Bridges Burning

In this dirty, old part of the city

where the sun refused to shine

People tell me their ain’t no use in tryin’

The Animals 1965 song We Gotta Get Out Of This Place opens with those lyrics.

Sometimes living in the city can feel like that.

Big buildings looming. Concrete and steel. Garbage on the streets. Trees being cut down again and again. Too much traffic. Too many obnoxious people flaunting their mobile phones like medieval broadswords. Too much noise and dust and smoggy, gray light.

I can deal with those things. They’re not necessarily negatives in my eyes. I’m used to them. If the stark edginess of a city is tempered with a bit of green space and some things that suggest humans actually live there, then I’m OK with the overblown industrial motif of it all.

But sometimes the humans who live there are not worth bothering with. I often liken my life to a Sci-Fi novel. I think it’s called something like Fortress. I envision that I single-handedly am holding back the apocalypse erecting a wall around the perimeter of my garden that cannot, will not be breached. Stalwart, ready, in the trenches, armed with nothing more than the long garden shears I use to trim the tops of the camellia bushes and that old umbrella I have with the spike on the end. I stand. Naked and alone.

Fortress, indeed. I should call the Sci-Fi novel that is my life Why-Don’t-You-Just-Come-In-And-Take-Everything-I-Have-Including-My-Self-Respect.

Except you can’t have my self-respect.

It is the one thing I will fight to the death for. Even if all I have is a mouldy old umbrella to defend myself with.

What am I actually talking about?

My neighbours. Yes, you know them. Those pus-filled, brimstone spitting spawn from the Hellmouth who live next door.

They have gone on holiday. Their twenty-something kids come and go. Eating all the food from the fridge, painstakingly checking their mother’s internet history in case she has left the password to Netbank lying around somewhere so they can inadvertently transfer some cash (I just pressed ENTER and it put five grand in my account….); smoking so much pot that the other night the garden was filled with such a large amount of acrid, sickly sweet smoke that I actually saw the ghost of Bob Marley.

This is all fine and to be expected except for one thing. They are not feeding their little cat. Now I like that cat. I don’t know her name but she is cute. She has white stockings on her feet. A little calico cat. That cat and I have been friends for the past four years. Secretly.

The other day the little cat was crying in that pitiful way cats sometimes do. Not in the I want attention NOW way that my Aunt Jo’s old cat Winston used to do. That was a cat that would have fit in to 21st century life with aplomb – self-centred, narcissistic, in your face. He was named after Winston Churchill who is my Aunt’s favourite politician hands down. I’m not sure if it is possible but I think some animals can channel their namesake because that cat would not have looked out of place with a bowler hat and a cigar. I am also certain that when he miaowed it was with a perfectly crisp English intonation.

But I am rambling. Winston used to cry in a demanding way. Petulant, fractious, it’s all about me, me me; but the little cat next door was crying in a way that said: I’m hungry and alone.

She was skinny. I don’t know how long it had been since she’d eaten. I had some cat food in the pantry (which I keep in case a stray cat happens along) which she wolfed down. She also drank an entire bowl of water.

And she was cold. Really cold. It was one of those late Autumn days where the wind comes up from Antarctica and cuts you like a knife. She was shivering. I had an old blanket in the laundry that I was considering throwing out so I let her wrap herself up in it. She settled down, gave a cute little sigh and fell asleep.

When one of the stoner kids came home I went out and let her have it. She is 25 years old and cannot be responsible enough to look after a cat. It’s pathetic.

She didn’t even have the good grace to apologise or thank me, just looked at the ground while picking at a love bite on her neck.

About two hours later I got a phone call. It was Stoner Girl’s parents calling from their 5-star resort. I got the impression I had interrupted their cocktails and I braced myself for a rant. But the rant didn’t come. They thanked me. Actually, thanked me for caring for their cat. They said they couldn’t live with themselves if anything happened to that cat. They said they had misjudged me.

Stoner Girl’s parents and I have had some vicious fights in which they have more or less said that I am a second-class citizen because I rent my house. I didn’t know these facts until I met them but apparently renters are under-educated, usually drug dealers, never put out their garbage and are basically a menace to society. Because they rent they are not worth talking to in a courteous way. Ever.

Do I sound resentful? Damn straight. Do not ever judge me based on your perception of how much money I do or do not have. Just don’t do it. It is one of the things I cannot forgive.

My neighbour asked if we could have a coffee when she returns but I refused. I am a cold-hearted bitch when it comes to stuff like this. They have treated me so badly that I just can’t go back. I would never ever let an animal suffer no matter who it belonged to but to give the time of day to a woman who has threatened to sue me because I complained about her kids having a party with 200 people in their tiny semi-detached house when she went away for the weekend? Well, it just won’t be happening.

Perhaps the tension between us will ease. And that is a good thing. But as far as I’m concerned nothing terribly much has changed. For now the bridges just keep on burning.

26 thoughts on “Bridges Burning

  1. Well written. Sometimes it’s a good day’s work to burn bridges. Especially wise action when you’re on the right side. Surely there are a lot of those folks but fortunately there are some mighty fine ones, too.


