The Meeting

By JULIE SMITH | Published: January 17, 2010

After living on acreage without neighbors for the past 14 years, I decided to return to the sea. I looked on the internet for rentals and in Australia they're scarce at the best of times, but scarcity is an understatement when it’s near the ocean and in December. Yea, I was moving on December 4th.

Bribe Island popped up with pictures of a white, rendered, brick home situated on a postage stamp of sand, with the back yard next to a creek. That was one neighbour taken care of. I’d never been there but it was only a 45-minute drive from my headquarters; a company solely devoted to providing goods and services to my 70-year-old uncle. Also it was fenced and fairly new. I called the real estate company and no, rental personnel didn’t work on weekends but I could drive by and have a look. Why didn’t these lovely property managers work on weekends when people had time to look for an abode?

It was a Saturday and I cruised over the only bridge to an island in Queensland. The smell of the ocean is not exactly something that gives me goose pimples, refreshment or vigor. In fact, it reminds me of my childhood in California, picking the tar off my feet, the smell of rotting molluscs gathered from the tide pools, seaweed reeking on the beach and seagulls stealing my lunch as I ‘ate and threw’ to give me seconds to scarf down what I could.

The neighbourhood looked like a scene out of The Truman Show. The word ‘anal’ screamed at me. The house was at the end of a ‘cul d’sac and the gates to the back yard were open with a 4-wheel drive backed in. I parked, got out of the car and sauntered up.

“Hi there. Are you the owner of this house?”

“Yep. Are you interested in renting it?” he said cheerfully as a warm smile of a salesman sparkled with a gold filling. I nodded and he showed me through, and yes, it was okay. He’d buy a dishwasher to fill the gapping hole in the kitchen and put in new turf to replace the 25 square meters of pebbles in the back yard. This was too good.

“Is it always this quiet?” I asked dream-like.

“Yep.”

I settled in one month later. Kids played “happily” after school and neighbors trickled over during the week to welcome me but unfortunately no one brought food. This was like a vacation home and the tennis club was just 3 minutes down the road. Life couldn’t get any better.

***

“The noise is unbearable,” said my 75-year-old neighbor, Eve. The plastic tires on those bikes screeching around at the front of the house is intolerable. I can’t watch TV or talk on the phone. It went on for 8 hours on Sunday. There are rubber tires on the scooter, the two-wheeled bikes and the skateboards; it’s just those tricycles!” There’s nothing more soothing than a Scottish accent complaining.

Trisha added, “Mike and I can’t take it anymore. The bikes are bad enough but the screaming of Kay, that four-year-old, sends me round the bend. It goes on all day and all night. This has been going on for years.” What?

Mark and Cathy, the parents of the bike screechers were there but not the mother of the screamer. I decided to jump in here. “The reason we are having the meeting is to solve two issues – the screaming and they noise of the bikes. I’ve been told it is getting worse. It is like a scene from “Lord of The Flies.” Everyone looked at everyone else like I had just asked a “How high is up?” question. Not too tactful, especially for a newbie, especially from a Yank.

Cathy added, “Kay is autistic but her mother refuses to take her to a doctor. Plus, her brother Scottie is ‘slow’” What?

Mike stood up - his decades as a detective on The Sydney Police Force showed in his threatening blue eyes. “Trisha has had two heart attacks and a stroke and I will do everything or anything to protect my home from that Kay and her insane mother’s premeditated war to make our lives miserable. And those kids are having a bad influence on your kids,” he said as he pointed outside to a silent street, bits of saliva spitting on my couch. “They stick their tongues out at us. We use to give them lollies and we loved them. What has happened to your kids? ”What?

Cathy started to weep. “You’re serious; my children did that to you?”

“Yes, and they make faces at us.”

“I’ll settle that one quickly,” said Mark. Uh oh.

“And while your at it, ask them what we did to them to deserve this treatment,” Trisha sobbed as she lunged for the screen which was impossible to open unless you were a locksmith. After a few attempts and help from Eve, she bolted down the street.

With Trisha in absentia, my living room soon became a confessional for Cathy.“It’s not easy dealing with problem children. Timmy’s on 12 tablets a day. Thank God I got him diagnosed. I wanted to kill him it was so bad.” What?

I impatiently waited until emotions settled down and then called the meeting to a halt.

“Sorry, but it’s 11 o’clock and I have to go.” Everyone got up and went out the door, milling outside with promises to have a nice bar-b-que in the future, sending chills down my back. Mark assured a stop to the plastic tires in front of the houses but no one could come up with a solution for the screamer.

It’s been a week since the meeting and no kids have been playing and no one waves at me. Screamer’s mother sits in the open garage like a caged animal watching her two children playing alone in the street, smoking cigarette after cigarette, thinking.



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