It starts with a sound. K-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, slow and rhythmic, like a basketball on a cement driveway. At first it is a soothing sound, a mother’s heartbeat, the gentle creak of a rocking chair. But soon, it becomes annoying, like that gourmet popcorn you liked so much at Christmas. You ate so much of it that you threw up, and had to have a tooth extracted. Now, even seeing that cheery red label with the dancing popcorn couples wearing their stupid crowns make you a little queasy. You wish the sound would stop. But it doesn’t.
The sound is relentless. It provides the beat for your every movement for a solid week until finally, you believe you will certainly run screaming into the pristine, well-maintained streets of the upscale subdivision in which you live. The neighbors would certainly love that. There hasn’t been fresh meat in the gossip mill for days.
But then you realize that basketballs on cement are, indeed, exactly the source of the sound. In fact, your immediate neighbors have erected a new basketball hoop for their kids, thoughtfully sunk into their driveway in cement, and then invited the other neighborhood children over to play.
You wonder idly if the neighbors realize that your property line is a mere six inches from where they have permanently erected a basketball hoop for their children, and children’s friends, to play. And the reason you wonder this is because of the other sound. The sound you started to hear after the k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk of basketballs on cement, the sound of dogs barking.
To be fair, you have many things on your mind these days, and you did whistle to bring the dogs in when you heard them going on for what seemed to you to be an excessively long time. But, they are your dogs, and you’re used to their barking, right? Who’s to blame you if you didn’t always hear them straight off in those first days after the basketball hoop was built and the children began to play their games and lose their basketballs in your yard. And come into your yard to retrieve them. Or, try to come into your yard to retrieve them. You’re a woman with kids of your own and a husband who is never home. The dogs – those beautiful, gentle animals who keep you from killing yourself when things get really bad – are doing what they were trained to do; keep people out of your yard. You’re a woman alone, suffering from a debilitating depression so bad it amazes you that you can get out of bed and get the kids to school in the morning. Sleep is an escape from which very few familiar sounds, like your dogs keeping you safe, are heard. You did hear them sometimes, and you did bring them in when you heard them. Nobody called to complain (you do sleep with the phone next to you in case something bad should happen to your husband or your kids need you, so you would know), and nobody came to the door to complain. You sleep on the couch to be sure you hear the door. No harm, no foul, right?
Wrong. Evil slinks in where you least expect, like in the k-thunk of basketballs on cement, the gleeful laughter of children playing, and the everyday barking of dogs. Evil surely do love a good contrast. So it circles in, disguised as lazy waves of summer heat and rides the summer sounds in a placid cul-de-sac in the “rich” part of a small, southern town. And evil plants some seeds, every neighborhood has a few. Small resentments, petty jealousy, a word taken the wrong way at a neighborhood get together, gossip at the weekly card game, these are evil’s best materials. Given the right situation and evil’s easy green thumb, those seeds burst into the most delicious bouquet of misunderstanding, heartbreak, and neighbor against neighbor you’ve ever seen. It’s like unleashing the primal instinct of a pack of hyenas by separating the weakest animal from a pack for easy slaughter. And you, it turns out, were the weakest.
It’s strange to think that two years have passed since you first heard the sound of basketballs on cement. You hear that k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, and tears still well up and bite into the back of your tightly closed eyelids like twin cobras whose tails dangle down your throat forcing you to choke them down. Two years since the neighborhood rose up against you and signed the petition that killed your sweet, beautiful dogs. Dogs who wouldn’t hurt anybody, not really, because they were trained better than that, and to be totally truthful, were actually big wusses. But, they barked. And apparently, one of them nipped at the pants cuff of one of the kids that were coming into your yard to retrieve their basketballs even though you had asked them to call you if that happened. She nipped because the boys hit her in the face with a big metal rake, and then a bigger bristle broom, in an attempt to scare her from protecting her yard. But nobody called. Not even when scores of neighborhood children (according to the petition), were nipped by your so-called vicious animals. The hospitals should have been full with the red and bleeding wounded. But still, nobody came to your door to talk to you about this most serious problem.
Nobody came to the door, that is until Animal Services came to your door and the one with no teeth and the big hat (heroin problem, you thought), demanded you hand your dogs over to them on the basis of a few signatures. But you had been separated from the pack, so what could you do? Your husband came home to comfort you, and evil broke his leg, and he lost his job. This, of course was your fault for asking him to be there when you needed comfort.
Oh, there was blood in the water and the sharks were circling, but you trusted the system, and handed your precious baby over to the innocent looking officer with the trustworthy face. Then the system flung your animal away. It bent to the will of your neighbors. There was chum in the water, and the sharks at that shit up. To this day, the only color you see when they pass you on the street today is blood red.
Death by lethal injection, they said, via petition, they said, it’s only politics, they said. But you know better. The green of your neighbor’s money was brighter than the red of your dog’s murder. Evil had a field day the day she died. It danced a happy death-jig and celebrated with your neighbors.
Even though you’ve known some of your neighbors since you were a teen, you still don’t talk to them. Your good high school buddies couldn’t be bothered to pick up a phone to help a friend. And you know that the hands that pushed you into the abyss into which you had been staring do not care that you sleep on the couch in front of the fireplace for comfort so sleep can grant you the only peace you can find, even after two years? Why should they care that you barely leave the house?
The only time you slide off your self-made pallet and shuffle to the window is when you hear the k-thunk, k-thunk of those basketballs. You can’t help but look out and see the children playing with that basketball hoop, sunk into concrete six inches from your property line. Every now and then a child runs into your yard to get a loose ball. It’s then that you feel your eyes and your soul fill with a stinging, longing, horrible feeling and you think you your heart will explode. And God help you, you hope that if it happens you will take some of those little brats with you when you die.
Then the k-thunk, k-thunk starts again. It’s the sound of a writhing snake spitting rotten apples onto the cement, but evil turns it into the innocent summer sound of children joyfully playing basketball.
It’s then you know that there is nothing you can ever do; because evil rides in on waves of summer heat and surfs on the sound of laughing children playing basketball on cement sunk into a driveway set six inches from your property line. So you turn from the window as a writhing snake spitting evil spits rotten apples onto the cement. Tears fill your eyes, and the beauty of your surroundings is lost in the blur.
Evil surely do love a good contrast.