This is the culmination of my previous post: I Trashed the Neighborhood. I told my girls I had to go next door for a moment. They asked why, and I told them I might have done something inappropriate and needed to find out if I got caught….
I stepped onto my front porch and paused to take in my surroundings. Our garbage man still hadn’t shown up. The “vacationing” neighbor kids rode their bikes up and down their driveway, passing the cushion stuffed trash can again and again. Were they guarding it?
I waved a quick hello, feeling the heat of scarlet embarrassment stain my cheeks. They didn’t notice and kept steering with both hands and pedaling with purpose.
I sauntered like a slug across my yard to theirs. I retired my running shoes earlier that day and took my time. I said, “Great day for a bike ride.” No response from the boy who raced back and forth. The little girl squeezed her rubber horn. HONK!
My legs trembled like Jello yet managed to lift me to their front steps. Phew! Their windowless wooden door was shut behind the screen door. I could only wish no one saw me with my trash. I tapped on the door. No answer. Could the kids be here alone? I knocked a little harder. Still, no answer. Yes! I was in the clear. Relieved, I snapped around to leave.
I made it down the second step when the door opened! Nuts and bolts! I spun around to the glare of Mrs. Nextdoor. My petite neighbor loomed above me behind her closed screen door. She peered out with slitted eyes and a thin line of lips, straight as a ruler. No teeth. No smile. No expression. No greeting. Why so serious, Mrs. Neighbor?
I quickly stammered, like a stuttering woodpecker, “Oh! H-hey there. I didn’t think. I-I didn’t know, I didn’t expect you to be home yet.”
Silence. Although my body scorched in the sun, I gained no relief from her icicle presence.
“I hope you had a good time away.”
“S-so, did you have a good time away?”
She crossed her arms, robotically lifted her head up and down, and murmured, “MmHmm.”
I knew this wasn’t going to end in a cup of borrowed sugar, so I quit the small talk and blurted, “I wanted to let you know that I used your garbage can this morning. Marc is late, so I put some stuff in yours.”
“Who is Marc?” she asked.
“You don’t know Marc, our trash collector?” I know Marc from talking to him during morning runs. He’s really a nice guy. It took me years to spell his name like on his name tag on his Christmas card.
“No, I don’t know Marc, and I already know you’ve been to our garbage can,” she said in a monotone voice matching her monotone face.
“Oh? I hope you don’t think I was stealing your garbage.” She cocked her head like a confused dog. “Yeah, I don’t make a habit of taking your trash. I was just putting in some extra garbage,” I babbled. “We had some parties while you were gone, and that really piles up, you know?” They rarely had company, so she probably didn’t get how one family could have so much to throw away. She continued to look at me like my words were coming out in upside down cursive.
“How did you know I came over?”
“My son told me. He saw you out of his bedroom window.”
“Oh. There were just some sticks and hedge clippings in there. You had plenty of extra room, so I brought over a bag filled with newspaper and drop cloths. Nothing stinky. I hope you don’t mind.”
More silence. It was clear she did indeed mind. “I want to explain that I don’t use your trashcan all the time. In fact, this is the first time ever. There was enough room left for me to dispose of my cushions too.”
“Cushions? Junior said you put a couch in there.”
“Ha!Ha!” I nervously chuckled. “No, there wasn’t enough room for that. Do you want me to get them out of there?”
“No, that will be fine.” I knew it wasn’t fine and she was irate, to say the least.
Steps away from her welcome mat, I kept yammering, “I picked up four new chair cushions a few weeks ago. Home Depot had a super deal.
They had some good ones that could replace yours.” Insert foot again. “Not that I’m saying you need to spruce up your old patio set. Anyhow, I’m sure glad we have a Home Depot now. I bought my paint from there and gave Lena’s bedroom a face lift. It’s blue and green and so cute, and I’m going to go home now if you don’t mind.”
“Ok, bye. Have a good day,” I whispered and flew down her steps. Junior nearly ran me over with his bike. Little sister honked her horn again.
Marc finally showed up and trashed my expectations for these neighbors who we were always friendly with. At the time, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but I obviously made Mrs. Nextdoor uncomfortable. Maybe she really did need softer, brighter cushions.
Later that week, the Nextdoors planted a new lawn ornament near the end of the driveway.
They moved away within months. Since then, I replaced the older “new” cushions, and donated the faded ones to the Salvation Army.