I watched my neighbour take a sip of a mojito that probably contained some particles of her deceased Doberman. She didn’t know this though.
It never occurred to me that I would one day be serving mojitos to my neighbours at a party, hosted by James from next door, celebrating my husband going back to school, but at least it was a possible scenario. I definitely never thought that I would have a dead dog to thank for the fresh, home grown mint in the drinks.
Out of context, I’ll admit that the whole situation seems rather bizarre, and more than likely suspicious as well. This is exactly why my husband and I agreed to never tell anyone about what really happened that day, two months before.
Mark and I were recent additions to the neighbourhood. I had cooked dinner, and Mark had arrived home from work as a nurse.
“So, what glorious meal have you orchestrated for tonight?” Mark joked as he poured some wine into glasses. Only one of them was a wine glass, the other was a regular glass cup; a few fragile items had not successfully survived the move.
“Curry. Again. It’s the same curry that I usually make, but I thought I might try experimenting with some herbs, so give me feedback.” I placed the two plates on the table and we sat.
“Did you use the herbs in the garden?” He grinned as he asked. He already knew the answer to that. I’d been trying to grow my own herb garden since we moved here four months ago, but nothing I had done so far had worked, I couldn’t get anything to grow. So I just pulled a face. He chuckled.
“How was work today?” I changed the subject.
“Alright,” he admitted, “but I can’t really get promoted in this profession, and I feel that I want to do more than this.”
“Maybe you should go back to school,” I suggested. “Try a different medical profession.”
That was when the yelling began. We could hear it, despite the fact that we lived in the house across the road. A couple that was a fair bit older than us lived there, Barb and Rick. They must have been fighting again. I didn’t know for sure that they were fighting, but it was the only reason for yelling that I could think of. I only ever heard Barb though. I could never hear Rick’s voice.
Mark sighed. “There goes the nice atmosphere.” He leant back in his chair.
Now I was feeling frustrated. “This always happens! What is even going on over there? I should have guessed that we would move into a house near a pair of loonies.” I stood up and peeked through the blinds of the window. I couldn’t see the couple in their house, but I noticed that Patrick’s car was parked diagonally across their driveway behind Barbara’s. Why’d he done that, to keep her from leaving?
“Actually, I was talking to Rick the other day,” Mark began. “He’s quite nice, a bit timid though. But he explained to me that Barb never used to act like this.”
“People change, Mark,” I said without looking away from the window. I was trying to catch a glimpse of them. Better yet; they could come outside, where I could see and hear them better.
“No this is different,” he retorted. “She had a fall few years back; tripped over, hit her head and needed surgery and everything. She hasn’t been the same since. Damage to the frontal lobe can result in a change in personality.”
“Brain damage…” I could vaguely remember learning about the brain in high school, but I didn’t know enough to understand what Barb or Rick was going through.
Thinking back on my encounters with her, she hadn’t seemed like she had brain damage or some sort of disorder. She was just rude. I hate big dogs, and she always teased me with her feral Doberman, Bruce, when she took him for walks. I’d be getting the mail and there would be a sudden burst of aggressive barking and snarling from behind me, scaring me half to death, and she would be cackling, like a witch. Not to mention all the times she seized the opportunity to mock my failed herb garden.
Barb and her dog were like one and the same; sharp teeth, drool, big appetites and eyes that looked at you like you were the next juicy meal. Though Bruce looked like he liked the taste of blood in a literal sense, Barb looked like she craved it in another way. Just for the suffering.
The next day, after the night that Barb had been yelling across the road, Mark and I were in the garage, sorting through some of the last boxes to figure out what needed to be unpacked, and what could stay boxed up in the garage. I was sorting through a box that only contained books. I was checking that it contained my cookbooks, because I’d been cooking many of the same recipes lately; only the ones I knew from memory.
“Teenie, look!” I heard my husband rustle something out of a box. I turned. “It’s my old tennis racquet! I thought I’d thrown it out before the move.” He slowly swung it, pretending to hit a ball in slow motion. “I must have packed it by mistake.”
“Well, we might go and play tennis some time, so it can stay in the garage if you want.”
He leant forward on the racquet like a walking stick. “Hey, I forgot to tell you last night, but when I was locking up, I noticed Rick and Barb leave their house in Rick’s car.”
“Yeah.” He looked toward their house. The garage door was open so we could see the missing car in the driveway. They weren’t back. They’d even left their front gate ajar. They’d left in a hurry.
I tried to pick up the box of books on front of me, but it weighed a ton. I grunted as I put it back down. “Mark, you think you could take this for me?”
He put down his old racquet and picked up the box. He acted like it was no big deal, but I could see him straining.
“Just put it by the bookshelf.”
“That is indeed where books go,” he grunted.
I continued with the chore, and it was not until Mark was inside when I heard the barking, and before I could react the dog was upon me. I was on the ground. All I could see was wild eyes and teeth. All I felt was pain in my leg and throat, and it took me a moment to realise that the pain in my throat was because I was screaming. Then Mark was there. He had his tennis racquet and he was bringing it down on the dog again and again and again. Finally it was quiet. No more barking and snarling. No more yelling. No more screaming. Bruce was limp, Mark was standing, I sat up. He and I were breathing hard and loud, and each breath I took came out as a sob. Blood was seeping from my leg, on the concrete floor, in the dog’s teeth, on the tennis racquet. But the blood on the racquet wasn’t mine.
When Rick arrived home from the hospital, alone (Barb had had a seizure as a result of her brain injury), he discovered that they’d left the gate open, and Bruce had escaped. My leg injury did not go unnoticed, and I admitted that Bruce had attacked me before running off down the street. The neighbours could confirm that they had heard me scream. No questions arose about the dented and broken old tennis racquet in the garage.
Two months late, Mark was studying radiography, the stitches in my leg were gone, and we were celebrating with the neighbours. I sat with Barb, who had never once seemed phased by the disappearance of her beloved Doberman. She had recovered quickly, but was still as derogatory about my herb garden as she had been before.
She took a sip of her drink. “You make a nice mojito, Christine. It’s a shame you have to use herbs from the supermarket though.” A cheap jab.
“Actually, my own herb garden is going quite well now. In fact, I used the mint from my garden, fresh for the mojitos.” I smiled. “As it turns out, all I really needed was the right fertilizer.”