Road

Painting by Lulu Pelletier

Long grass and blackberry bushes grow on each side of this sunny island road, before more trees and houses. No sidewalks here. The ditches beside the road are shallow and overgrown with grass. There are still telephone poles, the wires connecting each one to the end of the street. I step over a ditch and eat a blackberry and it’s sweet. I have noticed packages of blackberries for sale in the grocery stores, five dollars for about twenty of them. I hold a margarine container with a lid to put the ones I pick into, but my collection isn’t amounting to much yet and only a few roll around inside the container. I need a new place to live. At both ends of the street and behind the houses is all woodland. I should live in the woods. The trees at the end of the road look quiet and leafy with lots of branches. Or I could live in a tent in a friend’s back yard, and then borrow their shower. I forget about my cat with this planning, so these ideas are not realistic. There are no bears or cougars around here. Some rabbits, not that they are dangerous, of course. But there are the coyotes and the mosquitos. The coyotes carry away pets never to be seen again, and the mosquitos find any exposed skin not long after the sun leaves. I am living indoors which is a step up, but it would be nice to be somewhere with no screaming.

You may ask what the screaming is from. It’s not me, although a lot of days I feel like screaming myself. It’s the woman upstairs who gets a skinful as the night progresses and talks on the phone on the sundeck. This is what happened last night. She was talking to someone on the phone for the longest time, then after a while I am aware that she is no longer on the phone but the talking continues. It’s like a loud muttering with swearing intermixed, her voice getting louder and louder. The swearing increases and she is now shouting, but it’s just to herself and the night and whoever will listen, or whoever is lying in bed with their windows open which is quite a few people in this warm weather. What started on the sundeck is then taken down to the street where her argument now resides. This is a nice street and there are places where doctors live, with long driveways, and places to put horses. A retired teacher drives up and down the street making sure there is nothing amiss. Today the street is quiet though.

Sometimes, like last night,  the divide between upstairs and downstairs doesn’t seem enough. Between my suite and the door to upstairs there is a laundry room separated by a  door that is thin and doesn’t close properly. My bedroom is at the end of the hall. To get there I walk through a narrow hall full of my boxes, stacked on one side. Boxes that will never be unpacked here. In bed, listening to the shouting, my jaw and shoulders tighten. Usually at night, in the past I would play solitaire on my laptop or listen to BBC 6 if I can’t sleep, waiting until I am sleepy. There is a lamp on the bedside table but I don’t want to turn it on in case it was noticed I was up and then there would be a knock on the door and I become the one who is the focus of this. But there is no knock on the door.  I pull the sheets up around my neck. Looking out from this position I see the tops of the fir trees against a summer sky that still has a trace of light, despite the time.
Over the past few months I have seen this rage, it has come out of the mouths of different people and I can’t seem to get away from it. It transfers from one person, one situation to another. Here the beauty of nature, especially in the morning, makes a contrast to this. If I am out just after sunup I see raccoons crossing the road, tiny rabbits escaping into the bushes around the tree trunks and deer in the clearings of the fields. An eagle that flies low, perhaps only ten feet above me as I walk down the road.

My cat, he didn’t like the noise. He flinches when there is shouting, and lies his head down on his paws on the bed waiting for it to stop.  I know the way he likes to sleep. The way he always does. Curled up next to me on the bed, so he is comforted by my warmth. He never liked me to face away from him though. Sometimes if I turned and slept on my side I would feel one paw on my back a couple of times in the night. I was never sure if it was because he wanted my full attention, or he couldn’t see my face and know that I was breathing and able to feed him in the morning. I am half asleep but I notice he jumps off the bed and goes out into the hall as if he is unsettled where he is. It is after 3 in the morning and I fall to sleep. An hour or so later I wake up in the night and he is still not on the bed. I go down the hall to find him sleeping on the top of an armchair in the living room, between two passageways to the front door and to the laundry room, as if he is guarding me, the way to me from both directions. He has never done this before.

