A Bit of Red Clover

A Bit of Red Clover July 14, 2022


It was one of those mornings that starts with a nightmare.

It’s a nightmare I’ve had a lot, the one where I’m playing a point-and-click adventure game akin to Myst or Obduction, and find myself standing in the world of the game instead of sitting at a computer clicking the mouse. Sometimes this dream is atmospheric and beautiful, but yesterday morning it was grim: not an uncanny island or a weird desert landscape but an abandoned city, all  rusted sagging buildings and parking lots worn to gravel. There were clues to puzzles and codes I couldn’t solve painted on walls and scribbled on bits of litter. There were projectors that played increasingly violent scenes from things that had happened in this city before the inhabitants fled. There was a menacing figure still alive in this city, hiding, watching me; I  knew this, but I didn’t know where he was hiding. I had to put all these clues together before the menacing figure caught me, but nothing made sense.

Then, outside the dream in real life, our neighbor started her lawnmower, and I woke with a start.

It bothered me immensely that I hadn’t made headway into solving the puzzle before she woke me.

The neighbor hasn’t bothered us in any substantial way since I yelled at her about her trespassing on the porch. She barely comes outside at all– strange, as every other year she’s practically lived on the front porch or across the street on the other neighbor’s porch, barely clothed in a bath robe or a mini skirt and sports bra, waving her hands like a mime, making up stories about us. She would mow the lawn multiple times a week, pushing the mower back and forth under our window for an hour, cursing, calling us white trash for having clover and dandelions on our lawn, gloating that she was going to get Rose taken away by social services. She would harass or assault us if we went outside, and the police would blame us for not de-escalating. She would stand on her porch at four in the morning taunting that she was going to get us SWATted and dragged off by the sheriff.  This year, since I confronted her, nothing. She comes out to mow the lawn exactly once a week, on Wednesdays before the workmen come to spend a few hours pampering her front porch. She stands outside in her gigantic floppy gardening hat, talking to the workmen so they can’t pay attention to their work. And then she goes inside and barely comes out until the next Wednesday.

Still, the sound of her mower makes me sit bolt upright.

I waited as the cold, bone-dry fingers of a panic attack clenched my gut, squeezed, twisted, and let go. And then I went downstairs for coffee.

I couldn’t get myself to eat anything solid, just coffee.

I had two friends who needed me to help them run errands, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house either. Not to walk to the car’s hiding place. Not to drive to the other side of Steubenville. I just couldn’t, that was all.

I called and texted explaining I was sick.

I sat at my computer for hours, trying to write, but nothing came.

When I couldn’t stand being in the house anymore, I tiptoed out the side door and ran to the community garden to pick zucchini. I used to grow plants in my own yard, but I gave up on that. I can’t stand being in my yard. Now it’s fallow except for the strawberries and big bunches of fragrant red clover I keep for Rose’s guinea pig to enjoy.

At the community garden, all was peaceful except for me. My sunflowers were budding, almost ready to bloom. This ought to make me happy, but it put me in mind of 2020 when she rampaged in our yard and cut the head off my only sunflower before smearing her dog’s droppings on the porch. The panic attack came on again, squeezing my stomach like a toothpaste tube.

As I snuck back to the house, she was in the front yard, gesticulating wildly at the bemused workmen.

I remembered the time she gesticulated with a knife, screaming that she was going to “cut up” my husband and daughter because we’d tried to mow our own lawn, and the police had yelled at us for calling them because “she has a right to talk.” I remembered how she gesticulated wildly in the courtroom when she tried to get a restraining order against us, flapping her hands at the judge, telling the judge we stalked her across her own yard every morning at four, claiming we said we were going to get her killed like George Floyd.

I tiptoed past them in the middle of the one-way street, using the cars parked on either side as a cover, before sprinting into my own door, and panicked again.

After awhile, I didn’t hear her anymore. I felt that I’d just keep panicking if I stayed in the house, but my errands for the day had already been canceled, so I dumped my purse and scraped together cash enough for two passes to the pool across the river in West Virginia. I snuck out the door again, glancing around, but the neighbor was nowhere to be seen. There were only the workmen, quietly painting the porch. We tiptoed to the block where the car is hidden– I half expected to see the tires slashed again, but it was fine.

We swam until the pool closed.

I spent good money that we should have used for groceries on a meal at the Sheetz, my first solid food of the day, and a treat for Rose as well. I ate it methodically, willing it to stay down. Chew, chew, swallow, do it again. And I took the long way home on the freeway through the hills, pretending Steubenville was beautiful and I was just out sightseeing.

We went home and played with Rose’s guinea pig, McFluff. That was when I remembered the clover in our planter in the backyard. I’d seen it the last time I snuck out; it was blooming beautifully, just the way he likes it. I don’t stay in the backyard for more than a few minutes, because the neighbor so often bursts out with her German shepherd on a chain to startle me. I didn’t want to go out at all, but I wanted to amuse Rose and the guinea pig.

I took my phone in one hand. I imagined holding up the phone and filming her as she’d done to me a thousand times, taunting me to make me look up for the camera. I imagined confronting her in a loud, authoritative voice. “Kimballyn Smith, get back on your porch! Kimballyn Marie Smith, get back on your side of the property line. I’m posting this video to Facebook so everyone can see I’m telling the truth. You are trespassing! The whole neighborhood can see you trespassing! Help! Kimballyn Smith is attacking me again!”

I stepped into my yard and picked a nice bouquet of clover. As I was almost done, her door opened and slammed shut. I looked up,  but she wasn’t there.

I took my clover and walked rather than ran back around the corner of the porch.

The door opened and closed again as I left, but I didn’t increase my pace.

I waited at the side of the porch, heart in my throat.

The menacing neighbor peeked out her back door, muttering. Then she let her dog out to do its business.

She’d been waiting for me to leave.

For the first time in seven years, she was acting scared of me.

I brought the nosegay of fragrant red clover inside to McFluff, who devoured it.

Maybe it’s well and truly over.

Either way I feel that I’d won a battle.

Maybe everything will be all right.




Image via pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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