We lie in bed with the windows wide so the summer curtains billow into the room with the midnight breezes flowing down from the mountains across the fjord on a night that looks like day, and it could be day except for how tired we feel and the noctural critters we just photographed in the flower beds: a frog and a hedgehog, all the birds are quiet and even the dog has put himself to bed.
The neighbor is awake and has visitors, a man and a woman have joined Per on his patio which we know for sure is a stone’s throw from our bedroom balcony because on New Years you and I wrote 2009 intentions on a Tibetan paper lantern which, once lit and launched, dove and perched aflame on Per’s railing and I didn’t know what I feared most: burning down his house or him discovering the charred remnants of what I had written.
It is Per and the woman we hear talking, first in normal intermittant tones, but by the time we have settled, you cupping your whisky while I read aloud from Moby Dick – the cetology of whales in Book II (Octavo) Chapter IV (Killer) in which Melville reasons the name holds no distinction “for we are all killers on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included” – the talk on the patio next door has gotten louder.
Are they arguing? you ask in a whisper and I lay Melville down to listen. If they are it is on the order of The Rowan Berries Are Early This Year So That Means We’ll Have Snow No It DOESN’T It Means It Will Be Mild I say and go back to reading but it is difficult to ignore their voices which are now in the room and getting louder, the woman gaining the lead with words that carry her spit, a ballast of spite, hate, blame, disgust.
I get up and shut the door and windows, gently so they won’t hear, and return to my reading, but it’s no use. Melville’s cetology cannot compete and you get up curious to hear what they are talking about and open the window facing the patio as if you are on an adventure but I lie motionless worried, ashamed, as if listening to my parents’ muffled row.
I want you to stop swinging the window so it creaks on its hinges and they could hear you listening to them, they will be mad at us, we’ll be in trouble, but you want them to hear and get interrupted and stop their bickering or at least take it inside and I wonder why I feel I am the one who has done something wrong, the way I used to fear the neighbors could hear the bellowing that shook the walls between his rage and my mute tongue during those final days when we fought unchecked all day long while the kids were at school and neither of us at work.
The woman seems upset about the way people are around here, you report returning to bed and I tell you I am reminded of me and him and you say Oh and I read on through the chapter called First Night-Watch.
In the morning you put your arms around me and ask if I had also been reminded of us and I say no of course not we don’t fight and you grin and say we could try where did you put the teapot why did you put it there that’s no good that was dumb
and I say I only put it where it has to be since your coffee pot took up all the room and then we giggle, you see it doesn’t work, I say, but you decide to spend the rest of the day trying to pick a fight, a glint in your eye at the challenge, the sport of tossing I’m the only one who does anything around here into the hoop of you’re not listening to what I said and I grow weary of trying to take offense.
That night as we lean in the open kitchen window looking at the koi swim in the pond you make one last attempt, something about the three buckets of weeds I aim to pick each day getting left standing around unemptied, each with a garden spade left in – don’t forget the pair of gloves I say – yes, that’s why I can never find any gloves you say and behind those three buckets are the three buckets from the day before, and three from the day before that – I would empty them, I say, if you left room in the compost but now I can’t do any more weeding because all the buckets are full and I can’t empty the weeds because there’s no room in the compost so things have ground to a halt in the garden I guess we’ll just have to sell the house.
And so on it went, our argument, but we were laughing so hard the pee started running and we had to hang our heads out the window and gasp for air and pound the sills with our fists and fall back into the room doubled over on the floor and I marveled at how this laughter could make me feel so drunk.
The next day at waffles my daughter age fourteen says What was wrong with you two last night? We look uncomprehending until she says, You could have woken up the whole neighborhood, carrying on in the middle of the night … We still can’t get what she means until she says, you were laughing so loud I was afraid the neighbors could hear, something about weeds…
we look at each other – Weeds?! The Neighbors Could Hear!? – and die laughing all over again.