Cities in the Mud

It was summer. There had been a strange hard rain the night before. My Mom and I had stood in the front porch, our arms wrapped around us and watched the lightning cracking across the dark sky and listened to the rain shattering down on our tin roof. The next morning was glorious. The sun was out and everything glistened clean with its recent wash and (!!!) there were puddles e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

I put on shorts and a top and ran barefoot out of the house, an apple and a piece of bread in my hand (a concession to my Mother). I ran down to the empty lot next to Janet Who's house, threw myself down on my back in the wet grass and waited for her escape.

The grass was soft and high above me telescoping my vision to the blue sky and the clouds. The sun was shining and I was warm and the grass was amenable in its dampness. I munched on my apple and my bread until Janet's brother spotted me in the grass. I bounced up, shouting hallow and waved. He waved back and then disappeared, taking Janet off the hook (said he'd do her chores) sending her out to me.

She was crabby when she came out.

"You're crabby!"

I thought it was great that she'd gotten out of her chores. She shook her head, still crabby, and said "it" wasn't that.

What to do? What to do? I gazed off in the distance to the sky, not directly overhead but on the horizon, and then shouted, "Follow me!" and ran away.

Janet Who stood with hands on her hips (I looked back when I reached the sidewalk) watching me, but I heard her following just about right away as I pounded down the sidewalk.

Half way down the street, I stopped until she caught up and we wandered towards my house and ended up somehow in the mud, on the shoulder of the street, building a City. It was glorious!

I can still feel the feeling I felt for awhile during the time Janet Who and I built our City. Roads winding around puddles and over mud bridges. Proper buildings for the all the good people. There was a picnic ground on the outskirts of our City and a power plant and several schools and different neighbourhoods. At one point I stood back and wondered, concerned we'd run out of room. When I lifted my head from the focus of our City to the street beside us, and then looked further to the houses across the street, I thought in a flash of all the houses and streets going way beyond what I could see, and I was reassured.

Janet Who kept me focused on the practicalities and during a rather vehement discussion about the placement of a gas station, the neighbours came home. I may not have even noted the car driving slowly beside us into their driveway except they'd been on vacation and I thought, "They're back!" as they drove by. The Mr and Mrs stopped their car and I heard car doors slamming somewhere outside the prickly discussion Janet and I were having on the appropriateness of a gas station next to a public pool. The Mr and Mrs were talking angrily. "Crabby too" I thought.

The Mrs came over to Janet Who and I and said, "What do think you're doing there!"

Eagerly I stood up, covered in mud, and started pointing to the road system, the bridges the buildings and asked the Mrs her opinion about gas stations and pools. "What do you think?!" I kicked a tiny clot of mud in my exuberance, sending it flying in Janet Who's direction, big grin on my face, pleased as least Janet Who's "crabby" was gone. Janet Who slapped her hands in the puddle in front of her, giggling high pitch noises, sending a small shower of muddy water everywhere. The Mrs threw up her arms and went back (I could hear her) to crab at the Mr as they walked towards their door and went into their house. (I heard their door slam.)

The people who had lived in the house next door since I could remember, had moved out a short while before. The people who moved into the house next door afterward didn't have children (they were grown up) and had come to the mining town where I lived so that the Mr could to do a job. I was generally used to people providing cookies to me if I sat still and kept my hands in my lap but the new people next door did not encourage that. Too young to understand, all I knew was that the Mr wasn't a miner. Now I can conjecture he was probably an engineer or a technical worker, someone taking a job perhaps as their last job before retirement. Seeing maybe if they might want to settle in that gloriously beautiful Kootenay area of British Columbia. My Father and the Mr would talk over the fence from time to time but my Mother and the Mrs never seemed to talked.

Having caved to Janet Who's logic that although most practical from a moving of mud point of view, a gas station right next to the public pool was inappropriate, I noticed with distraction, busily shifting mud, the Mr come out of his house with a bundle of paper and go into our yard. He was funny. The bundle of paper was tucked under his arm and both his hands were deep in his pockets. His head was down as he shuffled past. He was usually nicer to me than the Mrs, benign as my Father and he discussed the best way to get rid of crab grass, laughing at my feeble attempts at cartwheels and gymnastics. I was ready with a friendly hello, eager to explain our sewer system should he ask…but he didn't.

