"I've got be good. I've got to be nice."

I whisper this through almost pursed lips as I gaze dutifully out the master bedroom's east window. Dawn is just an hour old this late May morn and I survey as I do every day and in fact many times each day a vista of mostly vacant homes. Acres and acres of them spread out till they appear to drop off the edge of the earth or so it seems just as if I was an ancient mariner back in flat-earth times.

I've got to be good and I've got to be nice because there's been more than thirty years work invested in me that I swore at my dying wife's bedside that I wouldn't let become undone.

"Julie. My Juliet."

It's now been near two years and yet I still feel like a lost child without you. I wander about this empty house like a mature, spoiled brat who's been given a grim reality check and now fends for himself.

She didn't wipe my nose or my ass, but she was a skilled captain nonetheless, with all things pertaining to manners, humility, and in general: good humanity. She was far more correct in the judgement of people than I. She could sense the fear within the frail, the cowardice in the bully and yet at the same time understand intuitively the joy of all things human. Regrettably, something that logic has always stood in the way of for me.

I can still hear her - like she was standing next to me:

"Jakob, you would understand so much more about what it's like to be human if you would just get over your stubborn attachment to logic. If I was a logical lady thirty-two years ago today; how would I ever have seen a future with you?"

I grinned a little into the pale heat of the sunlight that poured tepidly into the bedroom in agreement with her.

How can I argue? She's not here and yet I hear her speak whenever I feel the need to hear her steady advice. She was such a skilled manipulator of my mood and temperament when she was alive and at moments now, - when needed. And yet still, -she's my sturdy rock to cling to when the seas become rough, so to speak. I miss my Julie, so!

Downstairs, I visit the front window in the living room. It's my favourite; there's so much more to see from here than the acres and acres of roof tops and overgrown yards from upstairs. Across the street he sits, - portly, unkempt and balding; and he's just a young fifty-nine compared to my sixty years of age. What a waste. The drunken sot has gone and lowered the red and white to half mast; I know what that means: another hero of his is gone - and they're almost always old, legendary rock stars. They've been dropping like flies of late, but they were great lights nonetheless when they were young, and now they shimmer no more.

He's hung over as I am I suppose. We had words last night; I couldn't hear my late wife's voice for all his noise from across the street. He knows what I do on Friday nights! Anyways, he lifts his head, gets up wobbly and onto his feet and swings his arm as best he can and tosses from his porch to my front lawn: an empty beer bottle, gives me two fingers, turns on his feet and goes into his house.

That's my friend Eugene. Eugene Muholland, and he's a bastard just like me. We can only hope that he's not gone to sleep yet rather than just arisen from a drunken slumber; his usual routine.

I collect the beer bottle from the lawn and place it in a blue bin that never gets collected; I have to take it to the transfer station myself since the service was discontinued along with garbage collection, fire protection, postal service, - and the list goes on. There are just three occupied homes to speak of nearby: mine, Eugene's and a home near the entrance of our court - owned by her father but occupied by his unmarried daughter, a single mother: Lilly and her young son Peter - or Sweet Pea as we like to call him.

An enormous, black, Japanese built SUV arrives on the court. It circles the dusty court as it always does and stops just out front of Sweet Pea's house.


Eugene has an uncanny sixth sense for Debbie's presence; she's very much like every one of his past three wives: buxomy, flirty and always dressed in tight clothing. She's quite the dish but she's also very married and successfully if I can say that to my most recent employer: Artie.

Art was a senior manager at the plant and when it finally closed almost two years now to this day, and he and a small group of friends formed a loose company that bought up the best of these empty homes - to speculate. He's done better than I thought he would in the property management business. Eugene, however insists that it was more of a money laundering racket for grow-ops and the like that were regularly busted here in Peters Corners and elsewhere.

