I Love You, My Neighbour: Chapter 2
She thinks I'm a lazy tradie
Putting down my electric saw, I take my vibrating phone out of my pocket, check the display, even though I don’t need to, then answer the incoming call.
“Hi, Mum,” I say, walking out of my house to get better reception.
“Hi, Logan, honey. How are you? How’s your week been?”
My mother calls me at five o’clock every Friday afternoon. Not once in the two years since my fiancée has passed away has she missed a weekly check-in. Straight after I moved out of home, we went weeks, sometimes even a month or two without talking, but when I needed her—when I’d worried I didn’t know how to get through one day or the next—she’d been there. In the past two years, her calls have dropped off in frequency as I’ve needed them less.
“The week wasn’t too bad. I didn’t give anyone detention, and I’ve made a good start working on the house.”
“How soon can I visit?”
Spinning around, I look at the wreck behind me. “As soon as I know the roof won’t cave in on you.”
She laughs. “You exaggerate, Logan.”
“Did you look at the photos I sent you? It’s going to take months to whip the place into shape, and that’s with help.”
“Do you think you’ve taken on too much? Wouldn’t it be easier to get contractors in?”
“Of course, but where would the fun be in that? I can handle it; it’s just going to take time.”
And that’s fine by me. Time is something I have too much of these days, and this project will help me dispose of some of it. What else am I going to do? Stay home, watch TV, and get drunk enough to pass out? No, I’ve done enough of that over the past two years. If I keep drinking that much, I’m going to wind up with liver damage. I’ve taught enough high school Health classes over the years to have photos of poisoned livers burned into my brain.
“No, Cricket! Come back! Don’t! Damn it, not again.”
My mother continues talking. I want to keep up my side of the conversation but am distracted by the dog bolting down the hill to my right.
Since I started working on this place a couple of weeks back, I’ve discovered there is something else nearly as dependable as my mother’s calls—my neighbour’s glare. Every day for the past fortnight, my neighbour has shot invisible darts at my head as she jogs down the hill and finds Cricket at my feet, waiting for her.
It isn’t my fault her dog seeks me out, though I’m sure my neighbour makes it my fault in her head. It clearly upsets her apple cart that Cricket likes me, since she clearly doesn’t. Probably, I should have kept my mouth shut about her poor dog handling skills. Even if the woman knows jack shit about dogs, it hadn’t been my place to tell her that.
It’s just that people who don’t give proper care to the animals they own piss me the hell off.
Izzy worked as a vet at the local RSPCA. She used to come home with tales of people who mistreated their pets or failed to look after them properly, and I’d been as caught up as she had been in the cause. I still make regular donations to the RSPCA shelter she worked for, but I still don’t feel like I do enough to honour her passion—to honour her.
And telling my next-door neighbour to get her act together and take the dog to obedience classes is hardly going to compensate or change anything. I know that. But Buster, Izzy’s dog, died a few months after Izzy. Cricket looks eerily similar to Buster, so I can’t help feeling like I should help the mutt out. That somehow, I’m doing right by both Izzy and Buster by becoming an advocate for Cricket.
I’m only half-listening as Mum tells me about the picnic she went on with her latest boyfriend. Lowering myself to pat Cricket, I watch my neighbour jog down the hill out of the corner of my eye. Her dark brown, curly hair is in its usual ponytail, and her generic white t-shirt and grey sweatpants look grass stained. As usual, her blue eyes glint with irritation and annoyance as she jogs towards me. When she spots the phone in my hand and realises I’m talking to someone, the stiffness leaves her back and shoulders. Probably because it means today we won’t be forced to have the same stilted conversation we seem to have daily.
“Hi,” she mutters as she points to the leash in my hand.
Reluctantly, I hand her Cricket’s leash, waiting for the obligatory thank you. This time she whispers it before she pulls on Cricket’s leash and begs him to move.
Every day she does the same thing, never changing her approach, taking the same risks repeatedly. Damn stubborn woman. Biting my tongue, I ignore the lecture burning up the back of my throat about how much she’d miss her dog if something happened to him, and instead take my phone call back inside, where I’m not face-to-face with all that stubbornness.
“What the hell,” I mutter to myself as the buzz saw in my hand sputters to a stop.
Seeing the shadow of someone moving behind me, I turn around and sigh when I realise there’s nothing wrong with my saw—the power has been shut off. My next-door neighbour has let herself through my front door, and now she stands there, hands on her hips, long curly dark brown hair cloaking her shoulders, blue eyes spitting fire, and cheeks flushed with rage as her lips move a million miles an hour.
I assume she’s yelling at me. With earplugs in, I can’t hear her. For a second, I debate keeping them in, but she’s unlikely to leave without an acknowledgement of some sort.
Slowly, I put down my power tool and take my earplugs out.
“Have you heard a word I’ve said?” she yells.
“Nope. What were you saying?”
She throws her hands up in the air and rants at the ceiling before looking back at me. “I said, some people are trying to sleep around here.”
“At four in the afternoon?”
“Yes, at four in the afternoon! I get up at four in the morning. Then I go to work, and when I come home, I have a sleep so I can get up and bake all the following day’s orders. Except that now you’ve started working here, I don’t get to take my nap, and I fall asleep while I’m baking my cakes. Then they burn. Do you know who buys burnt cakes? No-one! That’s who.”
