Ashley McConnell has written fantasy, horror, and media tie-in novels, half a dozen short stories, and edited more nonfiction than she likes to think about. She lives "back East," in the soggiest drought she's ever seen, with horses, dogs, cats, and books. She publishes the Bloodstained Bookshelf, a list of projected mysteries in print, and is currently working on getting her backlist available as e-books. Her website is http://www.mirlacca.com.
by Ashley McConnell
One day, not too terribly long ago, I sat on the back patio of my house in a fair-sized Southwestern city, and I counted the number of roofs I could see.
Eight houses all around me, hemming me in.
And traffic roaring, all day and all night, on the main street two blocks over.
I sort of knew the neighbors on either side—the agoraphobe and her mother, the family with kids who kept hitting baseballs into my back yard and complaining when the dogs came to find out where they were coming from. I knew the guy in one of the houses that backed onto mind had a little kid who teased my German Shepherd, and hated the fact that the dogs barked invitations for him to come and play. I wasn’t really on bad terms with anyone, but wasn’t particularly close to anyone either. Most of the folks I shared interests with were either at work, or on the internet, which is a much wider neighborhood with no roofs encroaching at all.
So I retired, and I moved, back East where there was water (“But we’re having a drought!” “How can you have a drought when there’s running water in that creek?” Easterners don’t really understand drought, I think). There are a lot more people in the East than in the Southwest, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I live far away (sometimes, I admit, a bit too far away) from fair-sized cities or even good-sized towns. I can sit on my back porch and count roofs, yes—but I have to squint to see them, and if the clouds are low, the ones across the valley (at least a mile as the crow is supposed to fly and doesn’t) are invisible. My next-door neighbors have more dogs than I ever did, but they’re a couple hundred yards up the road. We say hello when we go out to our respective barns to feed horses, and exchange tips on hay prices. They mow my steepish places, and I bake pumpkin bread. The dogs have acres in which to explore, and only bark at the folks who get lost on our dirt roads.
We have deer who are lovely and graceful and devastate gardens. We have wild turkeys—a clutch of them, eight or ten, fly across the dirt road in front of my car in the morning. Turkeys, it turns out, really are stupid birds.
Down the road a piece (and it’s a phrase that makes sense, the same way that “Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise” does, when you have to cross that creek to get home, and when it rains, it’s running fast enough to whip your car sideways between the banks—and they still think it’s a drought) someone has built a Fresh Produce stand, where you can get tomatoes and squash and pumpkins and corn and all the things the deer destroyed in your own garden. I don’t know where the roof of their house is—I can’t see it from my back porch. That’s okay. They can’t see mine either.
I’m not hemmed in here. I can sit and write and listen to the mockingbirds and cardinals. It took me ages to figure out that the sound that kept me awake all night was not, in fact, my heat exchanger trying to collapse, but a whippoorwill. I have acquired far too many cats—two things you will never lack in this part of the world, alas, are deer and stray cats. I get up early to feed the horses, and pause at the paddock gate to look over the valley and count the roofs in the early morning light.
There are eight of them.
It's all in where you sit.