The Return of Miss Manners

The Return of Miss Manners July 30, 2017


Rose has a new skateboard.

We found a brand new, pink and yellow skateboard on the deeply-discounted-broken-items rack at the back of Ollie’s. The only thing wrong with it was the packaging was scuffed and dirty. It was only seven dollars.

Rose has been having a rough time of it lately. Most of her friends live in West Virginia near our church, but we don’t live in West Virginia yet and likely won’t until fall at the earliest– maybe much later, if our plans fall through as they always seem to. She’s been afraid to play in the yard since the woman Michael calls “Miss Manners” did her outdoor knife-dance– I’ll let Michael tell you about that.  There aren’t any parks in easy walking distance I can take her to to blow off some steam– the closest one was at the abandoned school, but a local religious order bought that and demolished the playground. For awhile, I was taking her to frolic in the mud puddle outside the Protestant church two blocks away, but the mud puddle finally dried up. She was miserable, and she wanted that skateboard. It was only seven dollars.

I bought the skateboard. I’ll live to regret it. I took her home and got her into her bike helmet, then took her outside to skate up and down the sidewalk.

Michael went out back, to mow the lawn.

Everything was idyllic for about ten minutes. It was a mercifully cool, breezy summer evening. I was glad to stretch my legs. Rose managed to scoot a bit standing on her skateboard, and then had fun lying on her belly and propelling herself like a sea turtle. LaBelle was quiet except for the soft whirring of skateboard wheels, the hum of the weed eater… and the incoherent shrieks.

It took me awhile to notice the shrieks, and the fact that they were coming from my own backyard. LaBelle can be like that sometimes.

The weed eater stopped humming.

“YOU NEED TO GO BACK TO YOUR SIDE OF THE PROPERTY LINE.” shouted my husband over the sound of Miss Manners’ hysterics.

“Let’s go inside, Rose,” I said as calmly as I could.

I bundled Rose and her new skateboard back into the house; I grabbed my new drum of pepper spray off of the counter. I looked for the tracphone with the camera in it, but it was nowhere to be found.

“Don’t come out,” I told Rose. “Stay here.”

When I got to the backyard, Michael was practically hugging the fence. Miss Manners had flown in his face and he’d politely stepped back; she’d flown in his face again and he’d politely stepped back. By this method, she had backed him in a deranged tango all the way across his own yard. He stood there in his gardening shoes, kahkis and button-down, calm but frustrated, holding the weed eater a bit like a musket in present-arms position. The Steadfast Tin Soldier of the Lawn, repeating his demand that she get off the property but not returning violence for violence.

Miss Manners was flapping her arms in stilted, staccato gestures. I think she was trying to look like some kind of gangster– she’s told people, while threatening them, that she’s “from Chicago” as if this is intimidating. I am not a republican politician, so I don’t believe that Chicago is entirely the nightmarish and murderous no-man’s-land it’s cracked up to be, but I have a feeling that Miss Manners wouldn’t last more than thirty seconds gesticulating like that at an actual gang member from Chicago. A quick google of her full name revealed that she’s actually from Maryland, anyway. In any case, Miss Manners was convulsing like one of those giant inflatable puppets they use to advertise car sales. She was screaming obscenities I can’t publish on Patheos faster than most people can speak; just about every other sentence was punctuated by a certain hyphenated epithet suggesting that Michael had had improper relations with his mother. Miss Manners accuses everything of having improper relations with its mother– neighborhood children, her dog, inanimate objects. It’s her version of stammering.

‘Dear, do you need my pepper spray?” I asked Michael with feigned serenity.

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