Barbarians at the Gate
“Bobby? Look!” It was one of those summer Friday afternoons that sends chambers of commerce running for the camera and the inhabitants of cubicles inching toward the door. The sky was sapphire blue and cloudless. The breeze was singing in the trees and my mood was as sweet as the fragrant air. Until I saw the person.
Bob raised his eyes from the pair of dress shoes he was polishing and glanced down into our field. From the far corner of the woods strode a figure. Now, I am usually a very friendly person. I’ll strike up a conversation with just about anyone. My mother said I would have made a horrible toll taker (it was a job, children, Google it). Instead of moving traffic along, I would have chatted up drivers about what souvenirs they bought and admired their photos.
Since our move to the hilltop, however, I have developed a protective nature about our little compound. A private road with four houses makes for a predictable traffic pattern and even an unfamiliar car going by raises my defenses. My husband, who is infuriating in his constant state of calm, will say, “It’s a car, Mags. They’ve been around a while now.”
“Yes,” I reply, eyes squinted in suspicion, “but up here they’re either lost or looking for trouble.”
“Probably casing the joint,” Bob offers as he hits the button on the coffeemaker. “Your collection of antique Tupperware would bring a handsome price on the black market.”
Sometimes I think that man does not take me seriously.
But back to that Friday. I’m always up for company, but this person was coming out of the woods, our woods, onto our property, unknown and uninvited. And he was waving a...tennis racquet? Leaning as far over the deck railing as I dared, I could see him—for it was a he—striding across our field like he was sorry he was late, and all the while waving a tennis racket in front of his face.
“Bobby, why is he coming here? What does he want? And why in the name of sanity is he waving that racquet around?”
My better half stopped brushing the toe of his wing tips long enough to say, “Those are all excellent questions, my dear. I assume we will get them answered when he gets here.” Then he resumed brushing, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a stranger to be charging across our field, armed, and with unknown intentions.
“But, aren’t you going to do something? We don’t know what he’s going to do!”
Bob glanced over the railing again.
“Not much with that backhand.”
To my rising concern, the stranger had reached the bottom of our tractor road and started up it. A scant 150 yards separated us from whoever he was. Being totally incapable of just standing there and waiting, I took the only action I felt was appropriate.
“Hello!” I called down from the deck. “Won’t you have some wine?”
My strategy here was two-fold: 1) He was now aware that we were aware of him, a fact that may give him pause if he intends to pummel us to death with said tennis racquet, and 2) If he carries out his murderous plot anyway, he will feel great remorse over killing such a polite lady. Cagey, I know.
“Ya got a beer?”
Well, what do you know? He doesn’t want to risk a headache from the nitrates messing with his ability to remember an alibi after the police find our bodies. Before I could respond, Bobby was on his feet and heading toward the fridge.
“Robert!” I hissed. “Do not get him a beer until we know what he wants! Go out there and talk to him first.”
I felt bad for sending the love of my life out to face a potential serial killer, but I do recall those sorts of duties being assigned to him during our wedding vows. It was right after killing snakes and letting me put my ice block feet on his back when I get into bed.
Well, the whole thing turned out fine. His name was Mark, and his family were the original settlers of the hill. His son was going to build on the land below ours and Mark thought he’d better come up and apologize in advance for any trouble it caused us. The racquet turned out to be a bug zapper, increasing my relief at not being bludgeoned with it because the constant “Zzzzt!” would have driven me mad while I bled out.
We had a lovely chat, and the men worked one of their “deals” where not much gets said, but all that is unspoken is understood and suddenly we had the okay to trim back some trees that weren’t really ours as long as we didn’t get too picky about the boundary pins in the woods. To be honest, I couldn’t really follow how we got to an agreement, but an hour later it was all handshakes and smiles and Mark trooped back down the tractor road and off into the woods, racquet swinging and zapping the whole way.
“See?” Bobby moved back to his chair and examined his sparkling dress shoes. “Not all strangers are enemies. You should relax more.”
Good advice. I will relax.
Just as soon as I count my Tupperware.