Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: NEIGHBOR (06/01/17)
TITLE: Just a Hedge Apart
By Francy Judge
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But no one ever chose truth—
Just a game, without a winner.
Lying on the prickly grass in the shade of the weeping willow,
My sister and I stared at the new neighbors’ house.
The two-story colonial wore the same colors it always had—
Pale yellow with chocolate shingles, but it would never be the same.
“Dare you to cartwheel across their lawn, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ upside down,
Run away before someone notices.”
“Dare you to pick a flower from their flowerbed and toss the petals on the walkway.”
We collapsed in laughter, hidden behind the hedge. It was a harmless game.
Why did strangers move here, in the home next door?
Why did they buy the home of my friend,
My friend who failed to tear free from the cancer that persevered,
My friend who died in her pink flowered bedroom?
(Irrational questions for an irrational time)
The strangers were not my neighbor;
It would always be the Piacentes’ house.
“Dare you to stick gum in their car door!”
A dare is a dare
I stuck sticky chewed watermelon Bubbalicious in the keyhole;
“Dare you to stick gum in their front door!”
A dare is a dare
Did we realize the consequences? Did we care?
I was not willing to learn my non-neighbor’s name.
I was thirteen and angry.
As if they had a hand in my friend’s death and sprinkled cancer cells to force the end;
If my friend didn’t die, her family would still live next door,
Still share the same hedge, and the same draping willow tree.
I hated my new neighbors before I met them.
Our game ended in truth with a knock at the door;
We couldn’t hide from witness eyes, forced to confess, explain
When the neighbor’s door opened, we hung our heads
Inside, the house looked the same with different furniture
But the smell wasn’t the same—not bad, just different.
Missing the fresh cut flowers, the lemon waxed floors.
My friend’s family portrait was missing,
The strawberry shaped ceramic cookie jar, gone.
Sorry is such a hard word to say.
"We had to get our locks replaced,” he said. “Do you know why we moved here from the city?”
We shook our heads.
“Our son was bullied in school, and mugged on his way home.
Thought we could escape cruelty, but malice comes in all shapes and sizes,
In city and suburb.”
“Why did you do this?”
Sorry is such a hard word to say, but that’s all we could say. A dare was not a reason.
We thought it was just a game, a prank played on intruders,
But we were the trespassers, and they were our neighbors.
Just a hedge apart, but a continent in our minds.
For as many years as I couldn’t look up at my friend’s window
Without imagining her waving and lying down for the last time,
I couldn’t look at my neighbors without remembering
How we hurt them before we knew them.
Without words, we told them they were unwelcome.
Hurting my neighbor would not take away the pain of losing a friend,’
But I could love my neighbor in her honor.
I could show them where the hidden blackberries grow,
I could love instead of hate.
“Do not plot harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly near you.” Proverbs 3:29 (NIV)
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