Standing on her back porch, she looked to the east at the lights of the city. They were brighter than the stars twinkling closer to the ground tonight, pink and orange hues dancing against the blackness. Above the skyscrapers, planes flew west where once she believed she’d live someday. But now as then, she knew this place she had settled down in almost forty years ago was hers. The lights. The buildings. The whole feel of the scene. All of this was hers. She took a deep breath and felt satisfied about her decision to stay in the city she’d called home for half of her life. It was where she had raised her kids, where she had become a professor, and where she prided herself now in being a master gardener. Even after the war-like divorce, she got the house. She got the cars. She got it all.
As she stood there alone in her backyard, the one she’d fought to keep so long ago, she glanced over at the Japanese gardens created by her second husband, Frank. Her shaking hand gripping her drinking glass, she slowly sipped at the last few ounces of wine sitting at the bottom, now very warm from the heat of her hands. She forced back the tears and the scene behind her, the scene she could not face, not yet. Instead, in the dark, she walked down the steps of the porch and down the path to the waterfall she and Frank built last summer. They kept the water running all year long despite the freezes, despite the record low temperatures every winter. Neighbors commented regularly that they loved the sound of the water running on the rocks; how peaceful, how calming one felt listening to the meditating and healing sounds of a little bit of nature on the outskirts of the city.
Unfortunately, even in the stillness of the midnight hour, Marjorie could neither enjoy her mini-waterfall nor the silence of her well-established neighborhood. Instead, all she could hear was the echo of her grandson’s drums beating inside her head. After dinner, he had begun to play heavy metal sounds and tuned out the world as he recorded beats that vibrated the windows of her sun room and sent the next-door neighbors running over to complain about the loud base accompanying the drums. This evening, the neighbors left a note on the door detailing the way the music’s vibrations could be heard all the way upstairs in their bedroom. It shook their windows. It disturbed their cat. All of this was written down and taped to the glass of Marjorie’s front door, but Marjorie never saw it. She was on the side of the house working in the yard, in the area that needed the most attention. And when her grandson was done with his drum practice, she entered the house through the garage.
Now, thinking back, how different the night would have been if only she had seen the neighbors, maybe had them call the local authorities about the loud noise. She would never do it herself, but if someone else had done it for her, she could have lived with herself and her grandson for one more day. How different this whole night would have been if only the neighbors had reported how her grandson was breaking the noise ordinance law. It really was their fault, she convinced herself. They should have taken care of the problem on their own; after all, they were the ones who had been so disturbed.
Truth to tell, Marjorie couldn’t stand the drums any more than anyone else in the neighborhood. She had told her grandson on more than one occasion that he needed to turn down the speakers in the sun room. He also needn’t wear ear plugs, for if he had to protect his own ears, the sounds he was producing, which he called music, were much too loud and unpleasant for all those around. She had pleaded with him, but he produced the same reaction every time: yelling, stomping, and throwing objects around the house. Directives produced aftermath behaviors that reminded Marjorie of a young child, but this was a twenty-something young man who still dressed as he had when he was in high school: long shorts or baggy pants, baseball cap turned backwards, and usually sleeveless shirts that displayed muscles and several snake tattoos. Marjorie was patient with him though, and she wanted her house to be peaceful. So, when her grandson came home from a shift at a local sandwich shop, she would rush outside with a quick to-do list which usually included lawn clean up. Since Frank, her second husband, was not as patient as she was, it was the best to enlist him in the work as well in order to avoid bigger confrontations that she would have to handle later.
It was much, much later in the evening that she had heard her grandson stirring in the sun room, but he was not alone…he had invited his girlfriend over and they were quietly talking in Marjorie’s sun room, his music room. This was a bit odd, because the girlfriend smiled brightly at Marjorie and Frank who were sitting on the couch watching a movie. As the girlfriend entered the front door, Marjorie noticed that she was not carrying one, but two backpacks, one on each shoulder. She also noticed that the girl who usually prided herself in wearing very tight and short shorts was lately wearing baggy t-shirts and cut off sweat pants. Marjorie too had noticed that lately, the girl seemed happier and wanted to stay over later. Marjorie would never push or crowd the girl out, for she had her suspicions about the relationships her grandson was fostering.
