My neighbors aren’t human.
That’s not to say they’re aliens or anything. They’re just, well … a little outside the standard definition of “neighborly.”
I spend a week in January just noticing them, cataloguing them, and I end up sucked into their adjoining world. Or maybe it’s the other way ‘round. Or maybe—and this feels the most right—it’s all the same world, because honestly there’re no boundaries here, no concrete divisions one can claim.
Good luck finding a northwoods Mason-Dixon Line; I don’t think it exists. Roads, you say? Buildings? Just a change of scenery.
The bats and spiders don’t mind. We’ve just got this one mish-mashed world, full of nature and humanity doing the “strangers at a crosswalk” glance-and-go. I’m convinced of it.
One week, and it goes like this:
On Monday, it’s six whitetails in the backyard, clustered under our crab apple tree. They strain their necks to pluck sour, shriveled orbs from naked branches. Their pale tails flash when they hear the storm door rattle, but hunger overrules flight. They strip the lower limbs bare.
On Wednesday morning, it’s a trio of ruffed grouse nibbling winter buds in roadside aspen. They stand out like Jackson Pollock neutrals—white, gray, brown, black—against the nine a.m. sky, and their perches barely bow under plump but hollow-boned bodies.
On Wednesday night, it’s a slinky mink body skittering from creek to woods. His sleek, dark coat is stark against hard-packed snow. Eyes flare nightmare-red in my high beams.
On Thursday, it’s the local coyote pack yipping in concert with a two a.m. freight train. Their voices, synchronous with rattling iron, carry on the still, glass-edged air. It’s not like in the summer, when frogs and crickets keep chorus in a low-grade hum, offering up their white noise lullaby. This feels different, spine-creeping, arresting and eerie in equal measure.
I mentally tally each encounter, and I begin to notice what I haven’t been noticing. That is, I’m accustomed to seeing (and hearing) the Minnesota ecosystem at work. Its members feel like proverbial ships in the night, there and gone, yet still an innate part of the reality I live in. We don’t exist in two distinct spheres delineated by roads and ditches, by power lines slicing the sky as garrote wire.
No, we’re one.
By Tim States
Bump bump bump bump. That’s the sound we hear constantly from our next-door neighbors, and more specifically from their two children. It sounds like they’re running up a stairwell to escape the wrath of an evil witch, but these are single-level apartments.
However, we can’t claim innocence in the annoying-neighbor department. Our four year-old daughter runs and occasionally falls with a thud that the neighbors down below must not appreciate. At least we’re on the top level and don’t have anything to worry about anyone above our heads.
That has not always been the case.
Five years ago we lived on the bottom of a two-level apartment building. The complex itself was fairly quiet, but the two gentlemen living above us were decidedly raucous. Every now and then there would be loud music bellowing out of their windows, or a loud friend that didn’t understand his drunken voice was actually a shout.
Those instances were fairly normal and easy to adapt to. What really got our attention was the fighting.
Our upstairs neighbors argued back and forth, hurling insults at each other, but that was only part of it. Their arguments included fist against flesh, and throwing each other against the wall. Fight Club-style brawling. We didn’t need to see it; hearing the carnage echo from above painted a vivid picture of what was happening.
After the fighting calmed down and there was silence for a moment or two, our neighbors would start to cry. And then they would make up. And by make up, I mean the sex would commence. It sounded every bit as brutal as the fighting. Skin slapping skin. The fisticuffs were intense, and the coitus was hard and fast. The same wall that previously had to peel a body off of itself was now subjected to repeated blows by a bed frame. That poor, poor wall.
Eventually we let management know about the upstairs noise and frequent tussling. A girl in the office suggested that we call the police if it happened again and report it as domestic violence. Prior to her saying that, I hadn’t seen it in that light. When I heard it happening, I thought of it as two guys working some things out.
What that girl said made me change the way I viewed the situation. If I were to hear something like that now, I’d like to think I would make the call.
Nikki Mentges is a creative and professional writing major from Deer River, Minnesota. Tim States is a creative and professional writing major from Tucson, Arizona.