Contest #148 winner 🏆

Two Stubborn Women

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write about two neighbors who cannot stand each other.... view prompt

107 comments

Contemporary Fiction Speculative

The night is thick and heavy with clouds when I paint the front of The House yellow. I paint quickly and quietly. I don’t want to wake my neighbor up. The brush goes shhh shhh against the wall and even that is loud. 

My feet crunch on gravel as I finish up and slip into my home. 

My neighbor’s cursing wakes me up in the morning. I hear fuck! and shit! I split the blinds with two fingers. The sun shines very bright and I squint to see my other neighbors file outside. They see the yellow paint and shake their heads. One of them points at my home. I come away from the window. Knock knock. I do not answer. I make myself toast with a poached egg. I eat it plain. Butter has a strange, slimy texture and most jams are too sweet for my taste. 

They pound on the door. The doorknob rattles in its socket before I hear silence on my front porch again. 

My neighbors assume I painted The House. They are right, but it’s still insulting that they point to me first.

Upon purchase, my new neighbor repainted The House beige before moving equally bland furniture (and herself) inside. I must fix it. She does not understand that each house claims life as we do. Their creaks are small sighs and groans, their breath the wind that flutters curtains when their mouths are unlocked. Each house is individual in personality. They have different mannerisms, likes and dislikes that can influence whoever its inhabitant might be at the time. Often, though, its influence is overruled by tenants that bustle about, creating their own noises that muffle their homes.  

I can hear them. I hear anger when doors slam shut, peace when furniture is aligned and floors are swept clean. Houses do not have control over their appearance, so I help them. I listen and give them a color true to their individuality. 

The House in question, which you could say is my current “client,” is bubbly, but prone to sickness and somewhat oblivious to the struggles of others. It loves its inhabitants—most of the time—and wishes to give them a cozy embrace. Most of all, The House is very particular about its appearance and becomes incensed when the smallest thing is not quite right. Right now, it is sulking. The little yellow I gave it placated it, but soon it will demand more.  

In the afternoon I hear the grrr grrr of trucks and metallic clanking and deep voices shouting. Big men in loose denim pants and ugly T-shirts paint The House back to beige. My neighbor comes onto her lawn to survey the men, pointing out the spots that need extra paint. The painters finish quickly, taking my neighbor’s cash and leaving extra paint cans and brushes and crinkled plastic tarps. 

The House strains against its new skin. It pummels its beige bonds with angry fists and wails It’s so ugly! The neighboring houses think it silly and childish, but they are too old to remember what it was like to be a child. I will The House to be patient. Its paint is still wet. 

The sun burns hot, then abruptly cools in the evening. Rain is predicted in the next few days, so the air hangs thick like soaked velvet. I shift from chair to chair, unable to settle. I need distraction, so a sandwich is readily made and quickly eaten. I flip through books before putting them down. I stack the books. I eat some mini-pretzels. I play a movie and turn the volume up loud. All is drowned out by The House’s pouts and whines. 

I doze fitfully and when I sleep, I dream of an infant pouring a dripping yellow sky onto little people that drown in thick sunflower puddles. 

The night I return to soothe The House, a small red eye blinks from the corner of its porch. A camera makes my job harder, but it is only one. My neighbor is either lazy, or thinks that its presence is enough to deter me. Either way, that is her mistake. I open my paint can and approach from an angle. I grab a handful of viscous yellow and smear it over the lens. The paint is cool and slippery, coating the lens completely while the excess puddles in the dirt below. After that, it is a simple matter to paint as much yellow as I can in the time that I have. I cannot fully free The House, but its grousing quiets and it settles more comfortably into its foundations.

There is more cursing in the morning and more banging against my door. This time, my neighbor screams through the door. She says open up or I’ll break the fucking door down. My own home is a demure thing sheathed in light brown. A broken door will cause it tremendous pain and that will not do.  

My neighbor’s hair is unbrushed and sticks out like fur. She wears a big t-shirt and no shoes. 

I wish she was wearing shoes. I think feet are so foreign. I forget I have feet until I look down and wonder how something so strange could be attached to me.  

I know it’s you, she says. 

I’m quiet. I’ll hear what she has to say.

My neighbor turns red. Say something, she says. You are the only person here who would paint my house yellow every fucking night. I moved here and I heard stories about you. You stare at all the houses and peek in the windows and you talk to yourself more than you talk to other people. 

My neighbor goes on and on. She is quite incensed. Spittle flies from her lips and she jerks her hands about to show just how angry she is.

She says, You’re free to do what you want, but Jesus Christ, you have to know you look absolutely fucking crazy. The house was one thing, the camera is just ridiculous. I could put in a report for vandalism! I could call the police! What are you gonna do, deny it? You stupid bitch, I should report you right—

I don’t deny it, I say. 

Her mouth gapes. In addition to a hot temper, she also has strange rules about what is right and what is wrong. The rules of her world apply to everyone. She straightens my trash bins on trash day to match her own. She quips often about the unique color of our shared fence, which is blue, though the blue is not on her side. 

