Digital Ischemia


Over the Hedge

Insect buzzes and humming breezes are punctuated by hedge clipping.
A cheeky nagging female calls, “Have you still no’ finished that?”
My neighbour retorts, “Ach, wheesht! I’d like to see you reach this bit!”
“Oh, I wish I could; I wish I could, but, as you know, I suffer terrible with my back. You’ll know yourself, eh? I don’t know how you manage.”
“Oh, I’m OK so long as—”
“I see you’re doing OK, right enough, going at that hedge!”
“Well, I—”
“You picked a good day for it, too. It’s been braw this month. I was only yesterday saying to Lisbeth how the farmers are toiling with it being so dry. Well, you can’t please everyone…”
My deafening thoughts overtake me.

I must confess. I’m sitting on my arse, among the shrubs and insects, eyes closed, lapping up the Scottish sun – 18° with a light breeze: perfect. I hear my neighbour, Bill, gardening away. But that’s not my confession, that’s just scene setting.

Her voice is so clear and loud, it sounds like Jessie’s out the back with my neighbour. They’re both church-goers, both single, widowed; maybe that’s enough to sustain a friendship in septuagenarians, a relationship, even. Mentally I shudder, despite the heat.

Curses. Jessie, the plague of neighbours gardening and dog-walkers alike. Anyone within earshot – and that’s a quarter mile for her shrill diatribe – is liable for a good droning at. She’s a retired occupational therapist, I remember, because she’s told me every time she’s seen me, which is at least weekly for years. She seems to fall into a conversational rut, like a needle on a record, and the same commentary tumbles out, without pause or interest for anything her audience might wish to contribute. If I’m already speaking with someone else, she simply talks over us, heedless of etiquette and writhing eyebrows.

A woman of habit. I tried to figure out her routine: time windows for her dog-walking, her current preferred route through the village, and my own escape routes if I saw her before she saw me. How unneighbourly. And yet, not only is she entrenched in her monologue, what reference she does make to her audience is unfailingly uncharitable.

“When you get to our age you have to expect some aches and pains.”
“Speak fer yersel’; I’m on’y fifty.”

“So many of these people on benefits are just playing the system. The ones that really need help aren’t getting it.”
“Actually, while I wasn’t earning, since I had some savings, because I had chosen to invest in my house, rather than spend everything I had and run up debt on holidays and retail, I didn’t get any help. Which category would you put me in?”
I didn’t say it. I don’t care. She certainly doesn’t. She’s just regurgitating whatever she’s read or heard without any mental engagement or filter.

I’m sorry; I’ve just sucked myself into bitterness.
I’m relieved: I was never rude to her as I’d plotted; she could end up my neighbour – if she’s already spending sunny afternoons hanging out in Bill’s garden. Always be polite to folk: you never know when you may meet them again.

A hoverfly whines at me. I open my eyes in a flapping reflex. The voices are quiet. Bill is still draped from his ladder over his 10 foot hedge, clipping admirably away, quite alone. I’m relieved again: her voice simply carried from the road beyond; walking her dog, grasping for someone to talk at. She was never here. I silently apologise to Bill for my assumptions and aspersions. What with the sun, it doesn’t take much to bring my blood to the boil.

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