  2. Gah! People like that make me crazy! We have one behind us that made our last summer less than awesome when she set the city on us for a messy back yard. According to the other neighbors in the area, she is not well liked.

    Perhaps it is the same for your nasty neighbors.

    However, I will say one nice thing about your neighbors: they care about the cat. They care enough to call you and thank you. I would have liked to hear that conversation because I’m sure it didn’t go at all the way the idiot daughter thought it would: “Oh, mummy, that horrid creature next door, you know, the RENTER, actually had the nerve to chastise me because we had been too stoned to feed your cat. Really, mummy, the nerve!”
    “My cat? You forgot to feed my cat? I give you run of the house while we’re gone and you neglect the ONE THING that likes me? You are all out of the will.”

    Bridges may burn, and spleens will vent, but kitties are saved because of lovely people like you.



  3. ok…proofreading is not my forte. The conversation I was referring to was between the mother and daughter, not the one where she called you… it’s time for a nap. πŸ™‚


  4. Oh I can just picture Winston the cat with a bowler hat. I’m still chuckling. But I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough time with these so-called neighbours, and that poor cat! That’s just apalling. A friend of my mum’s ended up being adopted by a beautiful Siamese cat because she fed it and socialised with it when its owners neglected it. Its “owners” kicked up a huge fuss when she wanted to move and take the cat with her, but that cat was determined and so was our friend.

    We’ve also been incredibly lucky – when we rented we lived next door to the most beautiful couple who had owned their home for fifty years. They were so kind to us, and we still receive and send Xmas cards and she has sent D a birthday card each year (her husband died just before D was born). I must phone her. I will do that today.



  5. Hi Selma,
    Doesn’t say much for the kids does it, really adults that should have more sense and a lot more brains. Good on you for making sure the cat was looked after, by the sounds of it the cat may not have still been around when the owners got home.


  6. This is EXACTLY why I cannot stand my inlaws, besides other reasons, the number one is the fact that they look down their noses at us and treat us as though we are second class because we rent. The nerve, home is where the heart is whether it’s a tent or a mobile home or an apt or a flipping cardboard box. Their children actually informed mine that we didn’t “count” cos we lived in an apt. Oh it boils my blood!

    Too little far too late for your neighbors . You cannot treat people like shit and then expect them to welcome you with open arms once you “approve” of something they’ve done. Good on you Selma! Stand your ground!


  7. Love the idea of the ‘overblown industrial motif’ and the wonderful description of Winston (with a name like that …). Your writing is so entertaining Selma, even when the topic can be really sad or disheartening. At least you came to the rescue of the kitty πŸ™‚ as of course we knew you would. You wouldn’t be ‘Selma in the City’ without the city, I suppose – there are always good and bad things about city and country.


  8. TUMBLEWORDS – Oh absolutely. There are many, many great people living around here. I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t. But often it’s the negative ones who make the most noise and really, just carry on about nothing. I just take people on their merits or who they are as a person but not everyone does the same. It’s such a shame. Great to see you!

    KAREN – They do care about the cat. It may be their only redeeming feature but at least they have one, right? I think their main problem is that they have no control over their kids and take the lies their kids tell them as absolute truth. Very dangerous. They haven’t actually hurt me but they’ve just made me despise them for their pettiness. Once I got a letter in my mailbox outlining how long it had taken them to sweep up the leaves from my jacaranda tree that had landed in their garden. This is what I’m dealing with. I don’t know what to say to people like that. If only my problems were so minor.

    And yeah, I think the convo the stoner daughter had didn’t turn out as she would have liked. And I am proud and pleased I saved the kitteh. I love that little one!


  9. DAOINE – I’m so glad your mum’s friend got to take the cat with her. That is brilliant. And I am even more glad you had such a positive relationship with your neighbours. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Even when I rented as a student I got on with my neighbours. I just don’t understand it. Sydney has really changed for the worse in some respects. Thanks for the hug.

    MAGS – I was so worried, Mags. The poor little thing was starving. How could they do that to her? She’s a little darling. Whatever happens, the most important thing is that the cat is OK. That’s all I care about.

    CATHY – I am sorry you are going through that. It is something I just don’t understand. What difference does it make? The fact is that the majority of people in Europe rent. I have friends in France and Germany who don’t know anyone who owns their own home. My friend in Paris has a 99 year lease. To all intents and purposes it is her flat. I just don’t get it.

    And you are so right in saying; ‘Too little, too late’ for my neighbours. You can’t treat people badly for years and then expect them to think kindly of you just cause you’ve had a change of heart. They’ve got a lot of work to do to get me on side. But boxes of chocolates might help. And book vouchers. And money in envelopes. I’m not fussy πŸ˜†

    GABRIELLE – I take that as a fantastic compliment because it is one of my aims as a writer to be entertaining and to have people want to continue reading even if I am touching on a dark or negative subject. Thank you so much for saying that. I think it is important to delve into the negative issues because it might help someone in a similar situation but also approaching it with a sense of humour can put it more readily into perspective. Thanks for your comment. It has made my day!


