in case. Like Shiloh and me, cougar and coyotes roam remote areas of Eastern Oregon and I don’t take any chances. Not that I would want to shoot one, I would probably try to scare it away with a shot or two across her bow.

More numerous however are the tiny field mice that seem to get into everything and raise hell. They especially like chewing on wiring in automobiles, my automobiles. I leave the hood up on the truck for this reason, that way they’re less likely to bother it. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Our hike today took us a bit farther west than I had anticipated and we made much of our return trip after sunset. We keep moving, making our way through the abundance of sage brush and grasses. Western Juniper dot the landscape here and there on the gently rolling hills. I crested a familiar ridge line and could see Shiloh already at the trailer door waiting for her supper she knows is coming in a few minutes. The homestead is a welcoming sight after a long day of walking.

I didn’t always desire this solitary existence. I once had what one might refer to as a normal life in Seattle. But what is normal? It’s a rhetorical question. There was a job, a failed marriage, houses, the crushing traffic jams and everything else a person could ever want. I started drinking a little after Sue left, and somehow I never got into any trouble with the law. It took me a few years to get the boozing under control.

Then there were the neighbors … the wonderful neighbors. Let me tell you about them.

The little place next door to me in Seattle had been mauled by the last tenants and the landlord was finally unloading it. One day, a newer Mercedes pulled up to the front and a woman too well put together to be from the area got out. She stuffed several real estate flyers into the clear plastic box on the for sale sign, then went into the house. The owner spent several months fixing it back up, and hauling garbage and junk away in preparation for its sale.

That Saturday was an open house and throngs of would-be buyers came by to have a look. Freshly painted, remodeled and landscaped, the place was a showcase for the humble area. With the market exploding in Seattle as of late, small affordable homes, even in shit neighborhoods like mine were selling fast.

The neighborhood was built in the 1940s after the war for returning G I’s and their families. Most of the houses were small and unpretentious, unlike other areas around the city. They all looked pretty much the same with four or five uncomplicated designs repeating its self over and over for miles around. Square boxes, jammed closely together with one bathroom and two bedrooms -- that’s the drill.

Many of the houses had been rentals, like the place next door. It housed eight or more people at any given time, with beat up cars and derelict motor homes parked all over on the street. For years, junk was strewn all over the yard and driveway. Old tires, appliances, tarps and open bags of garbage were scattered everywhere. The bold and well-fed rat population lived well in this part of town. A chill ran up my spine whenever I happened to see them scurrying about.

Every night, all night, a plethora of unfamiliar cars arrived next door, but usually stayed for only a few minutes. The constant flow of loathsome characters in and out of the house was endless. This routine continued until day break, and usually came to an abrupt halt. I assumed they slept during this time period, because by the afternoon, the cycle started all over again. The once respectable, clean little home occupied for decades by a world war two vet and his family was a festering, run down shack.

I tried to mind my own business, and if I left them alone, the drug dealers would leave me alone. This is the unspoken rule. The situation looked impossible for any legal action, however one day to everyone’s surprise, they were evicted by the Sheriff’s office. The shell of a building, now remodeled and updated, would be a new beginning for the entire area.

I spent my career in the engineering department at the public works for the city. It was a solid, modest living. Barry and Angela moved in next door while I was at work on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Both were nearing retirement age like me. Barry was friendly and cordial, and it was clear he wanted to get along without the usual frictions neighbors can sometimes produce.

But Angela was peculiar. For one thing, she quickly gained a reputation for being short and curt with the surrounding neighbors. Within in the first month of their arrival, I witnessed a spectacular and embarrassing verbal run in between her and a parent picking up his three year old child at a new daycare business. This was located in a house directly across the street from Angela.

It was Monday, and I was parking in my driveway at the usual five P.M. An older mini-van pulled up and parked in front of Angela’s place with two tires positioned on the curb and slightly on the grass. Angela exploded from her front door marching across the lawn in her ever-present floral green muumuu. She moved with an unusual speed and authority for a person of her ample girth.

“Get that goddamn thing off my lawn … who the fuck do you think you are!”

“Hey lady, I’m just gonna be a minute, what the hell’s yer problem?” the tired-looking dad responded while slamming the screechy door on the old Chevy.

“I’ll tell you my problem … yer my problem asshole, now move that piece-a-shit!”

Screaming and flinging her arms, Angela’s face turned a vivid shade of purple, and was a sharp contrast to the green muumuu and bright orange shock of hair.

