Quirt is a short work of fiction about a man who decided to cut down his neighbor’s tree. The situation ends in a disaster as everything does in the fictional city of Tecumseh. #Tecumseh #Indiana #Bad Neighbor #tree #short fiction
My hands were in a sink of dirty dishwater when I heard Quirt’s irritating voice yell my name. I was in no mood to deal with our annoying neighbor. I had a hard day doing clerical work for Stan Jones over at Economy Insurance.
My job sucks, but it helps pay the bills. The phone was ringing off the hook the moment I stepped into the office this morning. Things went from bad to worse when the new woman Stan hired showed up twenty minutes late. Stan the Insurance Man stomped around the office most of the day wearing his normal stormy disposition.
I’d had enough by the time I turned the key in the lock on the insurance office doors at five. All I wanted out of my evening was to tidy up the house, cook dinner, and get off my feet. I didn’t have the patience or understanding needed to deal with Quirt.
The Cup & Spoon special
Ray called. My husband said he was in the middle of an emergency engine repair. He wouldn’t make it home for dinner. I should go ahead and eat without him. I knew he was lying. Motorcycle mechanics had emergencies, but Ray made sure he took care of it by quitting time. He always closed the garage door to Freedom to Ride at five p.m. He beat me home unless he went over to the Cup & Spoon. Ray’s in love with their Wednesday night fried chicken special. I wouldn’t win any Betty Crocker awards for my cooking, but that’s no reason for him to sneak over to the restaurant to avoid eating a bowl of my chili.
The doctor told him he needs to watch his cholesterol. I’ll find out if he cheated on his diet when I call Wanda in the morning. The head waitress at the Cup & Spoon loves to rat out my husband.
It’s Ray’s job to deal with Quirt
It’s Ray’s job to deal with our weird neighbor. He knows I wasn’t born with a temperament to have a rational conversation with a stubborn old man like Quirt. My mouth gets the better of me when I’m faced with a guy whose opinion of women runs along the lines of them belonging in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.
Events would never have spun out of control if Ray hadn’t gone to The Cup & Spoon for all you can eat chicken, and my day at Economy Insurance hadn’t been so hectic.
I tried not to pay any attention to Quirt, but after he called my name for the hundredth time, I was hotter than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. I finished the dishes and scraped the bowl of chili I was saving for Ray into the trash. By the time I was in the middle of sweeping my kitchen floor, all I could hear was sweet silence.
Do something about your tree
I was satisfied with the thought Quirt had decided to leave me alone and went home to pester his wife. I should have known he was regrouping for an assault, and the quiet was only a slight intermission in the war which was about to be waged over the sycamore tree growing in my backyard.
“Colleen, you got to get out here and do something about your tree,” Quirt’s squeaky voice flowed through the netting on my screen door.
I pulled back the edge of the curtain hanging at my kitchen window. The three hundred and fifty pounds that made up the mass of humanity called Quirt was standing in my backyard next to my sycamore tree. Quirt’s left hand grasped the suspenders of his overalls. Chest hair sprouted at the top of his bibs like unruly dark grass in need of a lawnmower.
The John Deer baseball cap he had on his head was sweat-stained. The gap in his mouth where his two front teeth should have been shown in the sardonic smile that spread across his face as soon as the hinges on my screen door squeaked. I took several deep breaths before I stepped out onto my back porch. It was a remnant of the training I went through back in the dark ages when I worked in law enforcement. When you were about to enter a tense situation, deep breathing helped steady your nerves and disposition.
A strong desire to stay downwind of Quirt hovered in the back of my mind. It had been my experience he carried the strong odor of perspiration and unwashed flesh with him everywhere he went. I noticed he was carrying a chain saw in his right hand. At least the motor was silent. I had to give Quirt credit for not being stupid enough to carry around a running chain saw. I wasn’t going to be able to have an intelligent conversation with this loud-mouthed man, but I’ve had enough experience with stupid to know it couldn’t be avoided when it was carrying around a chain saw.
“What’s all this commotion about?” I shielded my eyes from the sun and waited for his response.
You got to cut down your tree
“You got to cut down your tree, or I’m going to do it for you. It’s a nuisance to the entire neighborhood.” Quirt moved toward the porch. I held out my hands in front of me to warn him not to come any closer. “Everybody on the block hates that tree, but they are afraid to come and talk to you about it. They know about your temper. I’m the only one
with enough guts to stand up to you and Ray.”
