TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Bluebonnets danced around her white skirt as she turned her face toward the sun. She only needed a few for the vase. Perhaps a little joy would soothe the inevitable unease at the table that night. It was always tense when meeting with her neighbors. She hoped enough time had passed. They had to know there was nothing she could do to change what had happened, right?
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It started with a binder. A simple, unassuming binder.
Ellie White stood on the street, white vase filled with bluebonnets picked from her yard in hand, watching the red and white lights of the ambulance reflect off the windows in the neighborhood. There was shouting enough to bring the neighbors out onto their lawns to watch the drama.
Ellie had always wanted to own her own home. Something small and quiet where she could paint the walls without worrying about losing a security deposit. Years of renting had made her tired of listening to neighbors’ random noises, and smelling smells that she couldnít identify wafting from other people’s apartments. She stalked housing listings like others stalked Tinder profiles.
When the small blue and white, cottage style house showed up in her price range, she jumped at it. It had everything she wanted. Good lighting. Nice sized bedrooms. A cozy little sunroom. Pretty flowers around the edges of the house. She had such a warm feeling when she took the house tour that she immediately made an offer, and started picturing where she would put her favorite chair for best reading light.
The sale went smooth. The keys were presented with a sweet note from the former owners that wished her “the best luck in her new home!”
The day after she moved in, a basket with a silver and purple “Welcome!” balloon attached to it appeared on her doorstep. It contained a friendly yellow coupon book, some locally baked cookies, and a nice bottle of sparkling grape juice.
The next day, the binder appeared on her doorstep. It was a standard 3-ring, 2-inch binder, but with a cardstock label on the front, made with the skill of a master scrapbooker, that said in large flowing script “Welcome to the Neighborhood” and, in smaller print, “Neighborhood Rules and Guidelines.”
She flipped to the table of contents as she walked back into her house. The carefully printed and laminated list went from “Appliance, outdoor” to “Yard Care.” Eating one of the Snickerdoodles from her Welcome basket, she sat down at her counter, and started to read in more detail.
“Fences and siding must be maintained and powerwashed annually.”
“No pets/children are allowed to be left unsupervised in any yard, fenced or unfenced.”
“All lawns must be maintained at ¾ inch heights at all times. This is STRICTLY ENFORCED.”
“Color Schemes for homes must be chosen from the preapproved list. No exceptions will be made. Do not ask.”
“Guests must leave the neighborhood by 9 p.m.”
“Discussions regarding rules, guidelines, and complaints regarding same should be addressed at the officially sanctioned meetings.” No meeting times were listed. Ellie, in the months to come, would find that the meetings must be held in secret at midnight, in another dimension.
The first complaint was about the wildflowers. Or, as Mrs. Catshall, the apparent head of the secret society of neighborhood guardians, eventually referred to them, “those godforsaken weeds that are killing not only my allergies and my enjoyment of my own backyard, but my property values!” Ellie thought they were pretty, simple purple and blue flowers that grew on the side of her house. She was apparently wrong.
The complaints were delivered in person and in writing, always by the same person, Mrs. Althea Catshall.
At first, complaints were delivered with broad, if somewhat tense smiles. “Oh, Ellie, I know you’re new here, but we really don’t like people mowing before 8 a.m. It’s in the rules.”
“Ellie, I know your car is in your driveway, but if you are going to leave it out, you’re going to need to wash it more often. It’s in the rules.”
“Look, we can’t have lawn ornaments, however cute they may be. If you can’t follow the rules, there will be fines.”
Then it was the mailbox. The light brown color was wrong, and didn’t fit with the neighborhood aesthetic, nor was it on the preapproved list. It was the mailbox that came with the house but that detail was irrelevant.
Of course, the curtains were offensive, and didn’t meet the neighborhood guidelines. They appeared “cheap,” and didn’t match the shutters.
For three months, a constant barrage of complaints and suggestions and demands.
Finally, she broke. Ellie gathered her newly grown, rule approved bluebonnets, and carefully made her way to Mrs. Catshall’s house to see what, if anything, she could do to stop the complaints.
That was when she saw the ambulance and the gathering of people on the street to see what was going on.
“Do you know what happened?” said a voice behind her.
Ellie turned to see two neighbors she had yet to meet, and politely walked over to join their conversation.
“Oh, Catshall was trying to measure Linda Hoff’s spruce tree, and fell off of a ladder. She was trespassing again, but since she was hurt, they will probably not press charges this time.”
Ellie gaped. “Do you think the homeowner’s association will get involved with that? I know there is a rule about the right to enter anyone’s property to assess violations.”
The two women laughed. “Oh honey, you’re new. There is no homeowner’s association.”
The vase cracked when it hit the ground.