by Happy Spring
Rated: E · Short Story · Environment · #1574144
A couple builds their home in the desert. What price will they pay for progress?
|Note: Featured in the January 2010 Short Stories Newsletter, covering the symbolism of elements ...In this case, our "mother" earth. |
“The Last Serenade”
The coyotes lived close by in the ravine which ran from the north end, cutting across Ray and Dorothy’s property to the south. The pack had been religious about their nightly howling for almost two years now. Except for their ritual and the faint laughter that would be carried by an evening breeze, it was quiet and peaceful. The couple felt they were the only two people on the earth.
Most days, the mail lady’s jeep was the only other vehicle that kicked up red dust on "their road." It was for this very reason they had chosen to live there. It was their oasis away from the noise and fast life of the city, twenty miles to the West. They had searched for over three years, taking numerous Sunday drives into the desert looking for just the right place to build their new home
Dorothy was used to rural living and never felt comfortable when neighboring houses were too close. Five feet, three inches tall with graying hair, she liked to do her own thing. Their children were now grown and their life style had changed. Their adobe-style house sat on one and half acres so there was plenty to do. Their new life style was casual and Dorothy kept their home the same way. She could step out on the back porch with her morning coffee and only the mountains to the north would know whether or not she was dressed.
Ray was a quiet man, slight of build, with intense blue eyes. Having been raised in Philadelphia, he grew up playing baseball in the back alley and watching old westerns. After graduating from pharmacy school, he packed up Dorothy and the kids and headed for the wide-open spaces of the southwest that he had dreamed about since he was a boy. He vowed he would never live in a row home with a chain-link fence again, ever. He treasured his new natural surroundings. There were no trees, or lit telephone poles to block his view of the star-filled skies. Dorothy was happy for the both of them. She admired his enthusiastic way with which he became involved with his building projects. He never seemed to tire and she knew he loved the country life as much as she did.
Their favorite time of the day was after supper. She and Ray always sat out on the patio watching the sunset and listening to the coyotes waking up for their evening serenade. Just a few nights earlier they had heard the babies joining in with the adults during one of their howling sessions. At first they sounded like puppies until their limited sounds turned from yipping and whining to their feeble attempts at a howl. She had laughed, saying it was the neatest sound she would ever hear. The both of them were very content.
It was Saturday night and they were having their usual get together with their closest friends, Bruce and Vicki. They ate their dinner on the back patio, with Ray grilling their steaks to perfection. After Dorothy served coffee and her famous lemon meringue pie for dessert, they headed for the pool. It was a beautiful, but very warm night. Ray began to yawn, stretching his arms out as far as he could reach.
His face had a devilish look as he announced, "After a delicious dinner like that, I think the only thing left for us to do now is to go skinny-dipping, right girls?" Dorothy knew that Ray was joking and he loved to ruffle feathers, especially Vicki’s. She fell into Ray’s traps almost every time.
"Dottie, I know your husband grows more unconventional by the day, but is he serious?"
Dorothy looked at her friend and laughed, shaking her head. It never ceased to amaze her how Vicki pretended to be so all-knowing and at the same time be so gullible.
Bruce loved the fact that Ray had gotten one over on her. "He got ya on that one, didn’t he, honey?”
An indignant Vicki snapped back, "I hope you guys are having a great time laughing at my expense!"
Bruce knew better than to continue or he would have to answer to her later.
"Honey, come on. We’re only kidding."
Vicki forced a smile, catching a pleading look from Dorothy. Her friend already knew this was not going to be one of their better evenings together.
They sat around the pool having drinks, catching up with the past week, their jobs, families and their homes. Ray had just announced that his next project was going to be another patio for a pool table.
“Man, you’re able to build anything and do whatever you want!” exclaimed Bruce. “There’s no one here to stop you. No neighbors and no HOA. Hell, man. I can come out here in the nude! Who would see or care? I am extremely jealous. However, I need you to promise me one thing." His brown eyes became dark pools of sadness.
"Whatever you do, don’t build a privacy fence. When I sit out on our back patio all I see is that damn wall! The irony of it all is that wall has to be there, so your neighbor can’t look into your bathroom and watch you piddle!"
"Bruce, just stop it!" a glaring Vicki replied. "No one cares to hear this anyway!"
Ignoring his wife, he continued. "Do you know how lucky you guys really are? It’s so quiet and peaceful here. You don’t hear the traffic, the kids screaming or doors slamming. Look at all those stars up there. God! Can it get any better than this?" Bruce looked upward, letting out a deep sigh.