“Is that so? What has my sycamore tree done that is so bad it would have everyone on the block in an uproar?”
“It isn’t so much what it’s done. It’s the fact that it sheds its leaves all over the place.”
“I’m standing on my porch, and I’m looking at ten trees. All of them have a habit of shedding leaves. What makes my Sycamore tree so different?”
“It has a habit of doing its shedding right into my yard. I’m an old man. It hurts my back to pull the ladder out of the garage every year just so I can clean out my gutters. If that sycamore were chopped down, I wouldn’t have to bother with it anymore.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you except laziness. If you don’t want to clean the gutters, why don’t you hire somebody to do the work for you?” I asked, knowing Quirt was too cheap to hire the job out to someone.
Leaves in the gutter
“Because it’s your tree, and I don’t know why I should have to go to the expense to have my gutters cleaned. I’m a retired man. My wife and I live on a fixed income. I don’t have the money to pay out to clean up the mess your tree makes. Besides, I don’t like the thought of raking the yard.”
“As I remember, Ray and I spent an entire weekend raking both of our yards last fall because you complained about my tree. We draw the line at cleaning out your gutters. Have you ever thought the maple tree right next to your porch might contribute to the blockage? I don’t see you in any rush to cut it down.”
“That maple is a different case entirely. It gives shade to my front porch and keeps down the electric bills. I ain’t about to get rid of it. Your sycamore has got to come down before its leaves start to shed. I got bad knees and a hip that needs to be replaced, so I ain’t about to go around climbing any ladders this year.” Quirt put on his pitiful face for my benefit. His clumsy act wasn’t going to get to me. The only reason the man was standing in my backyard with a chain saw was to make trouble.
Sorry about your luck Quirt
“Sorry about your luck, but my tree is going to stay right where it is. My sycamore has a purpose. I can’t say the same thing about you. There’s no way I’m cutting down my tree just to make you happy.” I could feel my cheeks starting to turn red. Quirt lit a fuse in my gut with his chain saw and his threats I was struggling to extinguish.
“I’ll be back to talk to your husband when he gets home. I should have known better than to try and have a reasonable conversation with a redheaded woman. I’ve heard it said people with red hair don’t have souls. Is that true?” Quirt’s voice raised a couple of octaves when he made the accusation.
Old Wives’ tale
“That’s an old wives’ tale, but we do have bad tempers. Mine has about reached the boiling point. While you’re talking to Ray, you might want to explain why you look in our windows when you think we aren’t paying any attention. I’ve meant to talk to my husband about it after the last time I caught you peeking into our dining room last week. Don’t even try to deny it. I saw your face pressed up to the glass.”
“I’m in the neighborhood watch. It’s my job to keep an eye on things.”
“You should be careful about that. Ray took to the habit of walking around the house naked since the kids left home. And another thing, stop going into my mailbox. I saw you take a letter out the other day, and I watched you but it back. You probably steamed it open because I saw the watermarks.”
Quirt wouldn’t back down
I placed my hands on my hips and studied Quirt. He appeared to be firm in his determination to chop down my tree. “This conversation is over. Talk to Ray when he gets home. He’s going to have the same opinion as I have about what you can do with that chain saw. Stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.”
The bang of the screen door slamming behind me was in the same decibel level like a shotgun blast. I took the vacuum out of the hall closet and went to work on the living room floor. It seemed reasonable if I used up enough energy cleaning, I might be able to work off some of the steam building up like a pressure cooker inside of me ready to blow its top. My earbuds were tucked deep in my ears and I turned the sound up on my phone. The music streaming into my ears made my heart stop racing.
I didn’t hear the noise because I was vacuuming
I managed to get the hallway done and part of the bedroom before switching off the vacuum. The sound of a motor running still filled the room, so I thought there was something wrong with the on-off switch. The music muffled the sounds around me, but I could hear a small engine. It took a second for me to realize the sound was coming from outside the house. I didn’t have to look to know it was Quirt’s chain saw making the racket. I made my way to my backdoor in record time and moved onto the porch. Quirt had the blade of the saw next to the trunk of my tree.