The Mr walked up to our door and knocked. The door was answered and he entered.

I hadn't finished levelling the mud next to the public pool (we'd decided to put in a park) when I heard my Father's voice shouting through the walls of our house, across our yard, through the fine City Janet Who and I were building and out into the rest of the World.

Everything stopped.

Janet Who and I listened. The shouting just kept going on and on.

"I don't want to play this any more", I told Janet Who.

Janet nodded, reached out to grab my hand and for awhile we just kneeled there in the mud, our fabulous City forgotten, and listened.

"You'd better go home" I told Janet Who. "You better go home."

Janet Who's face darkened. I remembered her earlier crabby. Caught in between, I struggled for reason, and then told her I needed to get closer so I could hear the words. Janet Who nodded and we stood up hand in hand and strolled into my yard to examine the sweet peas growing on the fence between the Mr and Mrs's yard and ours. Closer now, still I didn't understand the words.

"What's a document?" I asked Janet Who. She shrugged her shoulders and pointed out a hummingbird feeding on the flowers. Green, mauve, feathers, flutter - I watched the hummingbird flit from flower to flower.

The shouting stopped and our front door slammed. The Mr stalked through our yard. Janet Who and I stood open mouthed and watched until the Mr disappeared into his own house again. Shortly after my Mother came out, interrupted our barrage of excitement trying to explain our City, interspersed with cautious wondering at all the shouting, and tried to send Janet Who home. Janet's shoulders drooped, but obedient she turned reluctantly homeward shuffling off slowly until my Mother relented, calling her back.

"She's in trouble Mom! I don't know? Pl-eeease let her stay!" I tugged at my Mom's sleeve crying. "Pl-eeeeease!"

Too much was definitely going on. I needed my friend. My friend needed me.

"You are not allowed to ever play in that spot again!" My Mother pointed to our mud city. "Both of you get into the house, get cleaned up and then go in the basement and play quiet until it's time for lunch!"

Janet Who and I scuttled into our house, made a thorough mess in the bathroom cleaning ourselves up, cleaned up the bathroom exceptionally well under the quiet urging of Janet Who, played swing and experiment with soap suds in the basement, ate lunch, peeked through the window at my Father smoothing the mud where our City had been, listened to a radio show, played Barbie for awhile, ate supper and finally Janet Who went home after a phone call to my Mom from her Mom.

"Is everything OK?"

"Everything will be OK. We had fun!"

Before lunch my Mom and Dad talked a lot. Well my Mom talked a lot and Dad growled and then my Mom talked some more. My Dad didn't shout. Cleaning up and playing our games, I didn't listen or didn't understand but I was well aware something was being thoroughly discussed in my house. It was OK. Janet Who and I weren't scared but they sure talked a lot!

After lunch they talked some more and then my Mom started cooking again and my Dad came into the basement and sat in his room for awhile, and then things started to feel better.

The next day my Dad went to work and when he came home there was a string going from the front fence post in the yard of the Mr and Mrs, across our yard and up over the middle of our garage. My Dad took one look at that string and went straight over to the house of the Mr and Mrs. Once again there was shouting. My Dad and the Mr burst out of the house and stood on the street looked at the fence post and the string and our garage. They both made sweeping hand gestures at the string and our garage and then they stomped back into the house of the Mr again. I watched them from our back yard, peeking around the corner of our house, wondering what was going on.

"We've been living in this house for 19 years!" my Dad exclaimed to my Mother later that night. "The garage was there when we bought it! How could anybody think just because they have a piece of paper, that that makes it right!"

"Let it go", my Mom murmured to my Dad, "It's over."

"You bet it's over!" Dad hit his fist on his chest. "I put an end to it!"

"What's a property line?" I wondered.

My Dad was right. It was the end. The Mr and Mrs moved out of their house a few months later. I don't know where they went. An elderly retired couple moved in afterwards.

The new Mr and Mrs were nicer.

She gave me cookies.