Fiction

Peon

By Beatriz Cicci

Ms. Maureen Campbell was proud to attest and confirm with confidence that, throughout her 72 years of life, she had only kissed whom she had ratified to be totally and completely in love with.

When inquired in this matter by her son, Elliott, when younger, she would cite the examples of Noah Archman, her very first love at the age of seventeen, and her loyal and affectionate life partner, Mr. Edwin Campbell, to whom she had devoted sixty-one marvelous years of her life. While obliterating for a mere second any other thought going through her mind and recalling memories with both of them, Ms. Campbell would hastily remind herself of her greatest and true love.

“Oh! And you, of course, Elliott. My love for you is greater than anything in the world! – she would say while staring her beloved son in the eyes with a faint, soothing grin and gently running her fingers through his coal-colored hair in a subtle attempt of making it tidier.

Not daring to go any further — refusing to mention names of uncles, nieces or nephews, and even her parents, to whom Maureen revealed no such affection towards — she would exclusively talk about those three men. After all, they were, indeed, the only ones that had made a smile curl in her lips unintentionally; that had caused her heart to pound in joy and her hands to shake in euphoria.

Now, nearly thirty years later, old Ms. Campbell couldn’t remember exactly when her unblemished, simple life was ravaged. She couldn’t be sure. Maureen could only notice that

subsequently from her husband’s, for whom she cared so passionately, unannounced death and her son’s marriage and departure — not bothering to call or send an invitation on holidays, nor letting his elderly mother meet her own grandchildren –, she was now limited to kissing objects such as bottles of water or cups from which she drank from, and no further than that.

Being most of the time alone, and utterly lonely, even though she wouldn’t care to admit it, the old lady restricted her hobbies and pastimes to sitting in a plastic white chair on her porch and observing her neighbors’ aggravating and occupied lives.

Her chestnut-brown eyes would often target the resident of the house in front of hers, charming Mrs. Harley Jensen; a short, blonde woman that, when outside her domicile, was invariably chasing and yelling at her two young girls after allowing them to play for a few minutes in the vacant street.

Her attention would also drift to a bright-yellow-painted house far down the lane, the last one in the neighborhood she could see with clarity. Ms. Campbell would observe the adolescent boy who inhabited it, the seventeen-year-old Thomas Pearce, who repeatedly reminded her of her own negligent son. Although being a considerably attractive teenager, presenting several unique traits such as dim ginger hair, emerald-green eyes, and naturally coral lips, such implied a somewhat distasteful personality. Ms.Campbell assumed — mainly because of his loud music display, matter that would only stop at dawn, and obvious lack of effort to be well-mannered and sociable — Thomas to be a bitter person, opinion that would surely make her a huge hypocrite.

Discounting specifically these two individuals, Maureen would spot one or two other neighbors, often the ones who were desperately running on the sideroad because of tardiness to an important appointment or others who simply insinuated to have a perfect, pleasant

lifestyle, whom she looked at with frowned eyebrows, momentary wrinkles appearing in her forehead and by her eyes, and a disgusted scowl meandering in her mouth. Ms. Campbell would disregard all of the others, — fifteen of her other neighbors, to be accurate — for the coherent motive of finding them quite ​uninteresting.

Of course, such neighbors wouldn’t pass Ms. Campbell as unnoticed. In fact, most of the ones who spotted her entertaining herself in their personal lives would find the old lady generally odd or even ludicrous. None of them, specifically the ones who were residents in the neighborhood for a remarkable amount of time, would dare to talk to or look at her, mainly based on past events they have seen — and some, few of them, experienced — in which Ms. Campbell would treat the person who addressed her in complete disrespect and disdain for what such had to say.

“Did you see the way she cursed at Timothy? Geez, doesn’t she know he’s only five? Poor kid went home crying!”

“The postman will only deliver her mail when she’s inside her house…” “I don’t want my kids playing near her!”

“Did you notice the way she spies on everyone? Nosy freak!” “God, she gives me the creeps!”

“Well, what did you expect? All of the people she knew left her…” “I doubt she is able to feel anything at all.”

Ms. Campbell would have full acknowledgment of such accusations but never desired to contradict them, for she believed that most of them were true. She often would question herself whether she ​wasstill capable of feeling, of loving again; for it had been so many years since she had, that now she couldn’t remember what it felt like.

However, amongst those neighbors, some who, at times, would leave old Ms. Campbell with an appalling feeling of enmity, there was one who particularly drove the old lady insane and could make her imagine the most fantastic, and additionally aggressive, scenarios. During this little hobby of hers, Maureen would always notice her eyes drawn to the brownish, skinny little creature that would wander from house to house, asking for food in the most ecstatic way possible and currently having his desires met with leftover meat, expired bread, and a caring pat on the back by the house’s owners and their children. It had already become a routine for him, habit that would have him sloppily named “Peon” by the residents of the street.

Apart from the rest of the neighborhood, Ms. Campbell despited Peon’s occasional visits, for she had no children or family of her own, therefore the filthy dog only served to bark at her house’s gate practically the whole evening and selectively knock over her trash cans at night, searching for something that would maybe be beneficial to him.