The man was no lumberjack. I doubt he had any experience in bringing trees to the ground. Even I know you need to drop the tree limb by limb to keep it from toppling over at a dangerous angle. It looked like Quirt managed to saw over halfway through the trunk by the time I caught on to what he was doing. I rushed for the garden hose and turned it on full force. The force from the water pressure would get Quirt’s attention.
So, I twisted the nozzle and sprayed the reckless man with enough strength to get his attention. He switched off the chain saw and glared at me through the thick safety glasses perched on his nose.
“You need to get out of my yard before something happens; we’ll both regret,” I yelled.
Quirt insists the tree is coming down
“This tree is coming down one way or another. I ain’t cleaning out those gutters another year.” The glassy look in Quirt’s eyes told me he was playing on the wrong side of rational thought. The words only had time enough to escape his mouth before a snapping noise filled the air. The sycamore tree tottered against the glooming sky before it took a plunge towards the roof of Quirts house.
It crashed through his porch and into his living room with so much force, it shook the ground. Quirt and I stood frozen for several minutes. I wasn’t sure about what I should do next. I knew I needed to take my phone out of my pocket, remove the earbuds, and call 911, but I couldn’t get my hands to move. “Now look at what you went and done,” Quirt said.
“What the hell do you mean?” A wave of grief washed over me at the loss of my tree.
“My aim would have been better if you hadn’t distracted me with the garden hose. That’s exactly what I’m going to tell the police when they get here.”
I asked Quirt about his wife
“Where’s your wife?” I asked, figuring she was at the grocery store, or she would have stopped him from doing the idiotic thing he was planning when he walked out their front door carrying a chain saw. She was the most logical member of the family.
“She was in the living room watching TV the last time I saw her.”
I heard Ray’s motorcycle rounding the corner and heading in our direction. His white beard flowed in the breeze as he coasted down the street. He looked like a man without a care in the world who’d enjoyed the all you can eat fried chicken special over at The Cup & Spoon when he pulled into the driveway. Ray’s expression changed as soon as he noticed Quirt and I glued to the spot where my sycamore tree used to stand.
Ray is home
My husband climbed off his bike and rushed in our direction. He didn’t have a chance to ask any questions before I pointed toward the house next door and yelled, “Quirt’s wife is inside. We got to get Loretta out of that house.” Ray didn’t need any further explanation. We both ran toward Quirt’s front door.
The sound of sirens blared in the distance. One of the neighbors must have called 911. Quirt didn’t move from his spot next to the trunk of the fallen tree. Ray and I rushed onto the broken porch and managed to get the front door pried open. Loretta sat in a chair in the only corner of the living room that wasn’t full of limbs and leaves. We barged through the front door.
Poor Mrs. Quirt
A look of shock was still spread across the poor woman’s face. The remote control was in her hand while she continued to try to change the channels as if a program alteration might transform her current reality. “What happened? I was just sitting here minding my own business when that tree fell on my house.” There was a glassy look to the elderly woman’s eyes. I thought she might be in shock.
“Quirt cut down my tree. Are you hurt anywhere?” I asked while I examined the woman for injuries.
“Not that I know of. I seem to be in one piece, but I can’t say the same thing for my living room. My old man was up to something stupid that’s for sure. I should have known he wasn’t on his way to the hardware store when he walked through here with that chain saw.”
We got Quirt’s wife out of the house
I helped Quirt’s wife to her feet. Ray placed one of her arms around his shoulder, and I placed the other one around mine. We navigated through the demolished living room and stepped onto the front porch. The wood beneath our feet vibrated. “We’d better get out of here. This whole place could come down on our heads,” Ray suggested. I had a terrible feeling he was right.
The first thing I noticed when we walked across Quirt’s lawn was him in deep conversation with one of Tecumseh’s finest. Economy Insurance carried all of patrol officer Harvey Stout’s insurance policies. We protect his home, his car, and his life. I watched Quirt nod his head and make dramatic gestures with his hands while he told his side of the story about how the tree happened to come crashing down on top of his house.
The second thing to catch my eye was how the garden I’d worked so hard to grow for twenty years was being trampled by the emergency crew and crowd gathered in our backyard. Ray and I helped Quirt’s wife to a waiting ambulance. The poor woman needed to be checked out for hidden injuries, which couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.
