Billboard

“If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve waved at that old bastard in passing him on the street and gotten ignored, I’d have … well, I’d have a whole lot of nickels.” She laughed at recounting those attempts but still felt a twinge of resentment, if not rejection, for attempting in vain to be repaid for kindness toward the neighbor. He didn’t seem quite capable of reciprocation. At least not willingly.

The work trailer in that driveway so loudly proclaimed a specific political affiliation practically shouted the first clue. Covered in bright stickers touting what candidate’s supposed stupidity ruined the country and warranted jail time, anyone English speaker would know exactly how the man felt about the state of the union. Especially during the last few election cycles.

“Seriously, how does that box of b.s. draw anyone to his business? Talk about drawing flies with honey, that guy’s pouring out the vinegar. Wouldn’t you say?” Her husband’s shrug hinted disinterest in their breakfast conversation. Neck bent toward his phone, he maintained a non-stop scroll of the newsfeed there. A coffee cup in front of him appeared the only other subject worthy of dividing his attention.

“No matter. I’m going to get his attention somehow.”

The latest attempt came on an afternoon dog walk. The man’s stocky form weighed down that John Deere rider as he puttered across the lawn, traversing the grass slowly enough to not miss seeing her and the dog on their leisurely stroll past his house. Downcast eyes couldn’t be that intent on precisely edging the gravel driveway. She suspected such rapt attention was aimed simply at avoiding her gaze.

“Look here, you old coot …” She whispered and waved passively at first, until the gesture seemed to go willfully unreturned. An awkward persistence filled the space between the pair, as the small flap of flab pulsated back and forth from her tricep muscle. 

“I’m even gonna shake my bat wings at ya!” She wanted to find a rock and wing it at his thick head, but the pastor’s words echoed in her head. Call it guilt, an upbringing filled with shame, whatever. Maybe, just maybe, she might even have a healthy conscience.

“Our fellow human beings are humans just like us, flawed individuals, and we must love them.” Pastor Philip’s advice became reincarnated in her memory, and she knew heeding those words would make her feel better about herself. Seething inside but wearing a smile, fake as it may be, meant she could feel like she did the right thing later.

The man barely glanced up from his job and flung a half-hearted hand in her direction. Doing so almost seemed a painful effort, perhaps a dismissive gesture to make her keep moving, give her the message loud and clear to get lost.

“I’d really like to rub that clump of wild mustard in your …” She looked at the yellow bunch just about to be mowed to oblivion, and the color reminded her of the hue of cowardice spent bad-mouthing this guy inside her head. It wasn’t doing him any harm, just making herself feel bad. She could help create further schism or repair it just a tiny smidge.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The sermon last week included that notion. Or was it a Bible verse? She couldn’t remember exactly but thought not to remind herself of it every time she saw this dude. Even when she got stuck driving behind his trailer with its ugly message glaring in her face.

“Okay, okay, just keep smiling.” She forced the corners of her mouth upward through gritted teeth.

photo: Tod Baker via Flickr

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