A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University, Susan E Lloy has published in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and the United Kingdom. A writer of short fiction living in Montreal, her short story collection, But When We Look Closer, will be published by Now Or Never Publishing April 15, 2017.
That Screaming Silence
“Maggi Brody! Well… that one can charm the fins off a shark.”
That’s precisely what her neighbour, Coleen, had said when she paused with her dog to inspect the truckload of garbage that had been dumped on the edge of the property line.
“How do you know it’s her?”
“Listen, Edie, I know you’re a recent addition to these parts, but that family is a problem and they don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.”
“But, Maggi seemed so nice when I moved in. She even brought me a pot of fish chowder and a sponge cake. A welcome gesture, so she said.”
“Oh… I’m sure she did. Smiling away, all the while those sons of hers’ were getting up to all sorts.”
“But, I have no proof.”
“You just wait. It’ll fall at your feet.”
She watched Coleen and her dog, Molly-Moo, head up the hill to the bluff where the open sea resides just beyond the cove. She had moved here from Montreal two months prior and it wasn’t the first time there had been garbage cast on her land. About five weeks ago someone had discarded an old fridge and sink with a dozen or more garbage bags. It irritated her then, as it did now.
She flew down five months ago after viewing the property online. There weren’t any neighbours directly next door, which was exactly the privacy she
craved. She had been dreaming of quiet for the last four decades after living the inner city life most of her adult life. The real estate agent said she would find peace here, yet this persistent dumping was making her blood boil. It wasn’t until later that she had discovered the real estate agent was, in fact, Brody kin. There was also continuous noise from revving car engines and ghetto blasters. Once, when she walked by the Brody place, one of the sons grinned at her as she looked on with a dismayed expression hoping it would resonate that this noise was upsetting her. Nevertheless, he only returned a cocksure smirk rubbing a wrench along his groin as if to say, ‘Come get it’. She then knew the only thing he was capable of respecting was a cold beer or a willing slut.
She continued up the hill to her older cape that hung back from the road with its generous lot just a bit more than an acre. It had worn blue shutters that could close against bad weather. The temperature remained warm for September, yet, she fortified all her windows in an attempt to find some degree of quiet simultaneously barring entry to the briny sea air she loved so much. The house itself had a calm atmosphere with white painted walls and exposed wooden beams throughout the main living area.
The space was splashed with vivid colours from relocated items that had been collected throughout the years: Turkish and Iranian rugs, antiques, old
doors from the street dripping in worn paint suggesting abstract paintings. Photographs and books.
She rarely played music, but here in her detached abode free from bothering neighbours with thin city walls, she went to the stereo and put on an old favorite. The Sex Pistols blared throughout the house. She imagined dozens of hardcore punks ambushing the Brody residence. Smashing ghetto blasters, stapling their heads, blowing up vehicles, wiping the grins right off their arrogant faces. This vision brought a smile to her lips as she stirred milk into her cup of tea.
It also brought back treacherous thoughts about her old city neighbours. There had been a family of the worst sort that lived directly across the alley. One could say the bottom of the barrel. They were a family of eight with five barking dogs, a daughter that kept popping out offspring and various cousins or other acquaintances that all lived in a flat not one hundred feet from her.
They had been at war for ten years. The hillbilly offspring had thrown bags of frozen dog defecation from the street at her windows; a brick had been thrown through her kitchen pane one Halloween and they had used her patio fence as a hockey net. When the spring came she was unable to open a window for fresh air because of their screeching and banging, and Mama Hillbilly could shatter every window on the block with her harsh, biting francophone shriek. They went away for three weeks every August and she
had dreamed of them scattered all over the highway following a fatal encounter.
Though, she thought herself a good person. ‘Yes, I’m good. I always offer help to the blind and give up my seat to the elderly or any pregnant woman on
the Metro. I’ve supported a few from the street. If someone looks lost with a map I’ve always offered assistance. Yes, I’m good.’
She sat at the table and viewed her laptop. She was reading a Hollywood gossip site advertising Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s former LA apartment being rentable for the night or by the week for a hefty price. One could even take a bath in the same tub where he wrote Heart-Shaped Box. She supposed the ordinary folk of Los Angeles had neighbour troubles too, but didn’t know how to deal with her own.
