It was a mean thing to do. That much I’ll admit. When they moved in next-door the Donavons seemed like such a sweet couple: kind, considerate, eager to lend a helping hand. Why would anyone want to harm them?
In the end, though, what choice did I have?
When my long-time neighbor, Mr. Bellotti, died shortly before Thanksgiving, the family homestead went to his daughter, an only child. Unfortunately—for me, and ultimately for the Donavons—she had established herself on the West Coast, clear across the country, and had no desire to move back East. Consequently once the will cleared probate she hired a real estate agent and put the house up for sale.
It didn’t remain long on the market. The Donavons, a childless couple in their late fifties, bought the house and moved in around Memorial Day. At first they seemed like a quiet, unassuming pair. Peg Donavon was frumpy, short and plump, with graying hair and a sallow complexion, the poster child for folks who spend too much time indoors watching TV and eating junk food. Joe Donavon was slightly taller than his wife, slightly plumper, slightly grayer, equally dull.
Anyhow, to welcome them to the neighborhood I baked an apple pie and carried it over while it was still warm. Before I had a chance to knock, Peg answered the door.
“I saw you crossing the yard through the window,” she explained. “Apple pie! How neighborly! Hubby’s favorite.”
Just then Hubby appeared at the door wearing a broad grin that revealed more teeth than seemed necessary. I introduced myself.
“Mrs. Fernandes,” they chimed in unison. “We’re lucky to have such a kind neighbor,” Peg added. “Aren’t we, Joe?”
Joe nodded vigorously, like one of those novelty bobbing heads some fools place at the rear windows of their cars.
“It’s Miss Fernandes,” I corrected them. “But please, call me Sarah.” I won’t bore you with details of the idle chatter that followed, other than to say that they invited me in for coffee and to share the pie, but I declined.
“I have to get home and pack. I’m flying out to Maryland tomorrow to visit my sister for two weeks.” Sally, caregiver for her invalid husband, was in desperate need of respite, which I’d gladly furnish, but I didn’t burden the Donavons with any of that.
“Is there anything we can do while you’re away?” Peg Donavon asked eagerly. “Take care of a pet? Water plants?”
“I don’t have a pet, or indoor plants in need of care,” I replied. “But thanks anyway.”
“The least I can do is mow your lawn,” Joe insisted.
“No, please. I’d rather you didn’t, though it’s kind of you to offer.” With that I took my leave.
I should have been more adamant.
Two weeks later I returned from Maryland exhausted but gladdened by the knowledge that I’d given my sister a much-needed rest. But when the airport limo pulled up in front of my house the sight that greeted me robbed me of much of that gladness. Someone had mowed the lawn.
That someone had to be Joe Donavon, my new neighbor. After I’d explicitly asked him not to. Of course he had cut the grass much too short, gouging the turf, causing permanent damage, and worse—much worse—he’d mowed the foliage of the daffodils and tulips along the borders. Anyone with half a brain knows that once daffodils and tulips have bloomed you have to let the leaves alone until they wither and turn brown. Cutting them back while they’re still green—even worse, mowing them—ensures that they won’t bloom next year, or the next, and possibly not the year after that. The damn fool!
Well, there was no help for it. The damage was done. Eventually I’d go next door and administer a gentle rebuke. For now, though, the chaise longue out back beckoned. I quickly slipped out of my travel clothes into shorts and a loose-fitting top, fixed a tall gin and tonic, and strolled out the back door onto the patio.
Only to behold even greater destruction.
dear twitter.com editor; i read the lifesyle mystery story this summer year. to solve this mystery student writer to find a perfect chapter of the secret author. my own true mystery student writer will find this salvation of truth thank you.-r.j.r.