Officer Stout moved in our direction
Officer Stout moved in our direction. He unfolded what I recognized as one of the standard tiny notebook cops used to write down witness statements. I used one myself during my short stint working patrol for the Chicago PD back in my glory days. The curious cop focused on me and put a silver pen to the paper. “Why don’t you give me your version of what happened here tonight?”
“Quirt took a chain saw to my tree. I would have thought that was pretty obvious to anyone who had eyes to see,” I said.
“He claims you assaulted him with a garden hose.”
“There wasn’t any assault about it. I turned the water on to get Quirt to stop attacking my sycamore tree with his chain saw. I got him wet. It’s probably the only bath he’s had in a week. My guess is it did him a world of good.”
“The old man claims the tree fell on his house because you made his aim off when you sprayed him.”
The incident is Quirts fault
“You can’t take anything the guy says seriously. The tree is on my property. The only thing I was trying to do was defend my tree.” I was starting to feel a little intimidated. There was an outside chance I might end up behind bars. “Do we have bail money?” I asked my husband.
“We’d have to put up the house, why do you ask?”
“If I’m going to jail for assault, I want to at least get my money’s worth.” I started to move toward Quirt, but I didn’t get far. Ray picked me up off my feet. I struggled to break loose, but I didn’t make much headway. My husband has a lot of experience restraining me when my temper gets out of control.
“Please excuse my wife. This garden is her pride and joy. The tree Quirt chopped down was a big part of making this space special.”
“Are you going to stand there and let him restrain me against my will?” I squirmed in Ray’s arms to get free myself from my husband’s bear hug. I moved beyond mad into a blind rage.
Don’t arrest Quirt
“Ray looks like he’s got the situation under control.” Officer Stout jotted a few words in his notebook before he focused his attention on me. “I told the gentleman standing over there I wasn’t putting you under arrest because you have a legal right to protect your property. You used a great amount of restraint in the situation. My wife would have grabbed a shotgun and forgot about the garden hose. If you can manage to calm down, the only one going to jail tonight is the old man. That is if you decide to press charges.”
“There’s no point in having him arrested. He’d be out on bail before the ink dried on his fingers from you guys taking his prints. Talk to Loretta. I bet she’s ready to have him put in the hospital for a psych eval.” I glanced at my destroyed flower beds. “Putting him behind bars won’t bring my plants back to life.”
Quirt gets arrested anyway
Ray relaxed his hold on me and let me slide to the ground. We watched Officer Stout walk over to the ambulance, where Loretta was being checked out by the medics. After a brief conversation, Officer Stout crossed my lawn to join Quirt near the tree trunk where my sycamore once stood. He took out a pair of handcuffs and fastened them to the old man’s wrists.
A sardonic smile spread across Quirt’s toothless mouth as Stout placed him in the backseat of his police car. The strobe effect of the whirling blue lights bounced off the backside of my house.
We haven’t seen the last of that man
“We haven’t seen the last of that man. There’s no telling what he’ll do next,” I said as I watched the patrol car pull away from the curb.
Ray studied the damage created by the tree disaster in our backyard. “You’re right. Quirt will be back as soon as they let him out of the hoosegow. I’ll start building a fence tomorrow. That should slow him down some.”
They let Quirt out of the mental health facility seventy-two hours later. They must have given him a prescription for drugs during his stay. He was peaceful and lethargic until his prescription ran out. It gave Ray time to build the fence. The old man hasn’t been able to push past our parameter yet, but give him a little time. We discovered during the insurance investigation concerning our tree,
Thinking about putting the house up for sale
Quirt had been attempting to bring the sycamore down for over a week. He’d work at the trunk with his chain saw for a short time every day. The damage to Quirt’s house wasn’t as bad as first thought. The porch and part of the front wall needed to be replaced. Loretta moved in with her sister. She claimed it was too stressful to live with a crazy man. Ray and I keep a loaded shotgun next to the door.
There’s no telling what Quirt will do now that he’s off his meds. I’m trying to convince Ray to put the house up for sale. I don’t have any heart for living here now that my garden is destroyed. Ray says we’ll never get out of the property what we put into it. Nobody wants to live in a crazy neighborhood like ours. It looks like next spring, I’ll have to get to work rebuilding my garden.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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