Woman on the hedge

by Matt Doran

It was the spring of 1999 when I realized my mother was gangster. I came home from high school and, walking up, sensed something was missing. I took stock of all the usual details: my mom’s car, the birch tree, the shrubs, the gate, the mail stuffed in the slot … the hedge. That’s what was missing.

I learned later it had been uprooted and removed by our neighbor, Kathy. There was an unspoken animosity between Kathy and the Dorans. She blamed the dog poop in her yard on our Pepper, which was a bogus claim as Pepper only did his business on a tiny patch of (dead) grass in our backyard (he was a shy, modest pup). We didn’t like how she constantly had workmen coming and going from the house, though it remained in a continual state of disrepair. My mother privately accused her of running a brothel.

It was not a neighborly relationship, and when Kathy decided to, without any notice, seize and discard the hedge, the veil of suburban pleasantries fell. That hedge was the only thing separating her driveway from ours. With that verdant wall taken out, how could we know where her criminality stopped and our nobility began? My mother, the great Bambi Doran, laid down the law.

But before I go into how she proved herself a fearsome battle-ax, I want to consider the other side of the hedge, what Kathy’s position may have been. What follows is my interpretation of her reasoning for removing the hedge …

I was so sick and tired of looking at that hedge. I watered the s— out of it. I put mulch down every spring. At Christmas, I wove twinkling lights in and out of it. On Halloween, I draped it in faux cobwebs and stuck a plastic ghost in it. Maybe the hedge felt it was being abused buttressing holiday props. Or maybe it just got old. There’s no retirement community for plants, no Boca Raton of flora. Maybe it felt like a neglected cat. (I love cats!) For whatever reason, it up and died. D-E-D, Dead.

I knew immediately it had passed. I knew because, where there was once a thick, lush buffer between me and those Dorans, that “family” was suddenly filtering through its formerly impermeable wall. My neighbors were infiltrating, no invading, my property, my personal, mortgage-paid-off space. It was time for the hedge to go and a new, industrial strength barrier to be erected.

Naturally, I’m speaking of a fence. At first I thought of an 8-foot oak picket fence, painted something fresh — certainly not white (I live in suburbia, but I don’t need to announce it to the world like my home is a godd— welcome center). I liked the idea of a picket fence, but at that height it might seem too fortress-like. I didn’t like the idea of a chain-link fence, but as I was walking Hippo, my grossly overweight schnauzer (who never poops on the lawn), I saw a house with a green chain-link fence, and it didn’t look so commercial and grisly urban. Then I thought, what if I put in a green chain-link fence and wove ivy through it? That way I’d barely notice the fence at all. Brilliant. That’ll be the thick, lush buffer I need to keep those Dorans at bay …

And that’s what happened. Maybe us Dorans aren’t the paragons of suburban class we think we are (OK, we totally are but I’m going for humble here). But Bambi certainly didn’t see it that way. Not only had Kathy neglected to inform us of her landscape remodeling, we weren’t even sure the hedge was hers to remove. Property rights aside, this just went too damn far in Bambi’s eyes.

Walking through the front door that day, I saw my mother in the kitchen and shouted, “Ma, what happened to the hedge?”

Bambi came storming out of the kitchen, yelling, “That BITCH ripped it out. She didn’t even tell us. Just yanked that sucker right out.”

“It looks so weird and naked out there now.”

“You’re tellin’ me. Does she think I really want a closer look at that dump she lives in? Ya know, I got half a mind to go over there and tell her what a crummy thing she did.”

Recognizing a moment for drama and an opportunity for Bambi to fly her Sicilian flag, I egged her on. “You should, Ma. She shouldn’t have done that. It’s really disrespectful. What’s next, she gonna park her car in our driveway? No, you should say something.”

“You know what, you’re right. I didn’t raise you to take things like this lying down.”

It was on.

Bambi marched past me, and I followed her into the yard. I could see the white in her knuckles as her fists and fury propelled her forward. She nimbly mounted Kathy’s steps (apparently rage makes my mother more agile) and furiously knocked until Kathy answered. Kathy didn’t even have time to utter a word, my mother quick to go on the offensive.

“Look lady, I don’t know how they did it down in Florida, but up here, in the land of the living, we let our neighbors know when we’re gonna do some serious landscape redecorating. Maybe that kind of crap flies where everyone is too near Death to notice, but not here, lady. And I’m not convinced what you did was yours to do. That hedge may very well have been on our property.”

“I think I —”

“Oh I’ll be checking the property records, and if that hedge was on our side, you’re damn well gonna pay for a new one. Don’t think for one second this is over. Come on, Matthew. We’re done here.”

Two days later, a green chain-link fence with ivy woven through stood where the hedge used to. “It looks good,” Bambi said during dinner that night. “But she’s still a bitch.”

—Matt Doran is a creative writing graduate student and proud of his suffer-no-fools mother. Email him at matthewtdoran@gmail.com if you dare think your mother is cooler than his.