Edson and Lydia were enjoying their routine stroll through the neighborhood late one summer evening. It was dusk and the few, widely spaced streetlights were just beginning to glow. They were comfortable with each other after nearly fifteen years of marriage and didn’t feel the need for constant small talk. They did remark from time to time as they passed one of their neighbors’ homes about a recent bit of gossip they had heard about them, either directly or through the grapevine-- a waitress at their favorite diner and the postal carrier were both always eager to share nosy bits of news. Edson wondered what Ray, their postal carrier said about them to others in turn. Did he mention all the things they bought through mail order catalogs that they probably didn’t need? That their magazine subscriptions were awfully hoity toity for their neck of the woods?
They saw that the Harper’s son, Jonathan, was home from college before the semester was over. They surmised that he had either gotten into trouble already or had simply dropped out. Jonathan had been in some kind of trouble ever since he was ten. That summer he had broken into several of the neighbors’ homes while they were out of town. He didn’t steal or vandalise anything, he had merely trespassed. From there it was shooting off illegal fireworks, spray painting in the alley next to the hardware store, or taking his father’s car without permission and having a minor wreck. He wasn’t a malicious type, just always in one scrape after another.
As they passed on Mrs. Petters’ house, they avoided looking in the direction of her kitchen window. They knew she standing there, watching them pass as they did nearly every evening when it wasn’t raining. Mrs. Petters’ husband had died close to eleven years ago and her children, two girls and a boy were grown up and rarely visited. Most of the neighbors hadn’t been invited inside her home for years. Lydia did try on a few occasions with the pretense of bringing her some freshly baked lemon poppyseed bread or muffins from the bakery. Mrs. Petters accepted the gifts from her in the doorway. Lydia had wrongly assumed that she would be invited inside to share it with some coffee. She did manage to see from the threshold, the many piles towering nearly as high as the small bent figure of Mrs. Petters. Mrs. Petters was what is now commonly called a hoarder, a new polite term for a packrat. Every surface was buried in clutter. Not just the tables and countertops but nearly every inch of floor space too. She kept a very narrow path clear from room to room but other than that it was paper bags filled with old newspapers and who knows what else. If someone had the opportunity to look, they would also have seen that the papers had never been unfolded. You had to wonder why someone on a fixed income would keep subscribing to a paper that wasn’t read, simply to stuff it into overflowing bags cluttering her home. The kitchen counters held all the new groceries- the cabinets had no room for them as they contained all the empty food containers from years’ worth of eating. Whenever Lydia thought about Mrs. Petters, she longed to have a week to empty the woman’s place of all that clutter, open the windows and let in some fresh air. She imagined Mrs. Petters returning to a clean home and being suddenly revived to her old self again, happy, hopeful. Lydia couldn’t help but be exasperated with the Petters children, couldn’t they step in and help? How could they let their mother live in such a state? Didn’t they care about her at all?
Now they were passing the Walsh’s place. During the day, Gerald Walsh was often outside whenever weather permitted, posing with a rake or hedge clippers, sometimes a hose but rarely was he actually moving. He was out there trying to look busy, avoiding his mother-in-law, Mrs. Meyer, inside. Since she had moved in with them, Gerald and his wife, Margaret, hadn’t had a moment of privacy. His mother-in-law had her soap operas to watch each day, and parked herself in front of the television in the living room. He tried to solve the situation by buying her a tv for her bedroom but no, she continued using his tv all day and then at night, he and his wife had to listen to the loud television voices through the thin walls of the bungalow. She didn’t like wearing her hearing aid at night, that was why the tv was so loud. He and Margaret tried to escape by going somewhere in the car but Mrs. Meyer always managed to invite herself along. She wouldn’t ride in the back seat, claiming that riding back there made her carsick. All Gerald could hope for was that his mother-in-law wouldn’t live too much longer. This was not at all how he had imagined his retired years. He drank his afternoon beer in the garage because he couldn’t stand her recriminating stare as if he was some sort of raging alcoholic that beat his wife and tore the house apart. After he finished his beer, he would slide the can down to the bottom of the trash.
Now they were passing the Rothchild’s home, both of them lawyers and from what they can surmise, the man’s only hobby is mowing the lawn. He literally cuts the grass every fourth day during the spring, summer and into fall when it is no longer growing. It is a wonder the grass doesn’t just turn brown and die from all the mowing. The wife’s hobby seems to be shopping, she is always pulling up in her sporty coupe crammed with bags from fancy shops in the nearest decent sized city. Lydia and Edson wonder aloud several times each summer about what the man does in the winter months when he has no grass to mow. Does he sit in the garage, oiling and polishing his mower?
They continued their walk past the home of a fairly new addition to the neighborhood, a young couple with two small children. How nice it was to have them. It seemed so sad when all the people in a neighborhood become terribly old all at the same time, dying off or moving into the assisted living place in town. Sometimes they moved as couples but usually one spouse would die and then the other would go in one way or the other shortly after. Edson and Lydia had remarked to one another on multiple occasions how strange it was for spouses to follow one another so quickly in death. It was probably just too hard to try and adjust to a new routine of living all alone after being part of a pair for so long. They both wished silently to themselves that they would be the first of their pair to go, not really wanting to imagine life without the other.
Edson and Lydia had never had any children of their own but they didn’t mind much, they had always been able to come and go as they pleased. Over the years they always had a dog and a cat, sometimes one life overlapping the other’s and there would be a short period with one old pet and one young before the other old one passed on and another new pet was added. The dog often went on trips with them and the cat was left home all alone with just a neighbor to check on him once a day. Lydia always wondered what the cat must think, did it think they had all left it for good and were never coming back? She never shared her worry with Edson, she didn’t want him to think she was being silly.Edson and Lydia continue their evening walk, it is truly dark now and not everyone has remembered to turn on their porch light or perhaps they are simply not at home. They walk carefully, not wanting to trip over a fallen tree limb or stumble into a pothole. Lydia is starting to wish she had brought a sweater but doesn’t mention it, Edson is always dressed appropriately for the weather. How many times has she shivered because she didn’t dress warm enough or blistered in the summer sun because she had forgotten to bring the sunscreen. It is time to cross the street and make their way back home. Lydia starts to shiver slightly, and Edson takes off his own sweater and drapes it over her shoulders without a word.
written and dedicated to my wonderful husband, Matte Stephens for our 10th wedding anniversary