The man retrieved his child and other parents looked on with terror. Angela continued her verbal assault with well-placed jabs while the father and his little girl made their escape.

I avoided direct eye contact with Angela after that day, but it was tough. A competent gardener, Angela was always around somewhere. Complicated and tedious flower beds now covered much of the front yard once occupied by lawn. If I happened to be outside, Angela usually lurked. She blended in so completely, I seldom noticed her right away. A big orange cat lying in wait. I usually gave her a quick friendly wave and hurried on with my business.

Weeks passed and I became increasingly concerned with the widening disparity between my sort-of run down yard and Barry and Angela’s almost fanatical undertaking next door. With the drug dealers a distant memory, my property looked terrible. On a long weekend, I cleaned out my long neglected and overgrown flower beds and planted a few simple things, just to spruce things up a bit.

A dozen geraniums in the beds out front and a couple of roses along the side was manageable. My job consumed ten or twelve hours a day during the week. Angela spent her time puttering around her yard, while Barry was at his employment as some sort of salesman.

Every night after work, I watered the new flower beds and waited for the inevitable blooms to arrive. But they never came. Within a week the plants turned brown and died. So did the Queen Elisabeth roses that looked so magnificent on the box. They too were gone. I followed the directions exactly, and yet there they were, dead as could be. Naturally, I suspected treachery -- Angela.

“Maybe ya got a brown thumb? You just ain’t cut out for gardening!” She said when we were both outside one afternoon.

“I dunno, I’ve seen you with that pump up sprayer hittin’ the weeds in your side walk … I think you’re the reason my plants died … did you kill my plants Angela?” I said half-jokingly.

“What did you say?” Angela instantly shot back, while moving closer to me. There was a brief silence, and her dead eyes stared into mine. A stream of insults and threats ensued, hammering me so fast, I couldn’t keep up. I almost had to stop her and write things down so I could remember them … she was that good. All of this served-up by Angela almost effortlessly, and with precision strikes only the mind of an evil genius could accomplish. It was enough to make my face feel hot with self-consciousness and anger, and I felt as if I was floating above my body. I looked around to see if neighbors were watching -- they were. After what seemed like an eternity, I turned red faced, and went back to the house, shaken, and a little ashamed of myself for not responding to her attacks. I had cut and run from the neighborhood maniac. But screw it, it was just too dangerous and hopeless to spar with her. Like thrashing about in quicksand, you only get deeper in.

When Barry rolled in the driveway a half of an hour later, she could be heard for a block, all the while flinging her arms, my name peppered throughout the rant. Barry looked at the ground, hands in his pockets and said nothing.

Great … now she’s upset at me, I thought later while looking out the front room window. It was stupid to open my mouth. I mean really, what’s more important, a few plants or keeping the peace with a belligerent, criminally insane neighbor? After the episode, I stayed in the house, fixed my supper and worried. They say that time heals all wounds. Let’s see how it unfolds…

The days passed and odd things began to happen. At three A.M., a car alarm sounded. Not for very long, but enough to wake a person up. Just a honk or two. This occurred nightly. The three Cypress trees I planted for privacy weeks before inexplicably wilted, turned brown and died. I suddenly started getting profane and hateful writing on my dirty car. I know it was her, but how does one prove it? And worst of all, she knows I know. She was probably getting big laughs about it too. I had to start washing my car more frequently. These things and dirty looks and insults across the yard were the most common tricks in her bag. Angela’s campaign of asymmetrical warfare was chipping away at my very soul. I was her new project and every weapon in her arsenal was brought to bear.

Maybe I’m naive, but I thought perhaps I’d just let her get it out of her system, she’d cool off and everything would go back to normal. But no, like a nightmare it only intensified. Angela ventured into the unknowns of time and space. What unforeseen things awaited? My imagination was getting the better of me. I visited Darla at the Daycare business after work to get her take on Angela.

“Oh dear God, she’s psychotic,” Darla said. “I know one of their neighbors from their last residence across town. She told me Angela’s neighbors banded together and signed a petition to have her and the husband thrown out of the neighborhood. That’s why they moved here. She’s just insufferable, and that little puke Barry is almost as bad. I’m sorry you have to live next to them … watch your back.”

I didn’t feel any better after the conversation, but it was a revelation. What else was she capable of, I wondered while drifting off to sleep that night. I couldn’t concentrate on my job anymore, and intense hours long migraine headaches started in. What’s she gonna do next? Some of my co-workers suggested calling the police and building a legal case against the couple. However, I really didn’t want to deal with any court dates, the eye-watering attorney’s fees and the rest. I’d almost rather sell and move.

