Here’s a story I wrote after a fight with my neighbor. Writing can be very therapeutic.
The neighborhood kids called him Mr. Ass-crack. I wasn’t around when he earned his moniker, but I heard stories from whispering neighbors. Stories that made me blink in disbelief.
His real name was Buttrell Ashcroft—an unfortunate handle, either way. I knew his name because I lived next door, and on occasions I received his mail by mistake. The first time it happened, I hand-carried a blue envelope that looked like a birthday card to his front door, and I was about to knock when the door flew open.
“What do you want?” he snarled, blowing droplets of spit on the screen. The hostile greeting set me back a step or two and the blue card fluttered to the ground.
“I’m your new neighbor and I ….” The door slammed abruptly. I bent to pick up the envelope and stuffed it in my jeans. When I got home, Mr. Ashcroft’s mail went promptly into the trash, and thereafter any other correspondence that came my way.
‘That’s another one you won’t be getting, you old fart,’ I’d say and chunk it in the bin. Childish of me, I know, but it did put a crooked smile on my lips.
Two weeks after my rude introduction to the infamous Mr. Ashcroft, the young lads in my subdivision hosted a slow pitch soft ball game in the center of our cul-de-sac. With a ring side seat, I grabbed a beer and sat in my rocker watching the boys play, as the sky faded into a gold and pink ribbon over the pine trees.
The game heated up. Home team seven: Visitors six. A few good-natured spats over the rules broke out, as parents drew up their lawn chairs and refused to get involved in the bickering. It was great fun, even the fights. Taking my cues from the parents, I resisted the urge to offer any advice, and settled down to watch the game for the better or the worse, but naturally I was rooting for the Home team.
The light on Mr. Ashcroft’s porch flickered and popped, dieing a natural death of old age. The old man immediately appeared, swinging open his spittle covered door, and for a moment everyone paused, even the kid on third base.
“Who knocked out my light?” Ashcroft screamed, casting an evil glare at all the players.
“No one knocked it out. Leave them alone,” my neighbor across the street said. Carl Banks rose from his lawn chair. He was a large man with a barrel chest and a perpetually red face. His wife placed a hand on his arm and tugged him back down.
The old man tottered out to the edge of his property. “I’ll leave them in Hell.”
Bank’s face got even redder, but with admirable restraint he turned to the young ball players and calmly said, “Go on boys.”
A dark sultry boy came to bat. The pitcher threw a high ball, the batter swung a little too hard, and the bat connected at an odd angle. I held my breath as the ball went up and over the outfielder’s head, landing directly at Ashcroft’s feet.
“Augh shit,” I muttered and sat my beer down.
The old man stooped over and snatched the ball up. “It’s mine now. Game over,” he screamed in triumph, practically giggling in delight. His rheumy laugh snapped off in mid roll. He clutched his chest and crumbled to the ground.
At that moment the world stopped, freezing us like a snap-shot: boys in the street, parents on the sidelines, and me cemented to my chair. The street lights flickered, sputter for a while, and then began to hum. We all stared at Ashcroft as the orange light chased away the early shadows. An old hand clutched at the air, as if beckoning us.
Banks pulled a cell phone off the clip of his belt and flipped it open. I could see the blue light reflecting over his face. Once again his wife’s hand came up and clutched at his arm. They gazed at each other, communicating that wordless language that only people who have been married for a long time can speak. His fingers snapped the cell phone closed, and the night grew a little bit darker.
I realized their decision. Surprised in a way, yet not totally in disagreement. My ass was still firmly planted in the chair. Something about it seemed unreal to me, as if I wasn’t really there; like maybe it was a bad program on TV and all I wanted to do was change the channel.
Sure, that’s their decision, I told myself, but what was mine? I was keenly aware of the seconds ticking by. Why wasn’t I flying across the yard? Could I just look the other way? I knew CPR. The Red Cross card was tucked in my wallet and it was burning a hole in my ass.
A half-a-dozen of my neighbors picked up their aluminum chairs, called their boys home, and walked back up their driveways. The dark haired batter spun on his heels and dragged the bat over the asphalt. It clattered behind him. He trudged up a slight hill, and then the bat thumped dully over the cement steps to his house. The bat followed the boy into the house, and then the door closed. Realizing that I was the last one left outside, I panicked a little.
The old hand flayed the air. Still alive, I told myself. Not too late. But surely someone would call the paramedics after they got inside and thought things over. Someone would do it, but it wouldn’t be me. Or maybe it would be me.
I picked up my empty beer can, opened the door, and turned off my porch light.
“Is the game over?” my wife asked. A better question might have been, ‘Who are you?’ I really didn’t know anymore. I wasn’t the same man that went out onto the porch to watch an innocent ball game.
“Yeah,” I said. “The game’s over.”