Hard to be neighborly with a “No Trespassing” sign

“This is why I have pepper-spray,” I thought when I pulled into the washed-out gravel driveway, passing my third “No Trespassing” sign nailed to a tree trunk, weeds on the left rising high above the car.

A rusty pick-up truck sat in the long grass, weeds and grass growing around the tires. A red Pontiac Grand Am was parked outside a dilapidated garage piled high with junk, a Marlboro poster tacked on the wall with another “No Trespassing” sign, countless license plates. Maybe a dozen cats and half grown kittens scattered when I opened the car door.

I looked for dogs, reaching for the pepper spray in my purse. It wasn’t there. Of course. Of all the days I carry it, today, when I might actually need it, I left it sitting on my desk. No dog made an appearance, so I stepped out, cautious.

Two pans of cat food sat out on the porch, that sagged and nearly gave way when I stepped on it. The front door was open, just a screen door closed, but the house was dark and silent until I knocked. A tiny, hairless, and vicious dog appeared on the other side of the screen, yapping and bearing its eye teeth. A curtain moved from inside, and I almost expected to be making eye contact with a shotgun.

But the woman who came to the door was beyond frail. Her skin sagged off her bones, cheeks hollow, face haggard and gray, hair coarse and wispy around her face. “Yes?” she asked between breaths on the cigarette. I told her I was a reporter, and she let me in; her dog disapproved. He snarled, so I held out a hand, trying to make peace. He didn’t like my scent, I guess, because he attacked my shoe, pinning it with one clawed foot and growling at it, daring it to move. She grabbed and I half kicked, and he ran into the dark of the house.

“He won’t hurt you.” I hadn’t noticed the man until he spoke, laying on the couch, a blanket covering his legs, shirtless at least. The curtains were all drawn, and the lights off.

Where the woman was painfully thin, he was heavy, white, flabby flesh folding one on the other. The air was so heavy with smoke I had to fight back coughs; the dog was wheezing.

I kept my interview short, glad to breath deeply when I walked back down the rotting porch, passed wary cats, and back to the road. Three minutes inside, and my clothes reeked.

Most of the other houses were nicer, wealthy even. A mother whipped up her driveway in a new SUV, running late, but paused to answer my questions. Her huge dog drooled on my dress, rubbed his head up and down against my hip (yes, he was that tall). I saw a Hummer parked under a carport outside one, noticed the wood and tile floors of another. They all knew each other, more or less.

No one remembered the names of the people in the first house.

I guess “No Trespassing” signs on every tree does tend to cut down on neighborly interaction. But it still felt strange. These wealthy families with their big houses and healthy skin tones were friendly one with another.  So and so is working today, won’t be home when I stop. Talk to him if I really want to know what’s going on here.

But they didn’t even know the names of the couple at the last house, the one with the signs. And to be fair, that couple seemed as though they couldn’t care less about their wealthier neighbors. Strange how, in the same situation as their neighbors, they wanted to be left alone.

And me? I was just glad to be on my way back to the office, mission accomplished and no chunks bitten out of my foot. Next time I’ll remember my pepper-spray.


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