She was not hiding behind the bush, that day – her bush, I could call it, as she always chose the same place to hide in my garden. And of course she was not supposed to be there, no matter which bush. On the first day of winter, she was standing inside the gate of the condo, looking outside, hands on her hips.
The mailman’s yellow bike approached, first at normal speed; then much faster as the mailman suddenly pulled on the breaks and the strangled wheels started sliding downhill on the icy ground. The bike did stop eventually, just in front of my gate and its self- appointed guardian. That was not how the rider had intended it, I gathered, for the bike took off immediately again, with its load of six undelivered envelopes, two rather small parcels and one terrified mailman.
The scene repeated itself, almost unchanged, for the next three days; it looked like our Christmas cards and little happy parcels were going to be scared off by our very determined - and notoriously delirious - old neighbor. She had long been known to take a special interest in borders of any kind: borders that were missing adequate protection (the premises she and all of us lived on); but also borders that tried to force an unfair restraint upon her winter wanderings, and should therefore be ignored (my garden).
Her invasion of my territory had been gradual and light-footed; nothing sudden or recognizably forced upon me. It had all started with her saying Hallo to me from outside the gate, as she went by every morning; and my answering Hallo to her, usually with a smile. Then she had started stopping briefly, at the gate; we would exchange a few non-committal neighborly words. One day she asked me if I would some time show her my garden, which she professed to have often admired from beyond the fence. I had invited her in right there and then…
I soon realized that it might not be easy to have my say on when she should be out again. She first ignored my repeated hints at the visit having to end; I was lagging behind with work and I was getting nervous. She resisted dismissal a little longer then you would expect from a good-mannered neighbor, and only gave up when I accompanied my open request to leave with no less then a firm grip on her arm, and walked her to the gate.
Later that week I came out of the shower and went downstairs to get a cup of tea in the kitchen. I was still steaming off and I had not bothered to put on clothes, yet, to walk around my place where I live alone.
There she was. Looking into the pot that was still on the stove, right hand lifted high to hold a dripping lid above her head. I had not bothered to lock the French window that opened onto the garden.
“What are you doing in my kitchen?! You are putting down that lid and going right now.” Then a sudden gust of cold air reminded my buttocks that I was standing there naked. “Right now”, I repeated from behind the freezer door, opened in a pathetic attempt at decency.
She just stood there, looking at my face peek from behind the freezer door, a faint but friendly smile on her face. I wouldn’t leave her alone in the kitchen to go get my clothes and I couldn’t have her out of my house unless I physically dragged her, I knew that.
Then I saw my cell phone, mercifully lying on the kitchen counter behind me, and summoned my friend and neighbor Anne. She came over, grabbed the invader by the waist and dragged her out of the door. She also promised to make fun of me for the rest of my life, livening up dinner parties with the story of naked Julia cornered behind the fridge door.
Given that I had imagined our Christmas mail to be lost for good, I was very surprised to find it every day in my mailbox, albeit each time one day later then I had expected it. As it turned out, the mailman had come back every evening and reached the mailbox by entering our premises from the backyard, through a hole in the fence. He had slid through it in the snow, three days in a row, proving his unwavering professionalism at the cost of a bad cold and one ripped pair of pants.
I wondered later if my invader had ever realized that her invader had found an alternative way into the castle, so to speak. I talked to the mailman, one day during the following spring. He chuckled and mentioned his ripped pants. I then told him about having been rescued from behind a merciful fridge door. He went philosophical. “Yes,“ he said, “quite. We all tend to be caught naked-assed, in the face of folly.”
published 20 February 2012