Saturday, April 14, 2012

A story: Love your Neighbour

from w
After finding a facebook group about a small country town where we used to live, I searched for a story I once wrote about a minister and his neighbour. It's fantasy but actually something like this did happen once upon a time but the characters are somewhat different. The story was accepted for publication then the company went broke so it's never been in print!

Love Your Neighbour

Two men faced one another over a fence. Holding an axe, Eric introduced himself. ‘Me name’s Eric Bodell. I hope you’ll like livin’ here. You’ll find us friendly enough.’

Eric leant forward and shook hands with the slender, dapper man half his age dressed in white pants and shirt and a velvet vest.

‘Dr Wilberforce Smith. Call me Wil.’

Eric responded. ‘I thought ya was a minister, not a doctor!’

Wil said ‘Well, I am that. The doctorate was on the negotiation of post-modern thought on meta-reality.’

‘Blimey!’ Eric did not want to get into that discussion. ‘Your church is down the end of the street isn’t it? I’m a Catholic so you won’t see me there.’

Wil said, ‘There are angels of all sorts everywhere. Like liquorice eh!'

Eric screwed up his eyes, puzzled. ‘Yeah. Well - I hope we’ll be happy neighbours.’

‘Of course. Love your neighbour as yourself, so they say, those mysterious gospel writers.’

Eric had something on his mind that must be said straight away. 'Well, Wil the tall tree on our fence ought to be chopped down. Here – have a lend of me axe.’

'No, no, not now!'

As a parting comment, Eric threw him, ‘ It sheds pods for six months of the year onto me car drive.’

'It’s a delightful tree. I can’t comply. The earth brought forth vegetation and trees bearing fruit and God saw that it was good.’

The two houses were both Californian bungalow but that's where the similarity ended. No 19 had a front garden of cement slabs perfectly clean, two pots of red geraniums trimmed of dead-heads. No. 21 had melaleukas that shed skin that peeled off in layers of pink and white. The back garden included numerous fruit trees and rioting untrimmed shrubs. Wilberforce was in his element. He had joined the Greens on occasion, though never camped on a tree-top.

Over days and weeks the two neighbours turned their backs on one another but memos started appearing in the adjacent letter-boxes.

'I'm still waiting, Rev. I gave that tree to the former tenant of No 21 two years ago as a seedling. Now you chop it down.'

A response was written on mottled green paper and read, 'No. The Lord loves a cheerful giver. In Proverbs I think.'

Eric hastily wrote another letter. 'One other thing that concerns me. It's the visitors you have that tramp up and down the side path. Can't you get them to use your front door instead?'

Wilberforce responded on pink paper with a watermark of lotuses. 'Dear No. 19. Your advice has been heeded. I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in and your raging against me. That's in a psalm.'

It took a week before the next posting. 'Your front doorbell is too loud. Tone it down. Also your Suzie bitch is causing all the neighbours a lot of concern.'

'Dear No 19. The doorbell has to be loud enough for me to hear when I'm in the back garden planting my green peppers and egg-plants - organic of course. Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns. Now our dear corgie Suzie is pregnant and I lay the blame squarely on your foxie, Hamlet, so I will give you the runt when Suzie produces her litter.'

'Dear No 21. 'What, no quote? What about Be fruitful and multiply? I know my Bible too Mr Reverend! I do not want the runt. My Hamlet is enough for me and my wife.'

'Dear No 19. Regarding a good wife - She is far more precious than jewels. That's in Proverbs.'

The correspondence stopped when both their wives emptied the letter-boxes as soon as they noticed their partners popping in the letters.

The new man did not last long. Wilberforce returned to Fitzroy where he was given a laid-back job in research into urban gentrification.

Meanwhile the tree shedding pods stood tall and firm and gave shelter to galahs, sparrows, magpies and an owl.

The manse was empty for a few months. Eric almost did the deed…his axe in hand, but decided to bide his time, do it legal, right?

Instead of replacing Wilberforce, the Elders rented out the manse to an itinerant family who hovered between part-time work and the dole. They believed they were playing their part in helping the new poor.

Buddy Muddleton moved in with his tribe of sons and his wife who did the washing in a trough of cold water. The garden had grown thick and wild, trees glowing with vibrancy and fruitfulness.

Eric saw Buddy eyeing the trees, especially the tall one growing so luxuriantly on the fence-line. This was the moment Eric had waited for. He collared Buddy.' Now, about that tree?'

‘I’ll get it down,’ said Buddy enthusiastically. 'I'll clean up the place, set fire to all that grass too.'

He went to work with his chain-saw aided by three lads. They demolished the tree in no time, then the grapefruit, the two apples, the fig, the plum, the grapevines, the melaleukas, the two sugar gums.

Buddy waddled over to the fence. ‘How’s that, mate? Actually I need the space to set up me car repair job. I hope you don't mind a little bit of noise. My son plays in a band so I hope you like Heavy Metal too.'

In Fitzroy, Wilberforce received a bundle of letters in a rubber band. On the back of one letter was scrawled a note. 'Dear Rev. These came to your old address. I'm sorry to tell you that your neighbour Eric is with us no more…'

'Oh dear, I didn't know he was so ill,' Wil murmured to his wife. 'Love, my Bible reading includes something auspicious, from Isaiah…'

'No, Wil. You misunderstand,' she interrupted. 'Read on. He put up his house for sale.'

Wilberforce had the last word as usual. 'I would have said, Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.'

Wil's wife sighed and got on with ironing the white shirts and white pants her clergyman husband liked to wear. She placed the hot iron on the lower backside of his favourite pants and left the room to make a cup of coffee for herself. It took about four minutes.

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