There are children upstairs, also. I have met them and they are both likeable and easy to get along with, both girls. I see them chasing after eachother in the yard and running past the window, sometimes armed with waterguns. Riding bikes in the street. Bringing me apples from the tree in the yard. But sometimes things are a blur and in my mind, I hope they are not upstairs but are with relatives or friends. It is because I think I can do nothing, about this anger that I think has followed me here but they have to live with every day. And then in the morning, like this morning, nobody drops them off, I hear their voices, and I know that they must have been there through it.

It has been hot. Like Hawaii hot. There are forest fires many miles away and when I go outside like I am now, picking blackberries, and walk along the road a haze of smoke rises above the trees. They say they don’t really need anyone to read the weather in Hawaii. 85 every day. It is 95 here today.

Some of the blackberries on the bushes look better from a distance. When you are close up, a few berries are dark but not quite ready. Some are still red, a mix of red and black on the same branch.

Earlier that morning, when I got up and went into the kitchen to make coffee. The window by the couch looked out over the yard and the road. Black fuzzy dots of flies swarm and settle along the lower half of the window, with  a couple of them flying across the top. About a dozen. I didn’t have a swatter yet. I needed to go to the dollar store and get one. Last time I was there I forgot. I got looking at the tins of cat food and then never got back to the aisle with the swatters. I had small papers on the counter beside the coffee machine from the newspaper boxes on the main street, that I had already read. The kind of papers you read on your lunch or with your coffee in the morning if you didn’t have a chance to buy a full-sized paper, they were a summary of everything. The things you do when you are working. I still remembered doing these things, even though I am guilty about doing them now, when I don’t have a job.

I picked the newspapers up to skim through them and do the crossword. They were a little thin so I combined two of them and folded the lot into three sections, crept to the window, focussed, and whacked. Close up the flies almost looked darkest blue rather than black. I started swatting them. It must have taken me at least five minutes to smack at the ones I saw until they were dead. A couple of them escaped, and some didn’t even try to get away. I would have to sweep them up afterward, which I did with my broom and dustpan. Then I started the coffee since all the swatting was done. I put the filter in the coffee machine making sure the paper reached into all of the grooves. I had bought it for $8 at a charity shop before I moved here. A little bit of water leaked out of the side every time from underneath, when I used it, but other than that it was fine. I fold a towel and put it under the machine. I tried to concentrate on the scent of the coffee dripping into the carafe in order to help me forget about the flies for a minute or two. I had an idea about why the flies were there, but I wasn’t sure. Actually, I was pretty sure.

A spider was caught up in cobwebs in the hallway, around the boxes above the skirting boards, a spindly leg fellow not interfering with what I was doing. Normally the flies weren’t a problem inside, unless I had the door open because on a nice day, and they would fly in for something to do, looking for something to land on. This was unfortunate, because it was nice with the door open, letting the sun shine in onto the floor and having the birds in the evergreens nearby and the way the deciduous branches moved, the leaves flickering like silver dollars and the hushing sound they made with the breeze. After I made coffee, and drank it, I bought some Raid and a pink fly swatter from the dollar store.

The next morning, I looked out the same window and saw the flies were back.  The big flies, the lazy ones that don’t buzz around much like the smaller ones do. I knew it was what I suspected. The rat that had been around lately must have eaten the poison the landlords had put out and died in the wall near the laundry room. There seemed to be some kind of bad odour, although I couldn’t smell it in my living space, but I caught a whiff of it every time I did laundry.

The rat was big when it was alive, or at least it sounded big to me. At first, when I moved in about three weeks ago, I heard it running above the ceiling and I thought the people upstairs might have had a toy Yorkshire Terrier, but when I asked them, they said they didn’t. They had a Pitbull and he made different noises, you heard his nails against the linoleum floor.  Sometimes when the rat was around I heard him when I was in the kitchen. He was in the wall and gnawing on something which he was tearing at, as if it was cardboard, as if he was building some sort of palace in the wall.  You could tell that some action was going to be required regarding his presence, unless he decided to go rummage somewhere else and not return.