It was the first house she had ever purchased, which made her more protective towards it than her former rentals. Still, because she was besieged by noise and garbage it brewed up a storm of restlessness and a need for retribution. She had thought this the perfect retreat, safe from world terrors, as one could hardly imagine any extremist group feeling the need to ambush a small, seacoast village. The only thing here to terrorize was the odd fisherman or random lobster. Nevertheless, it felt menacing with that Brody clan just down the hill.
She called a local truck company to collect the debris hoping this would be the end of it. For it was to be her last time copping up money for garbage collection and as soon as she could prove who was doing this, she would face them. When she first came here it was winter and the persistent snowstorms had camouflaged the junk on the Brody land. When she arrived back in early summer old rusted cars, washing machines, snowmobiles and most disturbing, a bag of four drowned puppies were mixed within the other chattels peppering the yard. A sad Labrador mix tied up in the yard barked endlessly constantly chewing at itself as if it was infested with ticks or fleas, or both. So she attempted not looking in their direction as it made her depressed; however there was always some racket that drew her to them.
She had friends here; old friends from childhood who, when she complained about the Brodys advised her to take action. However, it was easy to say when they lived an hour and a half away surrounded by civilized folk who were perhaps far from perfect, but seemed so in comparison.
The truck had hauled off the junk for a price with money she really didn’t have managing on a limited pension. Her nerves had become electric anticipating the next heap of litter or some shattering clamour to commence at any second; she decided the best thing to do was drive into the city and have dinner with a friend, feeling the need to escape this once dreamed of haven.
She took the coastal route even though it was slower. The sun had burst through the fog and the sea glistened. The seaside towns appeared sleepy and subdued and she imagined polite folk smiling on the streets offering a wave to a neighbour, a smile to a passer by. At least that’s how she remembered it, when she lived here forty years ago, for she was an outsider now even if she had been born here. She rolled into the driveway of her friend Stella who lived outside the city close to the sea.
The house smelled of homemade bread and stew. Stella had never worked and had perfected her baking and cooking skills to high art.
“Edie! So great to see you.”
They hugged each other tightly and sat down at the table, the woodstove blazing close by. Stella opened a bottle of wine and Edie took in the silence of the still house.
“It’s so nice here. Can’t hear a sound.”
“I know, it’s hard to beat. Is it really as bad as you say?”
“Worse. I don’t know what to do. I just got settled, but I feel like selling. You know it had been on the market for some time. Now I know why. That cunt of an agent! I feel like letting her have it, but I know it’s a waste of time. She’s probably at their place right this minute having a laugh that she finally sold that house she conned me into. I hope she get’s vaginal warts.”
“And anal warts as well!”
“Well Edie, it’s good that you’ve kept all your angst. Sounds like you’ll need it.”
They ate and talked about old times; sexual escapades of their youth, hallucinogenic travels, failed marriages and Stella’s long lasting one. Stella had been fortunate. Her husband had never insisted she work even though they could have used the money. She had been able to stay home with the children long after they were gone and had marriages of their own, leaving Stella free to garden, cook or do just about anything she felt like. Edie had always been a little jealous, but she loved Stella and really couldn’t imagine her any other way except sitting here serving up one of her lovely meals in this cozy dining room.
“Shall I open another?”
They settled before the woodstove watching the fire dance Flamenco.
“You know, Stella, I don’t know what to do, I’m starting to get really distraught. This house was to be it for me. Finally, something of my own and I hate it there. I hate that family. All my money is tied up in that place.
“Edie, first, you need evidence. Why don’t you buy yourself a security system? They’re not that expensive and then you’ll know for sure. You can take it to the local authorities.”
“Then they’ll know it was me. It’ll start an all out combat. Don’t think I can face that again. That hillbilly clan in Montreal and I were at it for years. I called the cops countless times and we didn’t even look at each other except to shout insults. I need refuge now.”
“I get it, but if you’re planning to stay there you better do something about it.”