That afternoon was no different. After observing the street she lived in for roughly three hours, the poor animal had just started to drift through the houses; the light-blue one with an awfully huge front door at the end of the street, where Ms. Jones would happily give him a boiled egg, up until Karley Jensen’s, where Peon would be warmly welcomed inside for a few minutes by the children. And at last, hers.

Every day the same spectacle, the shameless dog would sit in front of the brown bushes ahead of her house and stare at her with low ears and a lonely, almost sympathetic look on his face, as though attempting to itemize the old lady.

“What are you looking at, you dirty dog? I’m not giving you anything, you might as well walk along back to your sad little corner, you’re done for today!” she would blare, causing the neighbors to view such scene in disgust.

As usual, when the clock in Ms. Campbell’s kitchen struck 7 p.m., she would go back inside and eat dinner, normally tinned foods that were easily heated in her microwave. Into a few minutes of “dinner”, the barking would start — directly in front of her house — and Maureen would never know when it ended, for she would’ve already gone to sleep before such event.

Nevertheless, as the years went by, Ms. Campbell continued to get conveniently annoyed, more and more each day, she would say. The old lady decided that she couldn’t manage Peon’s little stunts any longer, for she had matters of her own and enjoyed her occasional rest. Maybe it was because it implied to be the only thing in her life that Maureen could entirely control, or maybe it was simply and only to see the commotion of her neighbors; whatever the reason was, it was sufficient to make Ms. Campbell call the animal care center, insisting that the dog residing in her neighborhood continued to make excessive noise and invade her property. In each and every one of her attempts of getting rid of Peon, Ms. Campbell would be responded in the same, cordial tone:

“I’m sorry, Ms. Campbell, I’m afraid we can’t do much. Taking into consideration that the other residents of the street have no such complaints about the dog that inhabits your neighborhood, we can’t send him to an animal shelter unless we have proof he imposes a threat or frustration to the neighborhood as a whole.”

“I can assure you.”

“Ms. Campbell, we’re going to need proof. Maybe get some other neighbors to sign a petition to keep this dog… Peon, away. There are multiple things you can do to solve your problem.”

“What if I set up a camera throughout the night? Filmed that dog knocking over my trash cans and barking all night, I wouldn’t have to have my neighbors’ approval then, would I?”

“Hum… I guess not…” “Great! Good afternoon.”

And on that note, old, crabby Ms. Campbell decided on a plan; not the most genius one, but adequate to get what she wanted: she would set a camera. Her method was effortless, she simply needed to arrange the camera in her bedroom window railing before going to sleep and send the footage the day after. And accordingly, that was what the determined elderly woman did.

Maureen opted for executing the idea on a fresh, sunny afternoon in July. It was, in fact, an alluring day, she couldn’t refute it. The sun was only about to hide its enchanting wings behind one isolated cloud that showed itself present in the celeste-blue sky and, by that time, a cold breeze brushed softly against Ms. Campbell’s cheeks, occasionally lifting locks of her grey hair. The trees were abundant with all sorts of newly-grown fruits that were being relished by the contented parents of the neighborhood while their children were playing amongst many others in the street; blowing soap bubbles in the air — which would briskly be taken away by the wind — , jumping rope while singing prominent songs, feeding the birds that would often land for a few seconds on the road, laughing, sweating, and losing their breath after sprinting through their yards in a game only to start running again; all kinds of activities that had brought delight to Ms. Campbell’s childhood as well.

However, Ms. Campbell could not, ​would notbe impacted by a particularly congenial afternoon, for she had more important matters to worry about. Taking that into consideration, after all the children and their respective families had returned to their residences, Maureen

herself entered her house and searched through her disorganized closet in order to find the camera she had given her son at his wedding, which was returned shortly after with no plausible reason whatsoever. Following her own instructions, Ms. Campbell arranged the camera in the window’s railing in a manner that it would film the street in a clear image and then she would settle into her usual, calm sleep that would take a relatively long time to appear.

While suffering from her familiar insomnia, closing her little eyes as rigidly as she could in order to fall asleep, her common and abhorred bedtime song begun, giving her immense joy, for she would, indeed, have footage to show the “Animal Care Services”. And with that thought, Maureen fell into an engaging sleep, thinking that night would be the last she would have to go to bed with that particular lullaby ringing in her ears.

When the morning came, Ms. Campbell woke up with a smile on her face shining from ear to ear and grabbed with a firm grip the camera that stood immobile in the same place it had been situated the day before. Maureen had her daily cup of coffee, changed into a long burgundy skirt, a white shirt, and a light blue sweater that she had made, and sat in her plastic-white chair in the porch to scrutinize the footage, barely believing she would finally have her amicable nights returned.

After skipping about an hour of the video, for it had nothing interesting to display, the image being exhibited in the camera presented two teenage boys approaching her gate, one whom she rapidly recognized as the red-haired Thomas Pearce; both of them were making signs for the other one to be quiet while walking haltingly towards her house and seeking their way into her porch.

