“Mamaaa! Maaa-maaa! Maaaaa!” his thin, sharp cry carried through the screen door, sieved into mosquito sized pieces and scattered through twelve back yards. Deck doors clunked closed, but I was in my back garden listening to wind chimes, which I swear his sound waves agitated, and I wanted to be outside.
“Darius!” his mother yelled. “Stop whining! Do you hear anyone else behaving like you? Just stop!”
I went inside and closed the door. I could still hear the caterwauling. I wanted to invite them both over to listen to the chimes but I didn’t.
I hung the chimes about a week ago. They’ve been in my garage for 23 years. I bought them to remember my mother who died 24 years ago. She loved wind chimes and bells and tinkley doo-dahs, and hung them among her flower baskets on her small porch. Recently, on a trip to Vancouver, I found a clay bell which reminded me of her at a pottery sale so I bought it, brought it home and hung it from my back deck. That was when I remembered the other banished chimes stored in the garage all those years ago because my husband said they’d disturb the neighbours with their clanging and clamouring. Being new to the ‘hood, I agreed not to hang them. Heaven forbid I should offend the neighbours.
In the intervening years I’ve listened to human soundscapes as broad as, well, humanity. When we first moved in one of my favourite places was the small back deck overlooking the back yard. I liked to – still like to – sit there, sip my morning cuppa and watch the sun crawl over the neighbours roofs in the morning.
Several weeks after moving in, the neighbours to the left were up as early as me and the sound of their broad swords gongalating at 6:30 a.m. scared the beejeebers out of me. A six foot tall Amazon wearing a bikini swung one of the swords. This same woman, we later learned, invaded other people’s backyards to mow their lawns – without asking. When asked politely to hold the noise both early and late, she became verbally abusive and called our adopted children “Rent-a-kids”. For the next two years she hurled figurative swords at me anytime she saw me on the deck. The happiest day of my life as a homeowner was when she packed up her swords and parrot – for God’s sake she had a parrot – and left.
Next to that house and directly behind us were a couple whose fights chipped bricks and mortar and corroded pipes. His vocabulary blighted the blooms of May and hers scorched the grass. He died a few years ago. She seems happier now.
“Creepy man” lived where Darius and his mom live currently He had a 500″ flat screen t.v. and favoured action movies watched at maximum volume. Because he didn’t have air conditioning, his back deck windows and curtains were open all summer long. I could sit on my back deck and watch the movie if I wanted but I didn’t because the other thing he liked to do was stand naked in his window and masturbate. I hung bamboo curtains and wove a canvas screen through the railings of the deck.
Two doors down, the dad occasionally raises his voice – usually at 2 a.m. – when angry. The volume penetrates our double pane bedroom windows when closed.
Two weeks ago, after twenty three years, I finally hung the wind chimes I bought in remembrance of my mother, the neighbours be damned. In about three weeks I’ll be 60 years old. In addition to hanging the chimes, after 24 years of dreaming about making the back garden a wee oasis, it became a reality this summer. I retreat to it in the morning before anyone wakes up, coffee in hand and listen to the chimes. They don’t clang even in a strong breeze. Tucked into a corner, protected by the fence on one side and the back of the house on the other, they whisper to one another. Although I can’t recall the sound of my mother’s voice anymore, the chimes make me think of her and the quiet conversations we had when, as an adult, I traveled home to visit every year.
Mother would have listened to her husband’s advice, too, because that’s what women did in her day. But part of me likes to imagine she’d approve of this small act of rebellion and that after 25 years of keeping quiet it is my turn to give everyone something to listen to.