Dispatch from Dogpatch

I spent this past weekend at the cabin in West Virginia, where, as the song goes, it’s almost heaven. I had 10 short stories to read and critique, and there’s no place finer for settling in to work.  Will I make you too envious by describing the perfect serenity of the woods this time of year—the pale sunshine, the random drifting leaf, the taste of strong coffee, my favorite flannel shirt, the sunshine on the couch, the Bennett Sings Ellington on the stereo?  Nah.  I’ll tell you, instead, about my neighbors.

Actually it’s a single neighbor, whom I’ll call Jacquie.  She lives a quarter-mile up the dirt road from me, and I have to pass her place every time I drive in or out.  She’s my closest neighbor, and except for her many dogs, the largest of which is a German shepherd mix (boy, there’s an understatement) who has often chased me all the way to the cabin and up the gravel driveway and onto my porch, barking ravenously all the while, I’ve had few complaints about her.  I wish she did not burn her garbage out in her yard, since there’s hardly anything in these woods but dry leaves and tinder and one of these days I suppose my cabin will be burned to the ground.  And I wish she would take more fastidious care of her property, since it can’t be good for real estate values to have andom trash heaped everywhere and a sprung sofa sitting out by the road.  And I wish she wouldn’t cut down healthy trees for firewood, and I wish some of her bandana’d boyfriends who grow pot out behind her house were more scrupulous about where they scatter their empty Bud Lite bottles and non-biodegradable fast-food debris.  But these are trifles.

image of remnants of burnt garbage out in the yard

Waste management at Jacquie's

There’s no law up here on the mountain.  The Sheriff has always chosen to overlook anything short of rape or murder.  Most people have a big free-roaming dog.  Everyone has a gun.

But back to Jacquie.  I hadn’t noticed much activity around her place lately, just a dangling light bulb burning over her front porch.  No raucus parties clearly audible a quarter-mile away at 2:00 in the morning, no car, no dirt bike, nothing.  So as it happens I walked down the road toward the river Sunday morning to visit Kay and Ray, my neighbors in the other direction.  Kay’s a tough old bird.  She’s in her mid-seventies but I wouldn’t mess with her.  She takes good care of Ray, whom she calls Raymond Lee, and who’s got maybe twelve chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease and is hard of hearing, too.  I talked to Kay in the living room while Raymond Lee kept turning up the volume on Law & Order SVU.  I didn’t need to ask Kay about Jacquie, because she told me right off.

Seems that several weeks ago, Jacquie’s teenage daughter Melissa came back to her mom’s house to live, her 4-year-old child in tow.  Jacquie soon caught her current bandana’d boyfriend—meaning Jacquie’s boyfriend—in bed with Melissa.  A contretemps ensued.  The boyfriend then got drunk on Bud Lite and wandered over to the house a little farther off the road from theirs—where a nice middle-aged couple had recently moved into what they thought would be a cozy retreat from the hustle and bustle—burst through their front door and, as the Sheriff would say if he ever came up here, “discharged his firearm.”  This rattled the nice couple.  Kay said you just can’t believe what he put those poor people through.  They moved out that night.

And now, for reasons that can only be guessed at, Jacquie’s whereabouts—along with Melissa, Melissa’s 4-year-old, the bandana’d boyfriend and all the dogs—are unknown.

So I stayed long enough to shout a few words of encouragement to Raymond Lee and then walked back up the road to the cabin—where I settled back in to read my students’ short stories.

You could that I now had a story of my own, no?

13 Responses to Dispatch from Dogpatch

  1. In my experience, people live in the country so they can live as they wish, removed from the social standards they don’t wish to keep. That’s certainly the case near my woodsy cabin (in the Missouri Ozarks). I respect their way of life with the self-serving intent that they respect mine. Nonetheless, bursting into a private home and firing a gun is more than a little beyond the limit. Still, such shenanigans are also just as likely in Kansas City or St. Louis as in rural Missouri. People are, in the end, people, wherever they live.

  2. Wow…that’s really scary! Maybe you should think about bringing Ted for protection next time. :) I’ve heard cats are good at tripping up intruders.

  3. Get yourself a firearm. Something you can have on your person while at the cabin. I’d suggest a Glock or Springfield XDm. Take lessons and learn to use it. If the bandana’d boyrfriend(or anyone) bursts through your door brandishing any type weapon, (screw drivers are common) shoot them center mass and keep shooting until you don’t see them in the sight picture any longer. At that point, their blood pressure has likely dropped, they should be lying on the floor and no longer a threat. If they do regain consciousness and again pose a threat, shoot again until they are no longer a threat.

    Nice story by the way.

    • Lario – Shoot them “center mass”? I’d have to figure out first which end of the gun the bullet comes out of. But yes, in fact I do have a gun vault with a .38 in it in case of emergency. I even went out to the range with it a couple of times. At the least I can make a big noise if the situation calls for one. :-)

  4. I don’t think I’d shoot as Lario suggests, but I’d seriously investigate a shotgun and a large dog. Protect yourself amigo.

    • I suggest you come over and sit on the front porch every night, Tigre. I’ll get you a rocker. Up for it?

  5. Holy smoke!Happy to know that you are okay, my friend. Nutcases with guns all over the world, but we always hope they keep away from our little piece of paradise and peace and quiet. I agree with Armstrong El Tigre, Kaze, and think you should protect yourself.
    As a ‘cute’ PS:
    I live in the middle of a forest (as you know), nice and peaceful etc. BUT … at only 5 minutes by car, a wee supermarket was robbed (at gunpoint). I’m not scared, but don’t like the idea very much.
    Please, do take care of yourself, kid, so I can keep lookin’ at you, while waiting for your novel.

    • Keep nagging me, Anonymous. I’m going to need every bit of novel-nagging that you can summon. I need legions of nags, hordes of nags. But I know at least I can count on you. :-)

  6. Forget the gun. Get a bandanna.

    • Grasshopper, I am in the process of growing a pony tail. That should make me look pretty authentic. Well, semi-authentic. It’s the Bud Lite I can’t get my arms around.

  7. Caroline Altman Smith Dec 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I think it’s pretty funny that you used “Jacquie” as a pseudonym for your neighbor. A) Do you run into many Jacquelines in Harpers Ferry? and B) Are you worried that “Jacquie” reads 317am and might recognize her own story? Thanks for this “wild and wonderful” installment!

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