Much earlier in the evening, although now it didn’t seem so long ago, the drum beats took over the house, and Marjorie had thought it best to pull Frank and herself outdoors. After all, she needed to work on the side of the house where they had trained bushes to bend and twist like Bonsai trees. A statue of a temple with vines winding around it and ground cover plants cushioning its weight were all a nice touch, but Marjorie knew that no one would notice this beauty unless the grass was thoroughly raked and the ground cover neatly clipped so that it did not hang over the brick border buried in the ground. If nothing else, no one could ever say that Marjorie’s yard was a mess.
As she worked, she saw from the corner of her eye, a car slowly driving up to the front of the house. It parked just on the other side of her drive, but it wasn’t familiar, so she continued to focus on the dead layer of grass gathering in the teeth of her rake and out of the thick live carpet of green. “Mom! Frank! How are ya?” The voice was very familiar, and when she turned around, it was her son. What was he doing here? “Just popping in to say hello and maybe stay for a few days.” A pit bull ran from behind him; she barked and wagged her tail. Marjorie noticed that the dog’s teats hung low, indicating to her that she had just had puppies. Her son quickly called the dog and it ran back to lick his hands. “Mom, this is Pity; I hope you don’t mind her staying too.”
Frank sat still in the grass, in the very spot where he began weeding. He wiped his muddy fingers on his old garden t-shirt. His shoulders rolled forward to catch bits of the conversation that were taking place in the yard to get a feel for what was being spoken. He was hard at hearing, but he knew, he could tell, that in this short interaction, Marjorie’s son would be staying for days, maybe weeks. Frank suddenly felt thirsty for another beer, but he would have to step up his vigilance. He would need to make sure this dog was fed, make sure the poop was cleaned up. He would have to watch the street for any cars that pulled up with Marjorie’s son when he stayed here. There was always some stray to come along with the stray, and Frank was the one keeping an eye out for anything extra or missing. He was really craving that beer or something stronger now.
He sighed as he remembered the one summer that Marjorie’s son brought piles and piles of other people’s discarded things to the house. Every day, he cruised streets looking for junk he never sold but continued to pile on the sidewalk by the mailbox. A broken TV. A shelf. A bag of clothes. Piles of books. Whatever possessed this guy to look for the desk with the broken drawer? The chair with the missing leg? The scrap metal that could have been recycled? One day that summer as Marjorie’s son unloaded his truck (or was it a van that season?) Frank ran out of the house waving his arms telling this ‘yahoo’ to take back all the things he had brought with him from the garbage and take it to whatever corner or park or homeless shelter he now found himself currently living in or parking at. Marjorie had run from behind telling Frank to stop, telling him to leave her son alone, saying that he could bring her whatever he found worthwhile. Maybe some of it was useful. Maybe they could salvage a few pieces. Maybe they could re-sand, re-paint, or repair this or that, but nothing was worth anything, not according to Frank.
Now, Marjorie wondered if it had all been worth it. Should she have allowed her explosive grandson, and now possibly his pregnant girlfriend, to move in and make a home inside her home? What if she hadn’t allowed her own son with all of his hoarding tendencies, including the pit bull, to stay? Would she and Frank be watching a second movie on the couch right now? Would they be on their next bottle of wine? Then, she thought of how awful it would have felt if she had denied her own flesh and blood, her own family, the space and comfort of house that she so vehemently fought to keep. Making no clear decision had been her only decision all along. She looked out at the city lights one last time and yearned for more wine in her glass. As she moved up the hill to the porch, the stars seemed to dim, and she knew this would be one of the longest nights of her life.
She turned the door knob of the back door and walked through the kitchen. There lay Frank on the floor at the bottom of the stairs where she last saw him, his wine glass and its contents now having rolled off the carpet and onto the tile of the entry way foyer. He laid there motionless, save for his chest moving in a rhythmic upward and downward wave. It was late, but he had still not taken off his gardening shirt, an original Led Zeppelin tee. Robert Plant as the naked and iconic angel seemed to be flying up towards the sky within the outline of stars and the circle of orange, pink, and yellow hues. Those were such beautiful colors, she thought; they were just like the city lights twinkling in her backyard. She quickly grabbed her cellphone and dialed 911.