Again the neighbors let their leaves blow into his yard. He tried to talk to them, but they would not listen.
He wasn't aware that he had only managed a mumble when he stopped them as they were heading out, late again to wherever they were going.
They being somewhat embarrassed by his age, by the fact that he was stooped over like a dying flower and slightly askew, they did not understand. Yes, they nodded and said the pleasantries that pleasant people do, but they did not hear his need.
He saw all of this, the leaves and the false pleasantries and the neighbors too busy to talk, all of it as further evidence that the neighborhood was damaged. It was broken. His neighborhood was once tidy and respectful and, well, pressed neat. This here was now something other. It was messy and unkept and wild. It was dangerous. There, he said it.
He had a plan. It came to him while watching the early morning news, something about a wall, he was not really paying attention. But, it planted a seed that sprouted and grew through the day, winding and vining itself about his brain so that he could think of nothing else.
The vine whispered that he should draw a line, that the time for words had passed and the time that remained was short. The vine tickled and teased. It promised peace. It promised release.
All he had to do, the vine whispered, was rake and sweep and carry each and every leaf back over to the offensive yard next to his and dump it. Without apology.
It made sense. It was simple and it was elegant. It was defiant.
He did this very thing the next morning, after going over the steps again and again as he waited for a sleep that rarely visited him anymore. He would rake, he would sweep, he would carry. He would rake, he would sweep, he would carry.
He awoke after a short but detailed dream about large amoebas the size of pillows and rooms with empty closets. But, he felt rested and he found he had a fire in his belly, something he had not felt for a long time. After washing his hands he barely touched the coffee he had brewed in his raw gleeful excitement to begin. He knew that it would take him a long time, that this task was one of monumentality, but this only strengthened his resolve. He had a purpose, he had a goal, and he had the self-righteousness that only old bent men are able to possess.
He worked in the very early dark of predawn with only the feral tomcat for company. The tom stuck around for about an hour before vanishing silently and unnoticed. The old man finished before the sun was even more than a sliver in the sky, which delighted him to no end.
There was now in the yard next to his a wall of leaves separating the two properties. He had drawn the line with 972 rake strokes, 265 broom sweeps, and 11 trips of leaves dumped out from large plastic bags. He realized as he stood there that the large wall of leaves also included, perhaps after all, some of his own tree droppings. He soothed himself by repeating that there needed to be a justified penalty. Nothing comes for free.
He took one last look at his work, aware and slightly confused by the shame that colored his sense of pride. He kicked up a leg in an attempt at a jig, but it did not chase off anything as he went back to his dark house. His home was a house that had no open windows or curtains drawn back. Not for awhile now.
“Now, let’s see what the nasty fuckers will do“, he thought to himself at his kitchen sink. He was so shocked by his own vulgarity that he nervously laughed aloud and spooked himself, dropping one of the work gloves he was removing. After rescuing the lost glove, he washed his hands and picked up his coffee, unfinished from earlier. He did not notice that it was cold as he blew and then sipped, blew and then sipped, waiting for the pending retaliation of the neighbors.
After a couple of hours had passed and there was still no knock at his door, or bellowing of rage, or even a sound beyond the wind and the passing of an occasional car, he became curious. It was not the sort of response he had expected, this lack of response.
He gathered himself up and went out to investigate. He had to struggle with the door but soon managed and stepped out to his porch, noticing that the attempted jig had left a hitch in his walk. And with sad resignation he stood there, stooped over like a sunflower with seeds too heavy, and looked on. His wall was gone. The leaves were back. Even as he stood there the wind brought more into his yard. He said nothing and went back into his dark house, washed his hands again, and set himself to the task of thinking on better ways of building walls. He would go to bed early. Too much to do.