Carol put her spoon on the table by her cereal bowl. “Xander, I want a cat,” she said then folded her hands in her lap and waited for his response.
Xander, on the opposite side of the table and hidden from Carol’s view by the morning newspaper he held open at full spread with both hands, didn’t respond.
“Xander,” she said, louder this time, “I should like to have a cat.”
He lowered the newspaper and peered over the top of it at her. “A cat? For heaven’s sake, Carol, did you say you want a cat?”
“Yes, I did.”
“A cat is out of the question.”
“Why?” She sat with her hands still in her lap, an expectant child-like expression on her face.
Xander folded the newspaper, put it on the table then took a drink of coffee. He put the coffee cup down before saying, “Our lease agreement does not allow pets.”
“It will be an indoor cat. No one will know.”
“We live in a one-bedroom apartment, Carol. We don’t have space for a cat.”
“Cats don’t take up any space at all. Cats are almost invisible.”
Xander sighed, got up, fetched the carafe and filled his cup. “More?” He held the carafe toward Carol.
“Yes, please.” He filled her cup, returned the carafe to the brewer and sat down.
“Pets are difficult. They require attention. Especially cats. Nobody ever owns a cat; you only borrow them.” He drank some coffee. “Besides, we will be violating our lease agreement. Do you remember what happened to us the last time we violated our lease?”
Carol waved her hand in dismissal and continued to stare at him, the child-like expression still on her face. The vivid blue of her eyes startled him. He did not remember them being so intensely bright, or so fevered, this early in the morning.
“We got evicted, Carol. We were lucky to find this apartment after that ordeal.”
Panic grew in him as he recalled being evicted from their previous apartment because of her increasingly erratic behavior. Why did it have to be bagpipes? If she wanted to play a musical instrument why couldn’t it have been the harmonica? Xander groaned at the memory of that nightmare.
Carol’s father had been an enthusiastic piper and played in a pipe and drum marching band. She had shown little interest in following in his footsteps, even though she kept the pipes when he died. For years the pipes were stashed in a box, forgotten in the back of her closet. After the economic collapse of 2009 wiped out their assets and reduced them to living on their Social Security income, they sold their house to have access to some ready cash. When they moved into the senior-living apartment complex the box surfaced and Carol discovered the pipes. That’s when their life took an unexpected turn.
Carol decided she was going to play them.
Every morning Carol went to the concrete deck surrounding the swimming pool and marched back and forth, playing the pipes. The shrill music ricocheted off the four-story buildings surrounding the pool, bounced back and forth, growing in volume until the noise shrieked like a jet engine at take-off speed.
The morning sessions in the courtyard annoyed the other residents. When they asked her politely to stop, Carol said, “Bagpipes are always played in the morning as homage to the gods of creation and to the rising sun that sustains life. No one who is a true piper ever plays any other time of day.”
Carol continued to ignore the complaints. In response, the residents banded together, rose up and demanded she cease that hideous goddamn noise immediately.
Xander implored her to stop. She ignored his pleas. Nothing he said could convince her to give it up.
Xander reminded her the economic collapse of 2009 had ruined them financially and nearly reduced them to living in their car, or worse, in a tent under a bridge or on the street. They were so strapped for money they could scarcely afford to pay their bills now. Additional bills, like legal fees fighting an eviction notice, would be the tipping point from which they could not recover. Carol ignored his explanations and pleas. She continued to play the bagpipes. She even accused him of joining forces with ‘that group’ whom she thought was nasty, unfriendly, mean-spirited and completely lacking in music appreciation.
When it became clear Carol was not going to give up the bagpipes, the group met with Mr. Metzgar, the apartment manager. Chérie, leader of the vigilantes, forced the issue when she said, “See,” shaking a piece of paper in front of him, “it says right here in our lease agreements that anyone deemed a nuisance by a majority of the residents can be asked to vacate the community. We took a vote. Carol and her music are a nuisance. She has to leave if she won’t stop playing those fucking bagpipes!”
Mr. Metzgar met with Carol and told her she could be evicted if she continued to annoy the other residents. “We are, after all,” he said in an unctuous voice, “a loving, caring community and we must make every effort to get along with our neighbors.”
Mr. Metzgar’s pleas did not work.
Xander told her getting evicted was a serious matter and would be disastrous for them. “We might not find another apartment we can afford.”
Carol continued to play the bagpipes.
Several calls to the police were not enough to make her stop. During the last police visit she said to Sergeant Garcia, “Why are you badgering an old woman who is playing beautiful music? Am I a criminal now?” Then she held out her arms. “If I’m a criminal, you better put handcuffs on me and take me to your jail.”
“Mrs. Jenkins,” said Sergeant Garcia, a look of desperation plastered on his face, “we are not going to take you to jail.” Small beads of perspiration salted his upper lip. “We don’t want to take you to jail, but we do want you to stop annoying other residents with those bagpipes.”
“You may as well put me in jail and lock me away in the dark.”
Sergeant Garcia turned to Xander, who was standing next to Carol. “Who are you?”
“I’m the husband, Alexander Jenkins. Folks call me Xander.”
Sergeant Garcia turned pleading eyes on Xander. “Can you help?”
“I’ll try.” Xander took Carol’s hand. “Let’s go inside, dear.”
“Yes, Douglas,” Carol said.
He was shocked at being called Douglas. He blamed her mistake on stress caused by the police presence, but a worry-worm began to wiggle in his brain.
When Xander suggested she might see her doctor for a wellness check, she scoffed at him. “There is nothing wrong with me. I’m perfectly fine.”
The police stopped responding to calls from the apartment manager. The 911 dispatcher said to Mr. Metzgar, “The city police department is two hundred officers short because of the current economic downturn, low pay, and early retirements. Recruitment numbers are off to boot because nobody wants to be a cop anymore. A complaint about bagpipe is not considered an imminent loss-of-life situation requiring an immediate response by armed officers.” The dispatcher added, “But if she bludgeons someone with the bagpipes and inflicts grievous bodily harm, or death, of course the police will respond immediately.”
Two weeks later Carol and Xander were evicted from Quiet Life Senior-Living Apartment Community.Continue reading