by Ryan Ritchie
â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep,â€ came the noise as me, Kobe Bryant, Nelson Mandela and my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Johnston were having lunch on the Venetian Grand Canal. The persistent racket flew across my backyard, through my open bedroom window and into my ear. At first I thought the sound was coming from my alarm clock, and with this being the second-to-last day of my week-long vacation from my job as a graveyard employee at a grocery store, I rolled across my California King and smacked the alarm with the palm of my left hand hoping to shut the damn thing off. But the sound continued and after battling the sleep/awake purgatory for two minutes, I remembered that my alarm is always set to the local oldies.
I sat up, noticed the clock read 8:13 a.m. and cursed the intruding â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beepâ€ for waking me. My wife Alicia was preparing a bowl of strawberries, cherries and watermelon in our adjacent kitchen heard she heard my confused, under-the-breath grumblings and entered the room to explain the situation.
â€œWhatâ€™s that noise?â€ I asked as she stood in the doorway.
â€œI dunno, but itâ€™s been going off since I got up,â€ which meant the sound had been polluting our airwaves for at least an hour because every Tuesday through Saturday, Alicia woke at 7:15 to be behind her chair at the styling salon by 9.
With only a half-second break between each â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep,â€ escaping this aural contamination was impossible. All I could do was hope the distraction would go away, but once 8:35 hit and my otherwise peaceful morning espresso and newspaper were destroyed by the non-stop noise, I turned on the local jazz station and cranked the knob toward the right like it was Saturday night. Alicia bailed just after the transformation from quiet living room to early morning discothÃ¨que, but not before offering a theory behind the maddening beeps.
â€œMaybe Josie died,â€ she laughed before kissing me on the cheek, avoiding the surely repugnant stench created by the dangerous combination of morning breath and coffee emanating from my mouth. Josie was our neighbor, a white haired septuagenarian who brought us lemons from her yard in exchange for wasting an hour of our time with gossip about the neighborhood.
Miles and â€˜Trane took off on â€œSidâ€™s Aheadâ€ and all was well for a brief moment, but once the tune ended and the slow-speaking baritone deejay began speaking, the bastardized super alarm continued with its â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.â€ Every hour I turned down the music to see if my nemesis was still there and every hour, all I heard was â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.â€ After tiring of the new jazz taking over the station that used to be nothing but classics, I dug through my vinyl and spun a few Herb Albert records. After my third cup of coffee, I needed something a little more hectic, so I dusted off a Stooges bootleg I forgot I had and bounced around as Iggy sang â€œShe Creatures of the Hollywood Hills.â€
My stomach was getting agitated at a quarter to one, so I put away the vinyl in favor of my iPod, which I wore as I prepared a chicken sandwich, but during the fifteen seconds between record player and headphones, my head was filled with â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep.â€
My iPod was loaded with stuff that got me pumped at the gym, mostly hip-hop, punk and metal. I hit the Shuffle function and the first three songs were Slayerâ€™s â€œRaining Blood,â€ the fast version of the Germsâ€™ â€œLexicon Devilâ€ and Eazy-Eâ€™s â€œEight Ball.â€ The melted Swiss and toasted breast went well together and after finishing my meal, I left on the iPod to make sweeping the house and washing dishes a bit more exciting.
But by the time 4 p.m. rolled around, I was done with music and pretending that I was being given the chance to re-familiarize myself with my record collection. Deep down I knew that was just a lie. Quiet is what I longed for and once I took off my headphones, the incessant â€œBeep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beepâ€ was gone.
Thanks to the newfound silence, I decided to take a nap before Alicia came home from work. Forty-five minutes in, my finally-quiet cul-de-sac once again was poisoned with noise, this time sirens. Peeping through my living room window, I saw Josieâ€™s son Anthony run out to his motherâ€™s driveway to speak to a paramedic and a police officer. Another cop arrived twenty minutes later and his first assignment was to knock on my door.
The man in blue introduced himself as Officer Stanford and asked questions about my neighbor. Stuff like, â€œdid you hear anything last night?â€ and â€œwhen was the last time you saw her?â€ At first I thought Josie took her daily walk and ended up on a missing persons list, but Officer Stanford informed me that everyone knew exactly where Josie was.
â€œMrs. Markey died in bed. Looks like natural causes, but I have to ask just to make sure.â€
By 5:45, a semi-circle of black and whites, paramedics and Lincoln Towncars driven by Josieâ€™s blue-hair friends formed at the end of the cul-de-sac, blocking the entrance to our driveway. I felt bad about spying through the window, but couldnâ€™t peel myself away from the activity happening next door to me. I liked Josie and having her as a neighbor was pleasant, but I always felt uneasy whenever she would start to talk about the things she watched through her windows because I knew her constant surveillance meant she must have been watching me and Alicia too. And now here I was, doing the exact same thing to her. As much as I told myself I wanted to see how the ordeal would end, I knew I did not want to see that bodybag roll out to the ambulance, so I entered my kitchen to prepare a homemade sauce that would be used in my pasta al pomodoro later that evening.
I was crushing garlic when the phone rang. It was Alicia, calling to ask why she couldnâ€™t pull into our driveway.
â€œRemember that thing you said about Josie before you left?â€ I replied. â€œYeah, uhâ€¦I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll be getting any more lemons.â€
0 thoughts on “Making Lemonade”
I read the first line about a week ago, but didn’t have time to sit down and read this story in its entirity. Nonetheless, that first line stuck with me… just in the back of my mind somewhere… beckoning… enticing me to read the rest of this story…. In fact, it was such a good line that I could not but help have unreasonably high expectations, and now… having finally read it… I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint.
What I enjoy most about this piece is how it presents someone’s death as a sort of nuisance instead of a tragedy; and yet by framing Josie’s death this way, her death seems all the more tragic… but without the melodrama. Well done.