I’m not bothered by it. My ambivalence (or apathy, in her mind) infuriates her. It’s amusing to see her realize that I won’t fight her, not in this way. 

She opens and closes her mouth and turns more red. Just stop painting my fucking house, she says. And then she hacks a glob of spit onto my porch and leaves. 

I see her painting over the yellow with rough strokes of beige paint. Her work is streaky and thick globs drip down the woodwork. It will harden and texture The House, which it will not like. More cameras go up too, one in the opposing corner of the front porch and and two more on the corner nearest to my home. 

At night, I cover my face and approach not from my home, but through the backyards of neighboring houses. I tell the houses hello and they breathe creaky whistles in return. Many of the houses in this neighborhood are like my own: plain, ordinary, normal. They do not require the same attention as The House. 

I use paint again to cover the cameras. My work is sloppier than previous nights and The House complains. I tell it that its tenant has made my work more difficult and this is the best that I can do. The House asks if it should do something to stop its tenant. I say no, that goes too far. I try to smooth out the streaky bits, apologize again, then come home.

My hands shake as I wash out my paintbrush and dry my hands. I suppose I’m nervous about my neighbor’s threat. I don’t fear the police or the possibility of arrest, but rather I fear that if I am taken away, The House will not be cared for. Who else can do what I do? Without me, The House will push against its bland exterior and cry and cry. Its caterwauling would also bother the other houses on the street, kind as they are. 

At night I dream again of a yellow paint sky, but this time I am drowning and the viscous liquid is rising and I cannot see through the lemon film that covers my eyes. I am enveloped and smothered in an inward explosion of death.   

I wake early. I sip tea and let the hot mug burn my hands crimson while I peer through the window. I stand there for an hour, maybe longer, until my tea has gone cold and I find myself shifting from foot to foot. I still when the door of The House opens and my neighbor steps out onto the porch. She sees the damage to the cameras and the return of the yellow paint. She stands there for a moment, then turns back inside. 

I turn away from the window. She has seen what I’ve done, yes, but what is to come of it? I go through the motions of my morning, washing my face, changing into day clothes and making a bowl of cereal. My ears hear The House’s moans and its companions’ whispers of encouragement, but no sirens. 

Clouds veil the sun as it dips and a gentle rain coats my neighborhood. An earthy, slightly bitter scent emanates from the lawns and swathes of asphalt. Petrichor: a phenomenon both clean and dirty, clinging and cleansing. The houses love it. They inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale.  

The rain calms me. I see no flashes of blue and red or the slap of heavy tires on wet asphalt. I don’t know why my neighbor failed to follow through on her threat. Maybe she forgot. Maybe she wants to keep me in suspense and prolong my anxiety. Maybe, far-fetched as it is, she hopes to continue this little feud because she loves a good fight. This will turn into a game, a competition between two stubborn women: one who refuses to admit fault, and one who will never stop. 

I will know tomorrow. 


June 02, 2022 02:25

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107 comments

Shea West
18:09 Jun 12, 2022

I'm out here thinking about how incredible this platform has become with all these first time submitters and then winners! I can absolutely see why this one took the winning spot. The level of speculation in it had me obsessed, like I wanted another chapter or some more backstory so I could work on figuring it all out. Congrats to you Piper! Welcome to Reedsy

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Piper Mae
22:22 Jun 12, 2022

i feel very very lucky to receive such a warm welcome for my first story and i’m happy to see so many people intrigued with what happens next in it! Thank you shea!

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Piper Mae
14:55 Jun 03, 2022

Hi! This is my first story on Reedsy and I would love feedback if you've read the entire thing (which I assumed because you are reading this). Please let me know what you liked or specific areas where I can improve and I will try to return the favor and comment on your stories too! Happy reading and best of luck to you fellow writer!

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Think Think
07:21 Jun 14, 2022

I have read the whole story. I feel like I am reading some excellent poetry while reading it; your choice of words and combinations of that words, I think, makes it the best.

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Piper Mae
19:43 Jun 14, 2022

thank you think!

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Michelle Larsen
03:29 Jun 25, 2022

I read it through because the story is delightful! I don't have any stories posted yet, but here is my food for thought: I liked the way there were additional layers of tension within the character that bled through the sequence of imagery, specifically how with each new time she had to paint the house, she became sloppier and more rushed. I can interpret that as the distress of having to force her will, the shakiness of her hands revealing her nonconfrontational but persistent spirit. You could have extended this also to the neighbor - ...

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Ashley Paige
17:52 Jun 10, 2022

Congratulations on the win! I loved your story and the narrator. I also enjoyed your lack of quotation marks for the dialogue. It shows your unique writing style while still being easy to read.

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Piper Mae
21:37 Jun 10, 2022

i'm glad the lack of quotations didn't interfere with the story, it was a "eh, maybe this will work" on my part. thank you for the kind words ashley!

