The next day we had a second encounter with our nearest neighbor—the owner of the incessantly barking dog.
I was up to my elbows in mulch trying to coax some life into the spindly-looking asparagus ferns I’d bought that morning to fill the window box running along the back of the house when he opened the chain-link gate separating our properties and swaggered toward me, brandishing a bottle of Miller Lite and a cigarette.
“You take me, fairy.”
I was tempted to take offense, but I’d learned not to judge people around here at face value. You never knew.
Besides, Jane had warned us that this guy was a tad eccentric. Seemed his family, who had practically settled the island a couple of centuries back, had owned our entire hill at one time but had been forced to sell it off parcel by parcel until all that was left was his scraggly little quarter-acre with its constantly-complaining dog and rickety lean-to, crowned by a pigeon coop.
Instinctively I turned to Michael for guidance but he was nowhere in sight. A faint, tell-tale whirring sound snaked around the side of the house. He was weed wacking again.
This had become his default activity. Some people hummed in their spare time, others played bridge or watched TV; Michael wacked weeds. Not that I was complaining. The grass here—in fact, all things green with the exception of whatever I planted in my window box—grew with photosynthetic abandon.
I sketched a brief smile, anxious to convey neighborly bonhomie. The man smiled back, patting his ample stomach, which jutted from beneath his too-tight shirt.
“Did you say fairy?”
He eyed me for a moment, then took a swig of beer. The cigarette was doing a slow burn toward his index finger but he didn’t seem to notice. “Big boat.”
Ah. Ferry. Sighing under my breath, I peeled off my gardening gloves. “Uno momento,” I said, smiling again. He seemed harmless enough but a quick conference with Michael was definitely called for. He’d know what to do.
As a naturally quiet person who is constantly accused of “sneaking up” on people, I’ve developed the habit of making all kinds of unnecessary noises to signal my approach. As a result, I can usually be heard a mile off, scuffing my shoes on the floor, fake-coughing, sneezing, rustling whatever papers I happen to be holding, anything to signify my approach.
But a weed wacker is a powerful noise adversary and after running through my full repertoire of faux-sounds I finally resorted to laying a hand on Michael’s shoulder. He gasped audibly, then switched off the machine.
“Sorry,” I said. I could still hear a faint whirring in my ears and could only imagine the cacophony of screeches hurtling around inside his skull.
“That’s okay,” he said with the studied patience of someone who has grown used to being interrupted in the middle of a any number of activities over the course of a twelve-year relationship. “What’s up?”
I cut my eyes toward the back of the house. “It’s our neighbor.”
His expression conveyed an epic lack of concern. His trigger finger visibly twitched. I could almost see a cartoon bubble over his head: So many weeds, so little time.
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “The only one we’re acquainted with,” I almost hissed. “The guy next door. The one whose name we don’t know, although by now we should.” We had heard him called both Humberto and and Tito and Chago on various occasions and now we weren’t sure which was his real name and were too embarrassed to ask.
“I think he wants a ride to the ferry.”
This brought the itchy finger to a full stop. “Now?”
“He’s at the gate.”
He hesitated, clearly torn between the clarion call of solidarity with his partner in a Time of Need and the unbridled delights of decimating unwanted vegetation. With a slight grimace he propped the weed whacker against the terrace balustrade. “I’ll be there in two minutes.”
(to be continued…)