At first, Leslie thought the pounding in her head came from the headache she was getting for sleeping in too long on a Saturday. Yet when she cracked open an eyelid to glare at the alarm clock which read 7:00 a.m. in a bright red light, she drowsily elbowed her husband to get him to stop snoring.
“Hey, what did I do?” Rob grumped. Her husband didn’t have the slur to his words that would mean Leslie had awakened him. The pillow covering his head shifted to show wincing eyes when the pounding hit a new pitch, a chinking rattle that echoed against the bedroom walls.
“I thought you were making that god-awful noise. My mistake.” Leslie rubbed her face to wipe away last night’s sleep. “You need to talk with Artie about that jackhammer. He can’t be working on his basement this early.”
“It’s not Artie. He finished his indoor spa Tuesday.” A wry snicker passed through Rob’s lips. “Give you another guess on where it’s coming from?”
Reaching out, Leslie pulled the pillow from her husband’s face and rested it against her head. She didn’t have to guess. Her husband’s annoyed laugh had told her more than she wanted to know.
The dreaded Darnell. The new neighbors.
“We should file a noise complaint with the police.” Leslie’s muffled voice seeped from among the bundled feathers over her face.
“Do you want them to videotape you for all posterity, my lovely dear?”
Rob’s wife groaned. She pulled the pillow edges tighter over her ringing ears.
The dreaded Darnell tapes. They, meaning the grandmother and her adult daughter, Kelly, loved to videotape anyone who they believed caused an offense against them, even if it was their own fault. Case in point: the garbage man who refused to pick up the refrigerator from the curb because the city wasn’t responsible for disposing it. He had his mug shot taken the next trash day. And Leslie couldn’t forget the animal control officer who responded after the Darnell’s large pooch jumped over their three-foot high picket fence and attacked a jogger. Ironically, the new neighbors blamed the running man as the instigator for teasing their dog although the person had been on the other side of the street.
“We might as well get up now,” Rob commented, pulling the covers over his head.
“Mmm,” Leslie agreed as she stole another of his pillows for more buffering from the noise.
They laid in bed for another twenty minutes. When the phone started to ring on the night stand, they knew that the quietness of their morning was not going to be found today. As Leslie picked up the handset, Rob headed for the kitchen to put a pot of coffee on. Two pieces of toast lathered with butter sat on plates when Leslie walked to the kitchen table with her robe on and her ear still pressed up against the phone. She made a talking motion with her hand and Rob nodded at the signal. It was their friend, Mandy, on the line complaining about the jackhammer across the street.
“Yes, Mandy, I know it’s coming from the new neighbors. Yes, they have to copy off everyone. Look, Mandy, I have to go. Rob is in the shower and I have to turn off the water heater. When you hear his scream, call me back. Bye.” Leslie hung up the phone as Rob tilted his head back and laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Leslie asked seriously, as she took an aspirin bottle from her robe pocket. Two chalky pills slid down her throat with a large gulp of orange juice.
“I was just thinking about our neighbors, dear.” Rob wiped bread crumbs from his mouth. He stared over at the picture window as a large truck unloaded an empty trash container against the curb. “They’re like goldfish in a trout pond.”
“What?” Leslie crunched into her cooling toast.
“Goldfish. They’re pretty to look at when they search for nibbles off the hook, but in the end the fisherman would rather hang out with the trout.”
Leslie sighed. She knew that Rob was fond of his similes, and it had become a game to figure out their meanings. But, this time, she was baffled.
Happy to have gotten one over on her, Rob gave his usual secret grin that Leslie loathed. “When one neighbor has something new, then the Darnell family has to have the same thing but only better. Except, in their case, they will always have the one-upmanship over everyone here because of their money. It’s the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ syndrome. They crave the attention.”
“Don’t you mean the Janeses? They’re all female in the house.”
Rob waved his hand in dismissal. “Whatever. The point is, if you want the constant attention of the neighborhood, you move into a neighborhood that’s already at a financial disadvantage from you. It makes the whole showing-off process that much easier.”
Now Leslie understood. Most of the people in their section of town were retirees with fixed pensions. Sometimes they may splurge to fulfill a lifelong dream, but never would they go to the extravagant lengths that the new neighbors spent. Yet if the Darnell family had moved to an area that reflected the same income bracket as them, then no one would pay any attention to their antics, because those people could compete against them. The Darnell family would appear average in such a place.
“So, they’re goldfish in a trout pond,” Leslie replied sagely, “just like I’ve been trying to tell you”
“Yeah. Although,I would check their scales to make sure they’re not gold-painted.” Taking a drink of his coffee, Leslie’s husband picked up the notepad used for their grocery lists and walked over to the kitchen door. He found the weekend newspaper on the weathered mat as he held the screen open for his wife. They strolled out onto their deck and took seats on plastic lawn furniture as they settled down trying to enjoy their noisy Saturday.
Pen in hand, Rob scratched lines over several blank pages as Leslie unwrapped the newspaper and turned to the front headlines. Occasionally, a car would slow and honk as Leslie waved good morning to the occupants. However, Rob’s concentration was focused on the pen in his fingers as the ink lines slowly formed into a grid pattern.
Curiosity winning out, Leslie tossed the paper down onto the table and leaned in close. “What are you doing?”
Rob threw his wife a wink. “Always turn a bad situation into something entertaining, no matter how tasteless it might be. That’s why we have reality shows.”
He was up to something sneaky. Leslie crossed her arms and stared at him sternly.
“It’s a game that will make us feel better about our new neighbors and their endless construction habits.” Rob tore the paper from the notepad and held it up for her to see. “When we take our afternoon walk, we’ll look at all the houses along the block and find what new home projects they’ve done. Then we’ll fill in the squares with the newest additions that we think the Darnell family is going to copy after next. I call it, Remodeling Bingo. Wanna Play?”
“Don’t you feel bad about doing this?” Leslie admonished, when a shout made their heads turn.
“Hey, neighbor.” Kelly Darnell hurried across the street. She placed a delicate hand on Rob and Leslie’s deck rail. “We’ve decided to build onto our house again.” Kelly spoke as if the interrupted conversation no longer mattered.
“No, really,” Rob crowed with false delight. Leslie placed fingers over her mouth to hide her amused smile.
“Yes. We saw how relaxed the two of you were sitting here in the mornings. So after the work is finished with our indoor sauna, we’re going to have a deck built in our own backyard.”
Of course, Leslie thought dismally. Thank goodness it will be on the other side of their house, was Rob’s rueful thought.
Kelly lifted her hand from the deck and disdainfully rubbed fingers over her thumb as if wiping away some vile substance that she had somehow contracted. “It will be quite a big project. We wanted something that could have the whole neighborhood over for a party.” She eyed the quaint enclosure in front of her that was just big enough for a few good friends to enjoy themselves. Then Kelly looked up at the canvas awning that shaded Rob and Leslie’s table. “It will have a cherry wood roof over one side, and a gazebo with a fire pit for those cold rainy days where we can still sit outside and put our feet up on soft leather furniture. So if you want to come over after the deck is finished, feel free to use it anytime.”
Kelly smirked as the front door across the street banged open. Her daughter, Chloe, walked slowly along the cement path to the car with her head and demeanor downcast. Wiping hands off again, Kelly excused herself from the conversation with one last superior smirk and a toss of her hair.
As Kelly’s car drove away, Rob waved the blank bingo card at Leslie.
“Give me that.” She snatched the paper and pen from his fingers. Rob watched her furious writing and marveled at how beautiful his wife looked in the morning sunlight whenever she was full of righteous fire.
They were going to have some fun with his game.
to be continued . . .