by Ben Small
Is there any more fertile ground for a ripening murder plot than a home ownership association meeting?
This is good stuff: Just watch and jot notes. Sooner or later, an argument, no doubt fueled by past resentments, will break out.
Mrs. X: “Mrs. Y’s bird feeder is higher than the architectural committee let me build. She’s gotta take it down.”
Mrs. Y: “You’re just being mean spirited because I complained last year that you use too much charcoal lighter on your barbeque.” She looks across the crowd of twenty-some people, some of whom are whispering, some nodding off, some checking for dirt under their fingernails. “We were choking to death on her fumes… and she did it on purpose.” She takes a breath, and then sniffs. “She’s also complaining because I have more birds than she does.” She nods, a slow smile crawls across her lips. “I’m greener.”
Mrs. Y isn’t finished yet. Wrinkles deepen at the edge of her mouth and her lips purse. There’s a dismissive wave. “And that’s just like them. They’re awful neighbors. They taunt us, talk about us behind our backs and they look through our windows at night. They even leave their crummy newspapers with those ugly yellow plastic wrappers all over our yard.”
Mrs. X leans forward, stretching the fabric over her stomach to its expansion limits. Her jowls quiver and the bulb of her nose turns the color of a ripe pomegranate. “You do not… attract more birds than we do.” She’s breathing heavily, her melon-ish breasts rising and falling like bobbing balloons. A bead of sweat rolls down her cheek. “And you cheated. You can’t build a bird feeder that high.” She sits back, bulging the red plastic backing of her chair. She waves a sausage finger at Mrs. Y. “We don’t even use charcoal lighter, you bitch. It’s an electric grill.” She slaps her knees, and then folds her arms, tries to grasp her elbows but can’t quite reach them. She turns to the woman next to her, the HOA secretary, who’s busy scribbling notes on the seventh or eighth page of what had been new legal pad just a hour ago. “We don’t throw our papers in her yard,” she says, her tone low. “She hides them there, so we can’t find them.”
The Secretary continues scratching on her pad, turns over another sheet, and fills more blue lines with black ink.
The HOA president sighs. “Mrs. X, it wasn’t the height that bothered the architectural committee. You wanted to shine spotlights on your bird feeder, and that would have bothered Mrs. Y’s peaceful enjoyment of the night.”
Mrs. X: “No, I distinctly remember the architectural committee said my bird feeder couldn’t be higher than six feet.” She’s sitting rigid, her fists balled, a foot tapping a beat. “When I was chair of the architectural committee, we approved lighted bird feeders.” She nods around the room, slicing the pie.
The HOA president looks at the two large file boxes sitting on the floor. Another sigh. “Look, Mrs. X, you were chair of the architectural committee before most of us built our homes, and nobody has a lighted bird feeder now. I’m not going to look at past precedents, if any, it’s enough that the architectural committee said you couldn’t light up your bird feeder.”
Mrs. X’s chins are quivering, and she wipes away a tear. “But she’s getting all the cardinals, wrens and doves.”
Mrs. Y snorts. “I am not! I saw a dove at your bird feeder last night, just before dusk. If you’re not getting more birds, maybe you should change birdfood.” She laughs and says to the group, “Maybe she’s feeding the birds what she eats.” Another snort. “Maybe they get so fat they can’t fly.”
Dead silence in the room.
President: “Motion to adjourn?”