It was clear that they were talking, but because of the distance of the camera and the quality of its microphone, the only words Maureen managed to understand were:

“Now we’re gonna give this old twat what she deserves.”- Thomas said before pulling out what appeared to be an egg from his backpack and attempting to throw it onto the house’s walls. The old lady was suddenly permeated with an agonizing feeling that made her skin boil and her lips curl in a growl. For a moment she even forgot for what she was watching the footage, only to be quickly reminded a few seconds later.

Suddenly, a loud bark broke into the scene, making both of the boys glance in the direction from which it had come. A skinny figure quickly made its way into the image and commenced barking at the two vandals. Both of them tried to make the dog leave by threatening to throw eggs on him but failed miserably. Peon wouldn’t budge, he continued to growl excessively at the two adolescents in a confident, almost aggressive way.

Past a few minutes of the same performance, Thomas and his amber-haired friend seemed to have lost their momentary alarm and progressed with their inventive egg-throwing initiative. But Peon was serious in averting such event, effortlessly jumping the white-wooden — and relatively low — gate leading to the front door and fiercely biting the other boy’s leg, making him fall to the ground on his back with a loud thud and, consequently, knock over the old lady’s trash cans.

As a reaction to such “attack”, Thomas, who was standing next to his friend, that now laid on the floor moaning in pain and clutching his shin, took an expression of surprise and panic on his face before deciding to help the boy back to his feet and then to escape into the darkness of the night, returning to — where Ms. Campbell assumed to be– his home.

For the remaining part of the video, Peon sat on her porch and continued to bark — towards insects that would accidentally fall onto the floor in front of him, racoons that

occasionally appeared roaming through the bushes, and cars that drove by the road, displaying a strong temporary flash of white light –, as though trying to protect the house from the most ordinary things, trying to protect ​her.

No. It couldn’t be. It must have been a coincidence. Why would the dirty dog that lived in the neighborhood protect ​her, someone that would treat him so poorly? There was no reasonable explanation. Ms. Campbell didn’t know what to think, but assumed that the protection her residence had received that night surely wasn’t restricted to her; Peon evidently defended and safeguarded all of the neighborhood houses. It was just an eventuality that he had elected hers that particular evening.

Yes, Ms. Campbell did attempt to believe that little hypothesis of hers, but couldn’t set her mind to it, so she continued to record her street every night for additional three days, now trying to get the image of other houses as well; and every morning the old lady would wake up to watch the same image over and over again; Peon would persist to sit in her porch and bark ceaselessly, threatening to attack anything and anyone that would approach the domicile. Would he have done that every night, even before Maureen started filming the neighborhood? Did the deserted dog care for her so passionately all these years?

On a typical day, while the sun was setting and Peon had just begun his “shift” through the houses, Ms. Campbell waited until he arrived at hers and, in her common stagnant step, came to his encounter. After a lot of effort, Maureen managed to stand with both knees on the ground and beamed into the dog’s small, arched, pitch-black eyes as she felt a faint grin curling on her lips. The old lady raised her right hand and carefully — as though afraid that the little creature might break into pieces like shattered glass and spread in the ground — patted Peon’s neck and caressed his dim brown fur.

“Well, why don’t you come in and I’ll give you something ​really good to eat,” she said standing up and ordering Peon to pass through the gate, and into the residence, with a subtle hand gesture.

Ms. Campbell had just reached the last step of the little stairs leading to her front door when Peon turned around and crossed the street into Ms. Jensen’s yard and casually stole a yellow daisy from the woman’s impeccable garden, making Maureen liberate a genuine laugh, not a scandalous one, but just enough to show how that little praise was important to her. And just as the dirty, skinny dog crossed the street again with a small daisy dangling from his mouth and back into Ms. Campbell’s house, an unusual black car drove through the asphalt and, not paying attention to the figure crossing in front of it, collided with the dog, dragging him along the road for five seconds and then stopping abruptly, realizing its mistake.

Ms. Campbell screamed.

As Maureen walked — while trying to run — towards the little creature that now laid in the lane immobile, she prayed and wished that Peon was fine, that he would get up, march right into her house, and stay by her side until the day she died. But she knew that wouldn’t happen. She saw the bloodstains that passed under her feet as she walked towards the pavement in front of Mr. Taylor’s house and felt a terrible burning, yet cold wave rising from her feet and reaching her last strain of hair as her hands started to tremble and her legs felt like they were about to surrender.

Her neighbors were heading towards the same place she was, and now a crowd started to form around Peon’s unconscious body, but Ms. Campbell didn’t notice. When she finally reached the spot the dog lied and was able to see his brown fur covered in blood and two of

his paws broken, Maureen collapsed on the floor and took his body in her arms, pressing it against her chest and holding his head up off the pavement.

“Please, please” she whispered in his ear, sincerely believing that he could listen to her. “I promise, I’ll take care of you. I’ll give you showers and food and shelter, please don’t leave me alone.”

And as one of her many neighbors called the local animal emergency clinic and asked if they could come with urgency, Ms. Campbell didn’t need to say the actual, precise words to tell the brownish figure in her arms what she felt for the last time; the old lady lowered her head and gently touched her thin, dry, and trembling lips in Peon’s face, and that pretty much said everything for itself.

Categories: Fiction

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