Eugene was probably right, but I seldom indulged the fool - he was a Chrysler man for god's sake and I a Ford man. It was a given - a rule even, and one that I'm certain that somewhere is carved in stone and as it should be: that we should never - agree. I don't think he worked but a couple of years for them, but they were young impressionable years just before he began his trade. They got their hooks in him back in the day with their big blocks and hemis. Heck, he was just a young fella with no brain that liked fast women and faster cars. If he was a sexy guy like me; a quick Mustang would have done just fine.

It's warm today. Unusually warm - our reward I suppose for a bitter winter and a late spring that followed and today finally - a regular heat wave of sorts was predicted for the weekend. There was plenty of brilliant green grass about but it seemed odd as it does every year at this time: and that is that there was so little in the way real shade from the trees in the neighbourhood - who were maples for the most part but were absent of any real foliage just yet, - they had only flowers and seed adorning their limbs and thus looked more like giant, immature broccoli than proper trees.

"How is the young Miss Debbie today? Good morning to you." called out Eugene from his porch from where he had predictably and magically reappeared so suddenly, - sober and neat in appearance.

"I'm fine Eugene," replied Debbie smiling a tad over his generous exaggeration. "And how are you Jake?" she asked over in my direction.

We: Eugene and I that is, were afforded a grand view of this very fine middle aged woman exiting that big black SUV of hers. I'm sure that both Eugene and I looked like a couple of dirty old buggers, - what with our eyes bulging hard in focus and our accompanying cherubic grins.

"Oh it's a fine day to spend above ground Deb. A lovely day," I added.

Eugene had somehow become speechless. I think he was too busy undressing the lady - who was attired kind of light today in just a pair of tights and a peach coloured tank top. Eugene's grin was a bit unsettling to say the least. It looked far too ecstatic in an uncomfortably sensual way. Eugene hated how I could talk at ease with her and even address her as Deb, but Eugene was also no dummy: he knew full well that his personal reputation for becoming unmarried thrice was relationship poison to even the daftest of women.

She was just past the half way mark of her walk to her daughter's front door when she turned back on her feet for a moment to shout back at Eugene, "Who has died?" she asked referring to the flag at half mast.

"Sadly, I must say: one of the best rock and roll guitarists of this century, my dear," replied Eugene trying to impress the lady with his worldliness.

And she cut him off before he could explain any further because she suddenly didn't care.

"Oh," she said and continued on with her progress to her daughter's door, knocked once and disappeared inside.

Eugene's confident smile of acknowledgment dissolved, and I felt kind of sorry for him: he's always been guilty of having ridiculous expectations.

It is telling and I suppose unfortunate, but as soon as the door closed behind Debbie, Sweet Pea appeared from the back of the house to start his day. It's doubtful that he had much to eat, such in the way of a breakfast but young kids his age always amazed me: they were like a magic seed that just needed a bit of water and some sunshine - and then they would grow like weeds a foot per summer or so it seemed.

I was an analog child: the clocks all had dials back then and when my mother wanted me she'd just holler and I'd better be coming. Sweet Pea however, carried a cell phone and most of the communication between he and his mother was by texting. I suppose the illusion of independence was present, but as far as I could tell the cell phone was more of a virtual leash and a poor substitute for good parenting. Easily said coming from a man who had no children of his own to speak of, and but for Julie, - no family of my own to speak of either.

Eugene was now seated on his porch steps and I was just a few steps away when he said to me in a hushed voice, "I'm getting bad as you Jake. Why do you think that boy appears to be leaving the moment Debbie arrives? It happens all the time."

"Well that's an awfully insightful observation from an old Chrysler man like you. But if you listen carefully, turn down the tinnitus if that's possible; you'll hear the yelling and fighting between mother and daughter. A young boy doesn't want hear any of that from two of the most important people in his life."

Lilly was a troubled young lady. I won't judge her. I hardly know her and truthfully, anytime I had the occasion to speak with her the conversation would always seem awkward and unnatural. She spent most of her time inside. Cabs came and went - and don't get the wrong idea because they just delivered the booze and sometimes the food. The only other activity that came and went on a regular basis at the house was her mother Debbie. Artie, - Artie almost never entered his daughter's house, but he'd come by once and a while and collect Sweet Pea for whatever.

