by Helen Grochmal
Clary and Myra were friends, let there be no questioning of that. Well, they were sort of friends. When one needed fresh garlic, the other would provide it if available. They would even feed each other’s cats when required.
In the retirement home everyone tried to be friends with their nearest neighbor. It was protocol, and one might need the other some sad day, since every day there was one of uncertainty. But denial was a big part of their thinking, although a few of the bravest unnecessarily looked death in the face and either shrugged or stiffened their spines. Denial was easiest for most of them though, as their memories didn’t operate quite so well as they had.
Getting back to Clary and Myra. Analyzing what later happened, an expert might deduce that denial had played a big part in explaining Clary’s inappropriate behavior. Clary had a blind spot, a trigger that would make her obsess and carry on as if the devil were after her. In fact she had looked evil in the face- and it chimed. She had had a terrible experience with chimes in her 30s that she couldn’t talk about. Since then she had picked places to live in large part depending on if the neighbors had “them,” she hated to say the word.
Clary had heard about a dust-up in the past by a woman who had been stung by chimes too, that time by chime-envy, but Clary had not been part of that. She currently had her own problems concerning “them” to work on.
Her problem was that she had taken Myra’s chimes. They were sitting on her bureau. Myra had refused to take them down from her patio before she went on her trip, although Clary had told her how much they bothered her. The usually compliant Myra had not taken them down immediately as Clary had thought she would. Myra had said firmly that the chimes didn’t make much noise. The truth was that she was having trouble with her hearing aids and didn’t hear them, so she thought Clary was being silly. Clary was not a bully, so she had nodded to Myra and left.
But she could not open her patio door in fear that she would hear “them” tingling, they were that kind, the kind that tingled in your head, torturing you. Too bad there wasn’t a law that noise should stop at a resident’s property line; but no, chime owning was not an illegal offense as it should be.
Well, Myra had gone out of town to a wedding, and Clary was feeding her cat twice a day. So Clary had merely gone over during her absence and taken down the chimes. She thought that she might as well have peace for a few days. Three days were better than no days.
The weather was beautiful and Clary kept her patio door open, taking advantage of each chime-free moment. She thought of how she could disable them, maybe putting a bit of glue on the places they bumped together.
On the day before Myra was due back, Clary heard a knock on her door. She knew the knock. She answered the door. Myra had come back a day early. Pleasantries and thanks were shared and Myra left.
Clary panicked. She had been ignoring the chimes to enjoy the time provided by God for her relief. Now she was plunged into the circles of hell.
She could be accused of vandalism, of unauthorized borrowing even. At the very least, the Minister would visit. Respectability was important in the community and to Clary. She writhed as some character in a Russian novel. How could she get those cursed chimes back with Myra sitting in her living room with full view of her patio? She couldn’t. Being caught fooling with them on Myra’s patio would be worse than anything. Clary would confess all if caught. She knew herself.
Clary sat, looking out at the beautiful day and hating it. Myra loved the out-of-doors. She might be out there now and find her chimes were missing. “Please, please don’t let Myra go outside,” prayed Clary out loud, “at least let her be sick in bed.”
The day passed as if Clary were waiting for news of an execution that was scheduled to take place, her execution. She knew she was guilty. She blamed Myra but knew that Myra had rights. The wait hurt. She heard the chimes in her head, although she could touch them on the bureau if she wanted to. She knew the terror the miscreants had felt in stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Monkey’s Paw.”
The agony was terrible. Everyone would know, her son would be told, she might have to move. Could they call the police? Could she go to jail or maybe get community service? She would lose her home, her place in life, her cat. She could even be accused of theft, she who had always proudly stood in judgment of others in knowledge of her supreme innocence.
The day passed and dusk came. Clary didn’t hear a knock on her door. She wondered if Myra had been on her patio. Maybe she wouldn’t notice the absence of her chimes. Fat chance! Life as Clary knew it was over.
Darkness fell. Nothing would happen that day. “Dear Lord, let me go over to replace the chimes when Myra is asleep or let me die before I wake. No, no, I didn’t mean that. Don’t punish me anymore!”
Clary got up many times in the night, passing the chimes on her bureau. She waited for a little light in the morning since she would have to walk on the grass on uneven ground. She would be shielded by bushes until she got to the end of Myra’s patio. Walking over without falling, Clary felt for the place to hang the chimes in the dark. She thought maybe the neighbor’s light facing Myra’s apartment would go on pointing her out to the world but still she continued. Not getting the chimes to attach correctly, she left when they were just hanging on. They were up anyway! If Myra hadn’t noticed they were missing, she would never connect the lopsided chimes with her.
She found herself back in her apartment. Her relief was extreme. “They” were back. At least a theft charge had been averted. But as she sat that day and the next, she thought that somehow Myra knew. Maybe another neighbor had told her she had seen Clary taking the chimes. The guilt and pressure increased like temperatures in the desert as the day went on until it was too much for Clary to take.
Clary waited two more days. She didn’t see Myra in that time. That was proof that Myra knew. Everyone knew.
Clary cleaned herself up after days of sweating and walked over to the Home. She went to see the Minister. Not asking for permission, she walked in his office and slumped in the chair facing him. She poured out her sin, her fear, and her guilt. She cried from her heart for help.
The Minister told her sternly that she had certainly transgressed but not to the extent of her penance. “You must apologize to your neighbor if the spirit of the Lord takes you to that point and it should. You are not being required to formally apologize by this office. Your family need not be told. You did not deliberately hurt anyone. Rise and get hold of yourself. Do not despair over chimes. Ask your neighbor to take them down after you calm down. Pray for guidance.”
Clary left gratefully, thinking she would never tell Myra if Myra didn’t already know. She needed to think of excuses to tell her if confronted. She would learn to lie. Hadn’t the Minister just given her permission? All would be well again, she thought complacently. Her good opinion of herself had returned, although maybe not her goodness.
The Minister doing his rounds among his flock suddenly found himself saying quietly under his breath, “Oh, Lord, that was the second case of severe chime disturbance requiring spiritual counseling since I came here. What can be happening?” From then on he listened for the voice of the devil whenever he passed the innocent looking pieces of metal clanging or tinkling or whispering in the wind that seemed to be reproducing themselves everywhere.
About the Author:
Helen Grochmal started writing fiction in her 60s when she moved to a retirement home. After the obligatory mystery novels complete with cat, she wrote short stories in different genres to expand her range. Six stories were accepted quickly, not to mention being part of a group mystery and a podcast. What can happen next? Short list where published: Bards and Sages Quarterly, Over My Dead Body!, Meat for Tea, Minerva Rising, Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Magical Fiction and No Extra Words!