Vicki was becoming very annoyed with him and let out a groan. "Oh, please! Are we going to have this conversation again?"
Bruce’s tan face grew darker, as he turned to look at his wife.
"Don’t worry, dear. We won’t be moving away from our grand suburban life," he replied sarcastically.
He leaned closer to Ray, muttering in a low, almost inaudible voice. He was going into great detail of how the homes today all looked so similar.
"Did you know that every house in our development looks alike? Every other house has doors to the left and all the ones in between are to the right? Why, do you know how many times I have passed my own house? It’s ridiculous!"
Dorothy was holding her breath. The bomb was now going to drop. Vicki’s grey eyes became the color of steel. Flipping back her long blonde hair, she glared at Bruce.
"Bruce, you know I hate bugs and those awful crawly things! I’m allergic to them. Why, what if I got stung by a scorpion? I would probably die and you wouldn’t even care!" Vicki’s eyes were wild and she quickly turned, facing her friends "Not for anything, you guys, but this is not where I would want to live."
Turning to Bruce again, her eyes narrowed and were cat-eyed slits in appearance. Her voice was mean. "Bruce, you’re the one who wants to move out of the city, but you would be the only happy one! All you ever do is think about yourself. What about my needs? What would you want with all this open space anyway? Look at all the work that's involved here! Please! Besides, you couldn’t handle it!"
Vicki knew he was very annoyed with her and she didn’t care. Lately, they both seemed to go out of their way to purposely antagonize one another.
"There you go again, pouting like a child!"
Bruce glared back at her and began gulping down his drink. He waved his glass high in the air. "I think I’ll have another one of these."
Ray quickly got up to fix another drink, giving Dorothy a secret wink.
"In all honesty, guys, we...well maybe me more than Dotty, we really don’t want any more neighbors. This isn’t for everyone. You either like it or you don’t, cause’ there ain’t no in between. I have to agree with Vicki on one point though. It is a lot of work and both people have to be willing to share it."
Ray couldn’t side with Bruce, at least not out loud. He knew Bruce would move in a New York minute.
Dorothy knew that if the subject didn’t change fast, this could turn out to be a very bad evening.
"You guys are happy where you are and you both know it," chanted Dorothy. "Your home is gorgeous and you’re close to everything. Why there are movies, plays and ball games. I know Ray misses a lot of that. There are disadvantages living out here, too, you know. Not everything is so perfect here. I have to remember bread and milk or it’s a forty-minute drive! Not to mention other errands while I’m in the city. When the electric goes off, we don’t have any water! No pump, no electric. We have to keep water jugs filled at all times, especially during the monsoons. Come on. Chill out guys. Be happy!"
Dorothy reached over to give Bruce a reassuring hug. He looks like a whipped dog, she thought.
She hugged Vicki and whispered to her, "Let's have a good time tonight." Dorothy knew that Vicki would never live the desert life and knew Bruce had been pushing her. He was voicing his likes and dislikes more often.
"Hey, let’s go for a swim.” A cooling-off period is what we all need right now, she was thinking. They swam for a while and then Ray grabbed the ball to play "Keep-Away." The guys teamed up against the girls. When Vicki was finally able to steal the ball, she quickly threw it to Dorothy, before Bruce could grab it again. She yelled to her as she threw it, but Dorothy wasn’t paying any attention to her.
"Shh! Listen!" Dorothy said, as she watched their faces, her green eyes were sparkling like the dancing aqua water of the pool.
Vicki groaned. "There goes this game! Dorothy. It took all this time to get the ball and you’re not even paying attention!"
Dorothy hadn’t heard a word Vicki said, intently listening to the coyotes howling. They had begun their serenade, building their song to a crescendo. "Don’t they sound neat?" she asked them.
"Good Grief, Dorothy. They just give me the willies," Vicki snapped. "Let’s go inside and play some cards. I don’t even care to hear them."
Dorothy was wondering what made people so different from one another. Why didn’t her friend see and feel the same things?
It was the fifteen of August and it was still early before the heat of the day. Ray had left for work and Dorothy went about feeding the citrus trees, happy that they were finally going to get some oranges from those funny little green things. When she had finished, she grabbed her raft and jumped into the pool. She floated aimlessly, lying on her back with her face tilted up towards the sun. It was another cloudless day. Nothing but blue sky, she breathed deeply. The ripples of water carried her lazily around the pool, her world of mountains and desert passing by her in all directions. Everything was so beautiful and the desert had become green again. Just two days earlier a huge monsoon storm had drifted in. The rain had come down hard and fast, bringing with it the usual strong winds and dust storms. The desert landscape was thirsty and drank it all in. She relaxed and closed her eyes.