Instead, I installed a hidden camera in the yard under the eaves of the garage. I thought maybe I could put her in jail, or at the very least keep her in check for a while.

Saturday afternoon came, and as luck would have it, Barry and Angela got into their car and drove away. I quickly retrieved a ladder, some tools and mounted my new camera in an inconspicuous spot under the eaves on the garage. I had bought a decent quality, motion activated surveillance system at the electronics store a few days prior. Saturday evening, I walked along the property line as a test. It took good clear videos of my driveway and theirs, even in darkness. And best of all, I could view them any time on my phone or home computer. Sure, Angela was a cunning and accomplished demon, but she was also a creature of habit. Something was sure to pop up.

I resisted the urge to look at the surveillance videos during my workday … I needed to concentrate on the tasks at hand. At night after arriving at home, I reviewed the videos on my home computer. But there was nothing of value. Just me going to work at five A.M., and Barry doing the same around nine.

Occasionally, Angela was videoed wandering around in their driveway looking over into my unfenced property, but to my disappointment, she did nothing illegal. This new normal carried on for weeks. I began viewing videos every couple of days just to give myself a well needed break. .

The following Saturday came and I was relieved I hadn’t seen Angela for a couple days. Maybe she calmed down. Late in the evening I decided to check the surveillance footage. I made myself some hot tea, sat down at the desktop computer, and began searching for anything suspicious on the videos. That’s when it happened. Two days prior, the camera had captured something unusual. At three ten A.M., Barry wandered out into their yard and looked around. He looked up and down the street, over at my property, then disappeared into their garden shed located near the driveway. He dragged out a large object and opened the trunk on their car. Whatever was wrapped in the blue tarp, tennis shoes and ankles protruding from one end, was heavy, and Barry struggled. First he strained to get one end, then the other into the trunk. He went back to the shed and retrieved a shovel. He placed it on the tarp and quietly closed the trunk lid. Barry looked around again, got in the car and drove away into the gloom.

I sat at my computer catatonic. Each time I replayed it, I gazed upon an unspeakable scene. Obviously, Barry didn’t know the camera was there documenting his every move. When the police arrived thirty minutes later I showed them the video. The detectives immediately seized the computer evidence and walked next door to ask Barry some pointed questions. I stood by the back door and listened.

“I’ve told you three times ma’am, she packed some of her things and ran off … I think she went to a relative’s house … maybe her sister’s place. I don’t know what else you want from me,” Barry insisted.

“Yeah, well we have evidence to the contrary, and I’m placing you under arrest,” the female detective said.

Within minutes, officers and crime scene specialist in their white jump suits swarmed the place next door. Barry was handcuffed, and resisted arrest, insisting Angela ran away. He was dragged weeping and protesting to one of the police cruisers. Police activity went on until the early hours of the next day.

Angela was truly gone. The reality of it began to slowly sink in. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but a great sense of relief and may I dare say an overwhelming inner joy swept over my soul. It was as if I had been released from a crazy psychological prison cell constructed just for me.

That’s how I ended up out here. I retired from the city after thirty years, and moved to my present location in the sticks. A new life and a new beginning without deranged neighbors and the constant turmoil.

At the present time, I live in a twenty-six foot aluminum tube meant for camping and weekend get-a-ways. I’m situated on forty acres here in the wilds of the high desert in Eastern Oregon. It’s a very remote location. I keep my six-gun handy at all times.

Occasionally, Angela haunts me. I dream about my years living in rainy Seattle, and all the trials and hardships with my many different neighbors. I try to put it out of my mind and concentrate on hiking and other outdoor activities.

I take my old truck and Shiloh into town once a month for supplies. Food, dog food, and visiting the laundromat with cloths and towels is the usual plan. I get a burger, a haircut, then it’s back to the homestead.

Tomorrow, I’ll load the pickup with our overnight gear. This consists of a small tent, backpack, rations and dog food for Shiloh, enough for a three-day hike. We’ll head north-east to Hells Canyon staying off the interstate and driving the slower and more pleasant secondary roads. Once there, we’ll spend a few days exploring the area’s red and brown basalt rock formations and set up camp near the Snake River. When the sun finally sets over the western hills, night will bring star gazing, as it does almost every evening for me nowadays.

Article © Carl V. Nord. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-07-31
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
10:50:31 AM
Wow! A well deserved ending for a psychotic neighbor. Very well written.
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