Burning cakes shouldn’t upset anyone as much as it upsets this woman. Talk about an overreaction.
“I think you need to take a breath and calm down.”
“Do not tell me to calm down. It’s been weeks since I’ve slept properly in the afternoon so I’m beyond tired, and the noise of that saw is the most irritating, annoying sound in the world.”
Well, right now, she is the most irritating, annoying person in my world.
“Sorry you’re missing out on sleep.” I’m not. “This is the only time I have to work on the place.”
Local government laws prohibit me from using power tools after eight. Which is just as well as I’d probably saw my hand off if I was working with them into the late hours of the evening.
Her mouth gapes, making her mimic a fish gasping for breath. “You’re here all day. You should be leaving at four, four-thirty at the latest. Not knocking off after six the way you have been the past two weeks. Eight hours of noise is quite enough, don’t you think?”
“Eight hours? I don’t get here until four.”
By the time I change out of my work suit and into suitable clothes, then drive the twenty minutes it takes to get from the high school I teach at to here, it’s never any earlier than that.
“Shouldn’t you be starting earlier in the day? Isn’t eight in the morning the usual time tradespeople start banging and sawing away, or are you a lazy tradie who shows up whenever he feels like it?”
Okay, now she’s pissing me off. I cross my arms over my chest and take a step towards her. “Woman, I’m not lazy. Some people have a job to do during the day, you know?”
She takes a step back, tucking her hair behind her ear. “How many jobs do you have?”
“Just the one.”
“Then you should take some pride in your work and show up at a decent hour, and then leave at a decent hour.”
She crosses her arms over her chest, mirroring me, and turns her little snub nose towards the sky, as though she’s better than me. So, not only is she stubborn and prideful about her dog, but she also likes to make snap judgements about a person. A lazy tradie? With that assumption, she’s made a complete arse of herself, and now I’m going to enjoy enlightening her.
“I do show up for work at a decent time, lady,” I say, taking another step towards her, feeling satisfied when she takes a step back. “And then I leave, and I come here so I can work on this place. I just bought it, and as you can see it’s a bit of a mess. But it’s my house and I’d like to move into it eventually, not that I can say much for the neighbours I’ve met so far.”
I look at her pointedly and wait for my words to sink in.
Watching the cogs turn in her head as the reality of the situation dawns on her is the best moment of my day so far. Make that my week. The way her eyes widen, a look of horror sweeping over her, is worth the stupid interruption to my work.
“You’re moving in here?” she sputters.
Well, I will be after I’ve fixed the billion and one problems or so the place has.
Izzy’s life insurance money went to her folks. I had no problem with that. In fact, I expected all her money to go to her parents, but the money she saved—money she intended to put towards our first home—she left that to me.
For years, Izzy and I talked at length about what our first house should look like. We talked about saving up for a mansion, a house we could fill with children. Then we discussed buying a property close to the city and imagined ourselves as that couple that ate out every night and hired a nanny for our kids.
We pictured our life every which way. The last time we more seriously debated what to do, though, we decided we’d buy a shit heap like the one I’m currently standing in and do it up. That was our dream – our plan. We were going to renovate and style the place to suit us. Then we were going to get hitched and have babies. Three of them at least. My fiancée loved kids just as much as she loved animals.
After Izzy died, the people who didn’t know how to deal with my grief told me that life goes on. Sadly, they were right. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. They were wrong about that, but life does go on and I have to have something to do. Even if buying this house and doing it up makes me miss Izzy so much more—makes me desperate for the life I once dreamed we’d share—there’s a small amount of comfort in knowing I’m following through on our plans. I need this house, this project. This distraction.
So, the woman standing in my house, looking less and less sure of herself, is just going to have to lump it
“Check out the EPA website,” I tell my neighbour. “I looked at the prohibited times for residential noise before I bought the house and I’m not breaking any laws. I turn off all my power tools by eight. I’m well within my rights to make noise until then.”
She swallows, her shoulders slumping. “This conversation was pointless, wasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
I’ve brought my neighbour up to speed on what’s happening here, and even though I hate the idea of pissing off the person I’ll eventually live next door to, her attitude sucks and I don’t feel bad for upsetting her.
Whether I’ll keep the place or sell it when I finish doing it up, I don’t know yet. I can’t imagine wanting to marry anyone else and live here with them. But that’s a problem for future me. Right now, I’m on a deadline. My mates said they’d help me whip the place into shape. Hopefully, with four of us working on the weekends, we’ll get through the work in time for me to move in before the lease on my current rental ends.
And no one—especially not my too-proud neighbour—is going to stop me.
She appears to be hugging herself now. “This is really the only time you’ve got to work on the house?”
“Yup. And this lazy tradie needs all the time he has to get this house into shape,” I fling the barb back at her before making a show of putting my earplugs back in, switching the power back on at the wall where she turned it off, and picking up my saw.
She flinches as I turn it back on. Then, with a look of defeat on her face, she skulks out the door with her tail between her legs.
With her gone, I start sawing through the wood and tiles I measured and stacked against the wall earlier.
And as I remember the shocked expression my neighbour wore when she realised that not only am I working here, but that I’ve actually bought the place, I do something I haven’t done in a very long time.