A loud roar jerked her out of her dream-like state. She sat up on the raft, shading her eyes from the sun’s blinding glare. When she was able to focus, she saw two huge trucks pulling onto the property in back of theirs, almost dead north. Just yesterday, she vaguely remembered overhearing a conversation at the post office. A contractor had bought up several acres to build a number of homes out near the mountains. She had conveniently blocked it out of her mind. She got out of the pool to watch, horrified, as two bulldozers flatten what had taken mother nature years to grow.
She knew Ray was going to be furious. He had knocked down the "For Sale" signs as fast as they were put up. She thought about Dave, their closest neighbor. He had confessed to Ray that he had done the same thing, several times. "It didn’t stop you from buying and building though, did it? Forget it, man. It’s only a matter of time. I’ll probably move again, in a couple of years!" Dorothy thought it was ridiculous at the time, telling Ray they weren’t the only ones who had a right to live there.
She took a deep breath, letting out a long sigh. It finally hit her like a ton of bricks. She was beginning to understand why Ray and Dave did their silly sign thing. Maybe in a few years, there wouldn't be any desert left. Just houses and paved roads would mark the landscape. Maybe the new houses would block everything. This was exactly what Bruce was complaining about. They had a panoramic view of the mountains and sky, and it didn’t matter which way they faced. Dorothy had nick-named it 'God’s Little Acre." All these things were their reasons for moving here. Were they going to disappear before her very eyes? Lord, she had been so blind!
Throughout the day, she would stop whatever she was doing to watch the trucks driving back and forth, flattening everything in their path. Two more graders came in, making sure that the land was even flatter than before. The horizon became filled with red dust, making the mountains invisible.
By the end of the day the trucks and bulldozers had disappeared, but so had everything else. The Jojoba bush, Palo Verde trees and prickly pear cactus were no more. In their place was naked fresh red dirt, already beginning to bake from the sun. The beautiful green of the desert had changed into a huge, unpaved parking lot. They had saved nothing! A huge Saguaro at the edge of their own property watched and waited like a sentinel.
With a heavy heart, Dorothy waited for Ray to come home. After dinner they stepped out onto the patio with their coffee. Even though Dorothy had avoided it all evening, she finally told Ray what had happened. She was glad that it was dark now. He would see everything all too soon in the morning.
"At least at night we can still see the sky and a thousand stars. They can’t take that from us, honey. Thank God for the night time!" Ray looked sadly at Dorothy.
Dorothy put her cup down and stood up, her face masking her fears. "They’re still all ours," she said, waving her hands. "And we still have our coyotes." Walking over to Ray’s side of the table, she bent down to give him a big bear hug and a quick peck on the cheek.
His deep blue eyes grew intensely bluer as he gently nuzzled her neck. "You’re right, honey. I have all this and I even have you."They sat without talking for a long time, enjoying the silence. After a while Ray said, "I guess Dave was right. You just can’t stop progress, but it’s still a damn shame."
Dorothy agreed with Ray, turning over in her mind, all the events that took place that day. She then began to wonder what part she and Ray played in all this. Just how much had they destroyed building their own dreams? Their land had once been desert, too. At one time, there wasn't even a road here, only a path!
They sat awhile and waited. Just like clockwork the coyotes began their serenade. Dorothy had remarked that there were more coyotes than usual this night. "Honey, listen to all of them! Have you ever heard so many?" They sang loud and for a long time. The couple just sat, talking softly and listening. When the evening grew late, they reluctantly went inside. However, they knew the coyotes would "sing" them to sleep again tonight.
Three houses have been built since that day and Dorothy and Ray are getting used to seeing other cars on their road. Dorothy became very aware of missing landmarks. Once, three large Palo Verde trees grew where Mr. Ellison’s garage now stands. Time and man have a way of changing these things. Where there’s progress being made, one can only hope that these changes are for the better.
Over and over again Dorothy would ask herself, “What is better?"
Ray and Dorothy continued their evening ritual with coffee out on the patio. With certainty they still had their mountains to the north and all their stars. Progress couldn’t take that away! However, one very sad change had taken place. They brought their radio out with them in the evening. Without it, the dead silence of the night was just too much for them. The serenade had ended.
By Janice Weinberger