It rained yesterday. After days of uncharacteristic warm sunshine, it’s suddenly back to woolly grey skys and rain that drizzles down in fits and starts.
But that’s not the odd thing.
I slipped out of the house last night in the just-dark of evening to get snack supplies. Huddled into my winter parka, I walked head-down to keep the rain out of my eyes. (We left our umbrella at a party a month ago and I haven’t bothered to replace it.)
At the corner, I vaguely noticed a man walking in front of me under a broad candy-striped umbrella. We both walked briskly, our steps almost in synch, me keeping a few polite paces behind him. As we approached the train line, the warning bell began to peal. Both us acted instinctively, running to make it across the tracks before the gate shut down and blocked our way.
At this time of night, when people are arriving home from work, there’s a fair bit of train traffic. It’s common to be stranded on the wrong side of the tracks for up to five minutes.
As we hit the other side, the wooden barrier clipped my arm as it fell. I let out an instinctive cry of surprise. In front of me, the man with the umbrella made a similar sound. He turned to look at me, briefly, annoyed. I prepared to roll my eyes in solidarity.
‘It hit me!’ he spat. ‘And it’s because YOU were chasing me!’
And with that, he spun around and continued his brisk pace down the road, towards the supermarket. I opened my mouth to reply, but I’d been caught by surprise. By the time I’d formed a reply in my head, he was gone.
My reply went something like: ‘fuck off you asshole, I wasn’t chasing you, I was running to get over the train line just like you, and I just happened to be behind you’.
A fraction of a second after I shut my mouth again, I was glad I did.
I realised, to my further surprise, that the man was my next-door neighbour.
F kicks his footy over the fences on both sides on a semi-regular basis. I’ve sent him over to this man’s house a few times to fetch his ball. The man has always been quite congenial. F was impressed with his wife, who told him she was an Essendon fan and made footy chit-chat. She told him he could climb over the fence any time.
I accompanied F next door a couple of weeks ago. On this occasion, I had booted the footy over the fence myself. The man led us through the house, which, I noticed satisfyingly, was even messier than ours. It was littered with stray items of clothing, newspapers, coffee cups and plates bearing remnants of food and drink.
The backyard was a jungle of knee-high weeds and straggly pot plants.
After he watched us retrieve the footy, he told me that he’d been broken into by people who had come from over our fence before.
‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘That’s no good.’
‘I notice you don’t leave your lights on when you go out,’ he said.
‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’
He led me back into the kitchen and fumbled through his drawers until he found what he was looking for: a kind of extension plug. It was, he told me, a timed light switch.
‘This is what we use’ he said. ‘They’re very good.’
‘They’re very cheap.’ He gave me a meaningful look. ‘You can buy them from K-Mart.’
‘Yes.’ Another look. Then: ‘You should get some.’
Today, every time the husband leaves the house, I tell him to chase the man next door for real if he sees him. I think this would be very funny, plus it would teach him a lesson about the difference between chasing someone and happening to walk behind them.
I should point out that I really, really don’t want a feud with my next-door neighbour.
At our last house, we had a junkyard on one side of house. The old couple who owned it lived a few doors down from it, and the man used to semi-regularly visit to play with his rusted car parts and other bits of junk, and, bizarrely, to mow the lawns. He would often whistle, softly, through his teeth as he shuffled through the side gate and along the edge of our fence, driving our dogs crazy.
One day, The Husband, who loves the dogs almost more than he loves me, confronted him about the practice. To be precise, he stormed out the back door and onto our deck, called the old man a ‘fucking asshole’ and asked him to ‘stop riling up my dog’.
One of the dogs had a habit of somehow jumping the six-foot fence on an almost daily basis. Whenever he ran into the old man on the street, he would chase him and nip at his ankles. This is because the man had once tried to kick him.
We got a $300 fine and a warning from the council on one of these occasions, after the old man reported the dog for being out on the street.
F had a bad habit of saying, quite loudly, ‘we don’t like that old man, do we?’ as we got home from school at the end of the day, especially if the man was in the front yard of the dump. It wasn’t that he was trying to make a statement, simply that the sight of him would remind him that we don’t like him.
Mice were a semi-regular occurrence in our house. The woman who lived over our back fence told me, in conspiratorial tones, that she and her son had seen swarms of baby mice breeding in one of the car wrecks at the dump while retrieving a football. She, too, had problems with mice.
When I got back from two months overseas, the mouse problem in our house was so bad that every time I opened a kitchen cupboard, a mouse would dart out from behind the tinned tomatoes and chewed cereal boxes. A mum from school stopped in for a kitchen chat one afternoon, as our kids raced around the back yard in their school uniforms. I offered her a coffee.
‘Do you have sugar?’ she asked.
Despite misgivings, I opened the cupboard door. As I reached for the plastic sugar container, a mouse dashed by the open door on its way to a dark corner. I screamed, jumped back (without the sugar) and slammed the door.
‘Do you really want sugar?’ I asked.
‘No, not really.’
The Husband was away at the time. F and I were a pair of old women, shrieking and leaping onto chairs at the appearance of mice. I put poison in the cupboards (threw it into cupboards) and set up a new, open cupboard on a bookshelf. Everything went into plastic containers.
F had never wanted to move house. (I, on the other hand, had wanted to soon after we moved in.)
‘Mum’ he told me. ‘I think we should move house.’
‘Me too. Why?’
‘I don’t like mice.’
So, yeah, I don’t want a fight with my neighbour.