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14:58 Jun 12, 2022

I liked the connection your character had with the houses and the need to paint them according to their personalities. It didn't seem like this was the first time for them, so I was curious about previous houses and neighbors. A mention of them, a line or two, would have added a bit more depth or maybe when the practice began for them. Maybe their neighbors consult them first before painting so they get the correct color but this new one didn't and is fighting the process. Anyway, a fun use of the prompt. :)

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Piper Mae
22:19 Jun 12, 2022

thank you for your insight! the story would benefit from more context, i’ll keep that in mind for future stories

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Nina Thompson
16:18 Jun 11, 2022

Congrats!! This was such an interesting read and really kept me wanting to read on. I liked the lack of quotation marks; I always find that when writers omit them, it creates a more intimate story that keeps our attention on the narrator. I can't wait to read more from you!

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Piper Mae
23:12 Jun 11, 2022

thank you so much nina! i too love omitting quotation marks, it flows better in my head and on paper

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Jeanette Harris
00:51 Jun 17, 2022

I like how she paint house, yellow and annoyed the neighbor

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L.C. Schäfer
09:57 Jun 16, 2022

I love the idea of a building having feelings, a soul. Nice read, thank you 😊

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Tom Battle Boar
21:57 Jun 15, 2022

Hi! This is my first story on that I read on Reedsy. I felt intrigued by the story. I enjoy the parts when he painted the cameras with paint. I was hoping for a back story in the story. But I understood better when I read it.

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Piper Mae
23:22 Jun 15, 2022

hi tom! I'm glad you enjoyed the story, it's definitely a bit vague but I'm glad you stuck around to finish it! thanks for reading my story, there's many more phenomenal works Reedsy that I hope you find as well

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Kevin Broccoli
20:38 Jun 15, 2022

"At night I dream again of a yellow paint sky..." You packed so much beautiful language into such a small space. I felt like I was on pins and needles the entire time. Well done!

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Piper Mae
23:21 Jun 15, 2022

thank you so much kevin!

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Steve Uppendahl
19:29 Jun 14, 2022

Very well done! Your descriptions (especially of the weather) are excellent and are worded perfectly. I definitely wish there was more. Seems to me the woman in The House is planning something sinister or can't figure out what to do next. Either way, I'm intrigued. I could see this being a series on Netflix. Great win!

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Piper Mae
19:45 Jun 14, 2022

wow, thank you for the compliments! i'm glad that you enjoyed the story, it seems like a lot of people are itching to see what's next maybe i'll continue it in the future? who knows

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P Harris
05:33 Jun 15, 2022

You've left yourself a lot of room. I wouldn't be surprised at anything the character would do next. :)

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Zelda C. Thorne
14:43 Jun 10, 2022

Congratulations on the win! This was fun to read from this character's POV. It was quite creepy too, like we could expect anything of this narrator. Well done!

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Piper Mae
21:38 Jun 10, 2022

i'm glad the narrator worked, thank you for commenting rachel!

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Michał Przywara
20:54 Jun 09, 2022

This was a fun story! And for me, this is an excellent horror story. When I picture this from the neighbour's POV – a woman whose home is violated every night by someone who refuses to engage – it's very intimidating. "The House asks if it should do something to stop its tenant. I say no, that goes too far." This is a particularly creepy line :) It hints at danger to come, because the narrator has at least considered doing something about her neighbour. The narrator is a fascinating person. She can hear houses, she accepts that they are ...

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Piper Mae
23:46 Jun 09, 2022

oo its interesting that you point out that it reads like a horror story, now that I think about it it definitely does. thank you for your comments, i learned something about my own writing!

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Michał Przywara
20:56 Jun 10, 2022

Congratulations on the win!

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Piper Mae
21:39 Jun 10, 2022

thank you michal!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
19:56 Jun 08, 2022

I really enjoyed this Piper. The narrative voice is sweet and feels so innocent, despite the obvious vandalism. The pace is good and you have used some gorgeous phrases. I loved: "Their creaks are small sighs and groans, their breath the wind that flutters curtains when their mouths are unlocked." And: "so the air hangs thick like soaked velvet. " Great job!

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Piper Mae
22:00 Jun 08, 2022

hi Jay! I'm glad you enjoyed it! thank you so much for your feedback

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Venus Blecker
03:37 Jul 03, 2022

I recently read your story, looking for things that signify a 'short story', and when I came across 'Two Stubborn Women' I became absolutely obsessed!! The writing is immaculate, and I think you write really, really well!! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to read your short story. :DD

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06:06 Jul 02, 2022

Mental illness??...is this 2 mentally ill neighbors and a glimpse into their twisted minds...amazing new perspective and loved the contrast of personalities...lovely read...more please

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L. E. Scott
17:49 Jun 27, 2022

The only real critique I have is that you don't put any of the dialog in quotation marks. I'm not sure if that's a style choice, but it was a little jarring to me. Good story otherwise. I feel like all those coats of paint without using paint remover in between would make for a pretty homely paint job, especially if (like it seems) the entire house isn't being painted but only parts.

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Russell Norman
12:56 Jun 23, 2022

Great story, and well deserved win. Would you be interested in reading it for our Blue Marble Storytellers podcast? My contact details are russell@bmpublish.com

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Nokwazi Sangweni
15:39 Jun 22, 2022

Congratulations! You are a good story-teller!

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