Next door new noises invade the early evenings. Pickup trucks idle, all shiny and proud with gun popping engines. Short, clipped, hearty insults clutter the night air. Mrs. Ruth Mitts made a big mistake renting out her late mother’s house to a pretty face and muddy looking child. Mrs. Mitt’s heart feels like a fist.
Why had she said yes to that pathetic phone call from Pastor Otis? He’d found a poor lamb, a lost one, with a son who needed a home. Wouldn’t she? Couldn’t she?
Lilacs block her view. She’d used lime and ashes to amend the soil since her Mum died. Now the bushes almost obliterate the squat ranch and memories of mother sounds. Two years of quiet since Mum passed. Over now, that blessed quiet.
The times before were noisy enough for anyone with a tender ear and a soft heart, like Ruth.
Her Mum had turned savage in her sixties. Just like that. One day, while planning yet another bean supper, she hurled vile words at the pastor and ripped hymnals, a page at a time, until Ruth came to claim her.
For ten years after, Mum created a daily racket. A radio, at top volume aimed out the window at her daughter, blasted statical Spanish. Mum murdered a couch with hedge clippers and moved it onto the lawn. Mum screamed at appliances. Late at night she would keen or make sounds like a barred owl. She threw things. Finally a blood clot broke into her brain and the quiet seeped next door like a reproach. See? See what you made me do?
Pastor Otis didn’t know what he was asking. Here he hadn’t paid two minutes worth of special attention to Ruth. Not even when he lost his wife just months after her Cato died. Here they both could have used a hand and a hug. Instead, he married Bindy Barnett from the pharmacy not six months later. Bindy with the thinning hair and horse laugh.
Now this stringy washed-out waif next door had too many friends for a new person. These people bring their noise and gleeful yelps over like presents. The girl puts her child down with the sun. Usually the loud engines and laughter leave by dark.
Ruth takes to standing under the lilac bushes again. An early heat wave forces bullets of sweat from her forehead, then leak down into her sagging bosom.
She’d worn down that very same spot over years of watching her mother make a tower from teacups then slam them into shards with a mop. She’d watched her mother boil pots of water and crash the lids up and down while steam burned her face.
This new girl reads books. Even with the windows open Ruth could hear no sounds once it turned dark. She’d watch the girl turn the pages, there in a big blue chair, her hands and paper like moth wings.
Every night Ruth rocks sideways, swooning with the scent of lilacs and the straining to hear paper turn. She uses a tissue like a wick between her breasts, poking to catch the moisture before it gets any further. Every night, this whole week, until slugs begin crawling over her damp shoes. Then she would go in.
Now, on this night, the town clock chimes ten as the doorbell in her mother’s house sounds.
The girl smiles, wetting her lips. Ruth eyes her angular walk to the door. The girl looks bony enough to hang a purse on her hips. Ruth hears a familiar rich, low tone before she sees who it is. She hears, “Shhhh. Shhhh.”
The pastor slides into the front room quickly and the girl lifts her sweater to his hands. His long thin fingers, with just the hint of a recent palsy that makes his prayer book flutter, touch the dark nipples on the girl’s front. His tongue is out before it meets her lips. They say no words.
Ruth stands grimly, forcing herself to watch. Something slimy at her feet goes ignored.
Now Ruth Mitts is in her house, throwing open her side window. She places her radio on the sill and looks for the Spanish station.
Next she will kill a piece of furniture, slow and loud, so everyone will hear it scream.
By tomorrow she will think of something better to do. Not for her, a ten year rant, like Mum. Mrs. Mitts will sharpen every pointed thing in the kitchen. The sounds of the blades against the honing stone will give her the best set of shivers. All her instruments will gain a thin, clean, purifying edge.
That little lamb. That shepherd. She will sing a hymn. Something fitting.
In her church of one, sacrifice is very nice.