A good neighbor


Twice a year my father drags us up to the cabin in the woods, even though the rest of us hate it here Ė especially my sister Janet, who is closing on 15 and has an interest in boys, only not the kind of boys she finds here.

Mother hates being out of New York even fore two weeks twice a year saying she always misses an important sale, especially just after Christmas.

Itís summer now and she still complains as we drive up the narrow road with farms to either side, cows, horses, and cattle dotting the landscape as if painted into each scene.

The old road has ruts and not from cars, and we rumble over the uneven surface making us all a little seasick.

Iím 12 and should like the woods, but Iím scared about wolves. I saw one once in The Bronx Zoo and it lunged at me, its eyes so filled with cold hate my bones still ache from its frostbite.

My father assures me everything is safe, but grows sadder with each visit because this world seems a little smaller each time we come, as if something bit off pieces of the landscape at the edges Ė new construction filling up space we saw sky in before.

A former state senator, my father always fought against the suburban sprawl, claiming nothing was uglier to him than a shopping mall.

Born and raised in the city, my father always wished he was not, and as a senator made a point of fighting for all those laws that affected the countryside, which is probably why voters where we lived dumped him finally.

He hates the idea of neighbors not knowing neighbors, and hates the fact that politicians he ran with in the city did everything possible to make strangers of people who lived there.

All he wants to do is help and know his neighbors.

This is why when he sees the sheep in the road near a broken fence, he stops the car. And gets out.

My mother scolds him for being stupid, reminding him he has no experience in farming, even if we come here twice a year. But being a good neighbor, my father says moving sheep canít be hard, and tells us to sit tight while he shoos the sheep back.

We watch him go, watch him wave his arms, watch the sheep slowly get the message and move back through the gap in the fence, and vanish over the lip of land. We watch my father follow and vanish, too, and we wait and wait, but my father doesnít come back.

Mother tells me to go see what happened, hoping to God he hasnít fallen over a log and broken a leg.

Iím scared. I donít move at first, and my mother has to insist before I slip out of the car and ease up the road to the break in the fence.

Here, I see the blood and then the body of the sheep, torn apart by something only memory of the zoo allows me to picture.

I donít need to see the teeth marks or the blood to recognize that the fallen figure is my father a few yards farther on or that he is dead.

I hear the growl. I see the cold eyes and feel the chill I felt when I saw the wolf as a boy, only now there are more of them, gnashing their blood stained teeth, not satisfied with sheep or my father, when they need to have me.

My mother and sister scream at me as I rush up and jump behind the wheel of the car, engaging the gears as I shove hard on the gas, each demanding I wait for my father, each voice as shrill as the dying sheep I see us becoming if I ever stop the car.

I tell myself as my hands shake on the steering wheel that I will never do what my father did; Iíll never be a good neighbor, and never come back to the cabin in the woods, praying to God that someone turns it all into a shopping mall where only the human wolves live.



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