She had slept over at Stella’s and did some shopping the following morning. Driving back from the electronics store her thoughts turned to Henry. Henry was a boy with Asperger’s who lived on her old street and when he reached adolescence he honed in on her, his reason hidden. He had pitched snowballs at her windows, played knock off ginger repeatedly and threw empty plastic containers and garbage in her yard. When her giant sunflowers finally reached their zenith each September he’d break and twist them, their large brown faces ending up beaten down and submissive. She couldn’t figure out why he chose her, but she had become the focus of his boring and friendless world. All of his entertainment geared at her torment. It got on her nerves, yet, she could never really be angry with him and felt a deep compassion for his lonely life. Even so, when the last box was loaded on the moving truck she thought, ‘The fuck out of this place’, after nearly a quarter of a century of life on that city block.
She bought two Spy Pen Cameras with video and audio that were total Double 007. They could record day and night conditions and the Brodys would have no idea that they were being monitored. She couldn’t believe that things had amounted to this; still she saw no other way out and didn’t have the energy or will to move again. After all, she liked the atmosphere of this house and had put money into the place with small improvements and a renovated bathroom. Plus, she adored this spot, with the soft rolling hills, the sea less than a five-minute brisk walk from the house and a quaint little town that waited fifteen minutes away by car. The only things wrong here were them.
She had done some snooping at the local library and it appeared they had roots that went a ways back. Their great grandfather had been a captain of a sailing ship that had brought supplies up the coast from Halifax to ports along the South Shore. The following generation had stayed back from the sea and ventured into logging and other avenues. Finally, this lot appeared to do little else except loaf around wasting their hours away, fixing old cars and hauling off junk here and there.
Edie had published a small chapbook of poetry in her youth that had received some attention, but since that time the work hadn’t progressed in any form. It was as if it had been a one-time wonder. She became stuck, unable to grace a single line of verse to the empty page. This place was to be the renaissance of the written word, her well of fertile process, a place to reclaim the past. Sitting at her writing table, she had a view of yard and the scent of the sea beyond. A spectrum of Lupines swayed in the morning breeze. There was an idea that had been free falling. Little fragments floating here and there. Now was the time to reel it in, confine it to the page. I never knew how you found this voice built of pick axes and chainsaws…
The minute the words were placed on the screen a burst of hullabaloo could be heard from the open window. The Brody dog began to bark hysterically and the sound of metal clashing against metal ricocheted throughout the house. She moved to the kitchen to obtain a clear view of the Brody property. Two of the sons began unloading equipment and some sort of car parts off the truck. The dog continued to bark and one of the sons shouted, “Shut the fuck up!” The dog yelped turning its bark to a low whimper. ‘Those cunts’, she thought as her recaptured words evaporated from her mind. She barricaded the windows and was so angry she had no resolve to create, thinking only of retaliation and bloodshed.
On one level, she’d like to kill them just for keeping their dog tied up. What kind of life is that for the beast? ‘We are rural inhabitants, so why can’t the poor thing run around and enjoy its freedom?’ It was held hostage for the sounding of thieves and intruders. Although, she couldn’t get for a single minute why anyone would want to make off with his or her junk, especially one of Maggi Brody’s diabolical lawn gnomes. One of which carried a baseball bat and blew a huge piece of pink bubble gum out of its grinning mouth.
The barking Brody dog brought back horrors of her past. She had lived in the city centre with everyone bunched up next to each other for thirty some odd years. It seemed that nearly every other neighbour had some sort of yapping mutt. The ones directly across the street from her had this minute terrier, who only stopped yapping for a brief microsecond in order to catch its breath. She had hated the dog and wished it dead and relayed this information to Henry, who in turn, immediately delivered this report to the owners.
Regardless, they just looked on as it eternally yapped without intervention. Once, as the owner walked this annoying creature, she fiercely hissed like a sac of rabid rattlers behind her overgrown cedar bushes at a squirrel that had been digging up her plants. The neighbor of the dog looked at her with extreme alarm as he passed her front gate when she returned a full mouth smile and offered a friendly wave from her open living room window. In reality, she had been surrounded by barking dogs on both sides as well as to the back of her and so this Brody critter returned all of her former anguish.