I was out for a walk every day especially when the sun was shining. Down the road to the corner where I would turn, there was a big yard with a fence around it, with dogs that sat on the porch way back into the yard. When they saw me on the road they would jump up, bark like mad, and run as close to me as they could get, which was up to the fence, where they would continue to roar until their owner told them to stop.

Once last week, I lay there in bed at night and heard dogs barking far into the nearby forest. It didn’t sound like they were close by the house. I thought the barking must be from a house on the next road. Eyes barely open I looked out the window and scan the blackness but spot nothing. Then I must have fallen asleep. I found out the next day that there was a pack of coyotes right in the back yard. The next night when I lay there I imagined them in my head, in the moonlight, the coyotes wandering around the yard and under the apple trees, sniffing at the grass, while only a wall and a pane of glass away I slept under covers with my cat at my side. Once at night I heard a noise from a tree, and when I went outside I could see the ears of a great horned owl in the higher branches of an evergreen.

I took the Raid and sprayed at the flies, making sure the cat was in the other room. I swatted at them. I didn’t know how long it would take for the body of the rat to be gone. Eventually the flies decreased and there were only one or two left.

And no rat replaced it. There was no more scampering over the ceiling.

My cat is an indoor cat. This is the first time I have ever had grass in front of a front door since he was a kitten, where I can supervise him. I do this during the day. I let him have small venturings onto the grass. Once he has a go chasing a robin for real. It is the first time in his life he has chased a bird with a chance of catching it and he is fourteen. He takes a run and has a serious go at the robin but the robin flies away and I don’t think my cat really knows what he is doing. After a few minutes, after watching him, I always call him in. I walk over the grass to him, before the fir trees start because I don’t want him going too far from the house. Something takes him over. He becomes a cat I don’t know and hisses at me when I try to bring him inside. I wonder if he forgets who I am when he is in this other world, out in the wild, or he is nervous and doesn’t want to be disturbed in this new environment. But this morning before I leave to pick berries I notice already my cat doesn’t like the heat today. He stands in the doorway and senses that something is strange about the air, it doesn’t seem right to him and he turns around and  goes inside and sits on the cool floor, without the usual interest in this new world.

I’m not sure how long I will be able to live here. I am on welfare. At the moment I am here temporarily but I need to get a job fast. Any money I can offer for rent isn’t enough for them to have someone living in the basement, they say. The man upstairs tells me how he can make that much money in a third of a day. I think of someplace in time months ahead when I have somewhere normal to live, some place where I pay a lot of rent and I can afford it. They don’t know this person though, and to them I am just someone on welfare who has done something wrong to be in this predicament.

When I lay in bed, after the yelling and finding my cat on the chair. When I am tired enough to fall asleep, for some reason I think of Christmas and being in the pub in England. Sitting on the benches by the pool table, listening to Christmas songs on the jukebox, watching the pool balls rolling around on the green felt.  They play that Slade song. But I like the Slade song Mama Weer All Crazee Now. The song talks about spending money and drinking whiskey, both which I greatly enjoy doing, sitting watching a movie at home with a glass of it to sip, but neither of which I can afford to do at the moment. I know Quiet Riot did a version, but the Slade original I prefer. Because it’s from 1972.

As I am walking back to the house, with a few blackberries in my margarine container, two deer cross the lawn, near the trees at the front. They surprise me and I hold my breath. I stand on the road and watch them. I want to move closer to them. I want that feeling like I can be here and they won’t be afraid of me and I won’t disturb them, I can stand here and they won’t mind me being here. But it isn’t long before they notice me, they are both under one of the fruit trees in the yard. They notice my presence and kick up their legs like they do, showing the white on the back of their ankles, and in a minute they are almost out of the yard and into the trees, and that momentary escape for me is gone.

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