Saturday, October 25, 2008


The neighbour ladies sit on their front porches next-door to each other on warm days. They sit like symmetrical flowerpots, unbudging. They chat without moving from their seats by the front doors. Their white plastic chairs might as well be welded to the porch. They sit on their separate stoops and turn their heads a quarter turn toward each other.

What is keeping them apart?

All summer I see them in their spots. In the warm late afternoon we wave.

"How long have you been neighbours?" I finally ask.

"Yes!" the southernmost neighbour lady in black laughs. "Friends!"
The northern neighbour in the blue dress just stares.

Their story is locked away in Portuguese. I am left to wonder what the rules are.

Do they have symmetrical Portuguese husbands? I think there is only one husband, which explains why one lady is wearing black. Sometimes the husband sits out with the blue dress, but not during ladies' visiting hour.

He stays inside or shuffles up the street, picks a handful of plums from a front yard tree and eats one after the other as he leans against the door of a parked car.

I wonder what makes them keep their distance. Maybe they used to be closer, until one said something about the other's granddaughter being a little gordura, fattish, and the other thought, who is she to think she's so perfect when she doesn't even have any grandchildren or even a husband and mine has to repair the screen to keep the cats out of her crawlspace and grind and paint her railings every spring and I'll be damned if she's going to come sit on my stoop.

Or maybe they are just being neighbours.

If I step out onto my back balcony and my neighbour is out on his, I tilt
my chair toward the trees so I'm not staring right at him.

Sometimes we talk -- from our balconies. If we were to go into each other's kitchen, we'd be alarmed by just how much you can see from the other side. When there's not enough space for privacy you have to invent it by pretending.

Now it's cool out. Dry leaves whisper along the cold sidewalk. The chrysanthemums are fading. I wonder if visiting hours are over, or if the neighbour ladies take it inside for the winter. Maybe they'll suspend the good balconies make good neighbours motto and drink coffee and eat little yellow Portuguese custard tarts in one kitchen or the other.

Until next spring, when they'll emerge in front of their doors, like crocuses, or cats on mats.

(my apologies for blurry photos!)


french panic said...

The porch people are fascinating to me. Not these ladies in particular, but as a breed. They always seem so untouchable, somehow.

At least, whenever I have tried to smile or start a conversation with a Porch Person, I get the blank stare, and I feel that I've intruded on their view, somehow.

Like I'm just a passing minor character on the TV show they're watching and I've popped out of their screen and they don't know what to do with their reality crashing down around them.

Laura Roberts said...

Love this entry! Especially the part about having to invent privacy. So true, here in Montreal, where all the buildings are crushed up against each other.