It Starts with The Word: Ball
The first of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once. This week’s word was: Ball.
Gloria Weiner walked past the house on the corner, a one-story ranch from the forties, green stucco and white wood, its hammock-frame empty in January. The landlord had cut down the big plum that grew in the corner of the yard at Christmas, the tree that shielded the small yard from the street. For Lease signs hung on the fence.
She’d lived on this street for thirty years, a hillside neighborhood where rentals and duplexes alternated with the homes of long-timers like herself, like Frank and Paul, all aging together like old fruit trees. Frank, a sturdy, robust seventy with gleaming white hair and moustache, swept nonexistent leaves from his immaculate driveway. “Empty again,” he called out. “That didn’t last long.”
As if it were some sort of triumph, Gloria thought, picking up a plastic sack blowing down the early evening street. To them, the oldtimers, the hill was a bit like the shows where people were voted off islands. Only the survivors mattered. She and Paul and Frank, Betsy and Irv down the street, the composer, Ben, and his little dachshund, the Changs, with their mother in law unit which somehow failed to meet code, she’d watched them all, as they had watched her, painting and sweeping and repairing leaks in garages and roofs, working on gardens, divorcing, as she and Sam had, their children growing up, leaving for college…
While the young people came and went. On the balconies overhanging the steep curves of the street, they played their guitars and smoked their cigarettes and weed, drank beer and barbequed on smoky hibachis, while the drummers among them practiced in the ground-level garages with the doors raised. Every month or two, one would have an enormous party, and the old-timers would patiently wait out, glancing at the clock, 3 a.m., 4 a.m., hoping not have to call the police. They too, after all, had been young.
But the house on the corner… the pretty couple, a sunny-haired girl and her broadshouldered husband, playing with their toddler in the little fenced yard in the shade of the black plum, drinking cocktails in the evenings with friends, lying in the hammock together on long summer afternoons, throwing a ball for an exuberant lab who would catch it in midair, leaping up, its ears flying.
She didn’t know them. They were renters. They didn’t come to the neighborhood watch, they weren’t on the phone tree. They didn’t garden or paint or repair or make friends with the neighbors. They lay in the hammock, made cocktails for friends, listened to Elvis Costello in the waning afternoons. They’d decorated their giant agave for Christmas, purple balls hooked onto each wicked blue-green terminal.
She wished the landlord hadn’t cut down that tree. It denuded the small house, turned it from a graceful thing of summer evenings and fairy lights into another object of commerce. She missed those people–honestly, more than she would miss Frank or Paul.
Frank had painted his house again, the same green he painted it every year. And the pretty young couple, their front-yard sundown cocktails, their toddler, their flying dog, had gone away.
next week’s word: scissor