I think Sweet Pea was planning to make a clean break, out and into the neighbouring yards behind his house as he so often did but he had mistakenly made eye contact with two old friends with yearning eyes across the street. He ambled over to see us but not before looking behind himself and back at his house first.

"How's our young lad this morning?" I asked the somewhat sullen Sweet Pea as he approached.

He was not yet ten years old and he was sensitive about having such a tiny number in years mentioned. He was like most young people: he yearned to be older than he was. He had discovered the fashion rebellion recently like they all do: he wore oversized pants that hung down below his ass and his hair - was an out grown faux-hawk. His mum; a child herself was careful to keep her young charge in tune with the times.

I remember well, back in my day, - then you needed long hair and tight pants that had to be shoe horned over your ass to fit in comfortably with your friends. Nothing changes in policy over time, just in appearances.

"How you doin' Sweet Pea?" sang Eugene in an exaggerated upbeat lilt once the boy had arrived.

Sweet Pea nodded to me and replied to Eugene," I'm okay Mister Muholland?"

"Eugene please - Sweet Pea," replied Eugene trying to get the boy to call him by his first name rather than the more formal tag of: Mister Muholland.

Eugene hadn't figured it out yet, but Sweet Pea had recently grown tired of his tag: Sweet Pea, though it dearly suited him. If Eugene wanted his Christian name used by the boy he might try addressing Sweet Pea occasionally by his real name: Peter. Julie taught me to listen and consider what people were meaning rather than what they were saying.

Julie: I think of you still; at least once every hour.

"The rabbits are out Jake. I bet I saw a dozen of them yesterday."

"Whereabouts, - Peter?"

"Over on Finch Avenue."

All the streets in the Peters Corners survey were named after birds. Our court was Swift Court and it led out onto Oriole Crescent. Nearby: were Humming Bird Avenue, Finch Avenue and King Fisher Lane. One had to get familiar with bird names if you wanted to navigate the neighbourhood.

Sweet Pea was a natural loner, and just as well since there was no one his age around here for a kilometre or two, I bet. The boy loved nature and slowly, year by year, nature was taking back Peters Corners. The yards theses days were wild with three feet high grass by late June each year and people just like me and Eugene were hired to do the bare minimum in maintenance on these properties by people like Artie, real estate companies and others who represented the banks and such who were left holding the bag, so to speak, perhaps five years ago now. The previous owners of these vacant homes were all good, hard working people in my books who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and had to walk away from their mortgaged homes. But now nonetheless, it was quite the idyllic playground for a young boy like Sweet Pea.

"Rabbits are no good Jake. They bring in the coyotes," piped in Eugene.

This brought alarm to Sweet Pea's face. Anything that crawled, swam or flew over the face of this earth was a dear friend to Sweet Pea.

"Is that a fact? I've been all over the city and its suburbs and the only place I've not heard or seen coyotes is here in Peters Corners. Do you think it's because someone is too loud? What with his hi-fi blaring all the time and half into the night; why a coyote doesn't have the peace of mind to think about looking for a meal around here."

This absurdity was Sweet Pea's cue to move on and let two old fools behave badly.

"You know I got tinnitus Jake. No reason to pester an old man about going deaf. You know me by now: Muhollands don't give a shit!"

And with that he got up went into his house and started up the hi-fi and every one for a quarter mile around was listening to the music of Eugene Muholland's youth whether they wanted to or not. There must be millions out there waiting for everyone born in the fifties and sixties to die off and their rock and roll, too.

So I too went in. Sat down at the kitchen table and took my blood pressure and dutifully wrote it into a notebook: one hundred and forty over ninety-two. I know what bloody well causes high blood pressure: getting old and miserable.

"I know you're disappointed Julie. But that Muholland is trying to kill me, - one decibel at a time."


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