She headed to the bluff hoping the sound of the open sea and wind would soften her fury. Upon arriving she saw Coleen and Molly-Moo rumbling along a trail. Colleen repeatedly threw an old stick and Molly-Moo smiled making a run for it. Colleen waved her arm high in the air and Edie joined her.
“Edie, nice to see you. How’s everything?”
“Awful. I hate that family.”
“I know… they aren’t very considerate. I’m grateful I live further away and can’t hear or see them. What are you planning?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have any solutions or can even begin to come up with a strategy. I bought some tiny video cameras and was thinking of secretly filming them and taking it to the authorities. But, I know it would start a feud and I just don’t have it in me for this.”
“Edie, why not just talk with Maggi Brody. What have you to lose?
“Yeah, perhaps, you’re right.”
They chatted about local plants and shrubs and where the best cranberry and blueberry bushes were located along the rugged shoreline.
Edie returned from town with all the ingredients for her famous Coq au vin, which was intended as a calculated bribe. She began to prepare the dish when a hot flash ensnared her. She remembered humid city summers and sleepless Montreal nights, when life seemed a fine line between cognizant and inanimate. How she had roamed her former flat in an attempt to shed the heat like a lost wanderer observing the neighbors from her sofa. One directly across the street from her had habitually walked naked through his living room. Stretched and caressed his expansive stomach. Scratched his arm, groin hair visible. He had gazed in her direction and could have cared less if she’d seen him. On several occasions she had noticed his teenage daughter lounging on his lap. He was unclothed from the waist up and because of his sitting position she could never determine if he sported underwear of not.
There was also the sociopath française, who had befriended everyone on the block. Then from one day to the next never said bonjour to anyone. Hurting all she had bedazzled, with disregard for children, hearts or consequences. And, she couldn’t forget Cowboy Boots, who lived directly next-door and stomped to and fro with his great heels on the hardwood floors, often so hard that her photographs fell from the wall.
She got on with her cooking and prepared fresh tea biscuits to accompany the chicken. Not long ago Maggi had been in the yard hanging up clothes and had yelled something to her sons and Edie hoped this ambush of kindness would pay off. She brought the dish down to the Brodys in her pricey Le Creuset cooking pot. As she approached the dog began to bark, more excited than aggressive, wagging her tail with each wail. Edie approached the dog offering her a piece of boneless chicken and a biscuit, which she gobbled down feverously returning a wide smile. “That’s a good girl”, Edie murmured rubbing her head and back, which was in need of a good bath and brush, then lightly knocked on the side door.
“Well, hello there, Edie”
“Hi Maggi. Just wanted to return the favor. Your fish chowder and cake were delicious. I wanted to thank you with this chicken dish.”
“That’s very kind of you. Want a cup of tea?”
Maggi invited her to sit at the kitchen table, which was cluttered with condiments and dirty dishes.
“Here, now. Let me tidy these up. Been busy all morning with the washing.”
Maggi cleared the table and took a big sniff of the Coq au vin.
She placed the deep, blue pot on the counter.
“Maggi, I’m not quite sure how to say this, but I moved here for quiet and there’s constant noise coming from your place. Is there any way that your sons could keep it down a bit?”
“What do you mean… keep it down?”
“OK, is it really necessary for that ghetto blaster to be playing so loud all the time; this combined with all the auto mechanics, and let’s not forget about the countless times there’s been garbage dumped on my property. Is it your guys that are doing this?”
“Listen dear, we’ve been here a long time and you – you just got here. That’s how my family makes a living. Collecting and selling parts, so if you don’t like it, I suggest you just pack up and leave or learn to live with it. Cause, we’re going nowhere or changing nothing.”
“I’m just saying, because maybe you’re not aware of the noise level. Perhaps the former owners of my place didn’t mind, but I do. I need quiet. That’s why I moved here.”
Edie was still sitting in the chair when one of the sons burst into the kitchen and with a greasy hand picked up a tea biscuit, stuck it in the Coq au vin, hauled out a piece of chicken and shoved it in his chops as if this was his last moment on earth.
“Leonard. Edie here wants us to keep it down.”
“Does she now.”
“Yes, I’d appreciate it. I don’t always want to hear your music. It’s so loud and sound travels, as you know. I’m a poet and require a degree of calm to write. Leonard kept stuffing the chicken into his mouth.
“She’s a poet and don’t know it. You stink and I know it”, chuckling to himself as Edie stared open-mouthed in disbelief at the two of them in wait of some polite response that never came; she took one last glance at her expensive cookware as she headed out the door.
“Well the nerve of her!” blasted Maggi.
A recent Nor’easter had passed through the land leaving heaps of snow and cold in its wake, but with it a blanket of calm. The Brodys were only seen shovelling or going to and fro in one of the family trucks, one of which had a plough. She imagined this provided work throughout the winter months. Often, when she was working the snow in her own driveway she watched them clearing the road withholding the offer of a single snowflake removal.
The months befell and the winter storms called, obscuring the land with giant hills of white. She took long strolls along the coast sometimes running into Coleen and Molly Moo on their daily walks. Often, she stopped at an old cemetery whose worn tombstones tilted in the crisp sea air from age and assaults from the sharp Atlantic gales. Most of the engraved names were smooth and illegible, yet a few had withstood the barrage and one stood erect with Brody stubbornly centered on the grey weathered stone. The date was more than a hundred years old and she imagined it to be the great grandfather sea captain.
The months had dragged in slow succession, though it never bothered her, for it was the first time her nerves had settled since arriving here, although she recurrently heard the Brody dog crying in the cold as it was always tied up and left outside for hours on end. Her sad wail made her hate them even more. As a diversion, once or twice a month she had dinner with friends in the city. Stella had visited and she herself had produced a rather dense volume of violent verse about death, revenge, serial killers and the like. Edie had been surprised by these dark outbursts and the poems were a mammoth departure from her earlier works. A chill ran through her when she read, impassioned words that conversed with the old creaking house. The winter quiet had been a welcome companion and the thought of the impending spring brewed up feelings of heartsickness and anxiety, for she knew what awaited.
Sure enough, when the warm breezes graced the land and the snow melted there was yet again, rubbish old tires and such in all its glory bursting through the last bit of snow. Revving car engines competed with loud music for dominance. The sinister lawn gnomes grinned once more at her from the Brody yard. She flirted with the idea of calling a real estate agent, but knew it would be a hard sell with all the wreckage and noise that seldom stopped.
The following evening as she watched the news headlines and world horrors on her flat screen, she reflected on what exactly humans required to sustain life: food, shelter and a clean water supply. Well-poisoning has been practiced since antiquity…what if some critter found a way into their well? On her last big hike she had noticed a dead skunk and a sizable racoon carcass, both in close proximity to each other. Their deaths appeared recent, remaining well preserved under the winter freeze. She loaded them in her wheelbarrow storing them in the extra freezer in the mudroom.
Edie waited, worried that she might never have her chance until early one fog thick morning two weeks later she saw Maggi all dolled up and her sons looking somewhat respectable, heading out in two vehicles. The Brody dog was left tied up. She took a big section of cold roast beef and the remains of the dead down the hill to their property after the last bit of road left their tires. The well was off to right side of the house with its beach stone base and flat lid. A basket of clothespins rested on top.
The dog barked and wagged its tail when she approached repeating, “Now, now there girl, look what I’ve got for you.” She gave her the meat and released her from the chain. The dog smiled, gobbling down the beef in two seconds flat, joining Edie at the well, sniffing the bodies and wagging her tail. Edie pushed the lid aside just enough to drop the corpses into the darkened, deep drop.
The dog remained quiet in Edie’s cape when the Brodys returned the following afternoon. It didn’t utter a sound when the truck doors slammed. Edie had fed, bathed and brushed her; removed six bloated ticks from her skin “Lets just see, hey…” She didn’t venture outside, for she didn’t want the dog to bark after her and only peeked out the windows at random intervals. She walked the dog to the side of the house where they went unnoticed.
The Brodys continued about their business the following days, but by the week’s end not a sound could be heard except the birds and crickets, the soft sway of the leaves in the afternoon breeze, a gull shrieking in the sky above. The sun had nearly set bestowing a regal hue on the horizon. The Brody house was unrecognizable, enveloped by the evening fog. She put on loud music dancing to the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop, stopping only briefly to scream in the long awaited silence.