  10. I wouldn’t know the lady next door rented her house, until she told me she must see her landlord about having a fence repaired.

    Neither did I realise that the people in a house I *thought* was rented actually bought it from their landlord a couple of years ago. I suppose we don’t talk about these things; I could say ‘I own this house outright, and every stick and stitch in it’, but it sounds horribly smug, so I don’t.

    Do you think your neighbour is trying to mend fences? If so, you’re doing the right thing; don’t jump into it, just let it happen gradually. Like when I once had serious issues with neighbours (it ended with them calling the cops, and HIM getting arrested!). They tried to ‘make it up’, but we never got beyond politely acknowledging each other’s presence.


  11. Oh Selma, I love both your compassion and you resolute conviction. I get all fired up just reading you! I’m so glad you looked after that poor little cat, and no, it shouldn’t be that simple for the neigbhours to suddenly deem you ok and expect to be friends. You write about tricky stuff so well and with such humour, it almost feels wrong to have enjoyed it! :o)


  12. Crappy neighbours are the worst kind of problem, always “in your face” and never a good surprise from them it seems, always the same bad behaviour. I hope you can get away from these people someday soon Sel. Sounds like a situation that isn’t going to improve. I’ve had years of bad BAD neighbours, in several locations, including the animal cruelty part, it’s hell. The only justice is that in all these cases, they did get their “just rewards” in the end, it took a long time to see it though and in the meantime, it was me in hell putting up with them. I am so sorry about this. Sending hugs, G


  13. “I often liken my life to a Sci-Fi novel. I think it’s called something like Fortress. ”

    Me too. However mine is called “The life, loves & hates of Captain Roshan Menon – Space Babe Magnet Extraordinaire”!


  14. i can relate. i have a similar conflict. i keep wondering if i should forgive. because i know i’d be over it if i did, but also i cant help but shrink from any extra contact. based again, on past experience. it’s a balance i think, in the end.
    like i feel i could appreciate the other better from a distance, because of what gets stirred up in contact, which is repeated frustration. its about cats, too!
    it’s about having the presence to “hear” the animals, to “see” them. how blind do you need to be to not notice whats up with your own family’s cat. so glad you were there for the little one.

    i still dont know about forgiving tho. maybe the old saying is true about forgiving but not forgetting, in a circumstance where too much stuff has been bad news.

    geez, i would dream of getting a written statement of intent to friendliness at that coffee meeting, and of course, probably be disappointed ha ha


  15. Those are the tree cutting neighbours right? Though I hear you about holding grudges and anger, you might give the coffee a chance. Even if just to get a chance for you to exhale, to be mosre comfortable. Do it for you. XOX


  16. I love your initial description of those “pus filled” neighbors. And “the ghost of Bob Marley” just made me grin.
    Unfortunately, this is a pathetic situation, as all neighbor disputes are. There is something about people living in close proximity to one another that brings out the worst in them. Many of them seem to feel threatened. That’s why I live in the desert with neighbors who are well-spaced. Well, actually, I don’t know how many of them are spaced, as they’re not close enough for me to smell the smoke.

    You need to handle this the way your heart tells you to handle it. For now, you saved your compassion for the one who really deserved it==and that was the cat!


  17. I have a neighbor problem like that! My kids heard the word sh** for the first time from my older neighbor!! Now though, years later she waves to me, which shocks me. I just wave back. I kill them with kindness and feel I am winning the battle b/c I am the one in charge then. I hate fighting so I am happier this way. It is awesome that they tried to make amends though, but I get where you are coming from. Too bad those kids aren’t being watched… and even worse, the kitty! You are GREAT to have stepped in. I would have taken the cat in to my home and never told! πŸ™‚


  18. TRAVELRAT – Everyone in my part of Sydney knows who rents and who doesn’t. The ‘owners’ walk pasted the rented houses with a look of smugness on their faces. It is quite sickening. I don’t understand why they are so preoccupied with it. At the end of the day we are part of the same community. It shouldn’t matter.

    Wow. I’m sorry it got to the stage where you had to call the cops on your neighbour. I can understand it having dealt with some of the things I’ve had to with regard to mine. They might be trying to mend fences but deep down I just don’t trust them. We shall see.

    DEBORAH – Sorry to get you all fired up there. I do write a bit about the tricky stuff. In a way it helps me to make sense of it. I am forever trying to figure out human motivation. The most important thing for me in this situation is that the wee cat was OK. She is such a cutie pie!


  19. GERALDINE – I know exactly what you mean and I am so so sorry you’ve had to go through it too. At times it can be really difficult to live with. I long for the days in my old house where I used to have cups of coffee every day with my neighbours. It was bliss. We used to help each other with our gardens and all sorts of things. I feel somewhat dehumanised living where I do now because of the stress. It has taken much of the joy out of the every day. I think I might have to move.

    ROSHAN – Hahahahaha. Don’t know how you’d find the time to fly those spaceships with all those babes after you all the time. You crack me up πŸ˜†

    SUSAN – It was all about the cat. I do love little kittehs so much !!!

    TIPOTA – I am sorry to hear you are experiencing a bit of trouble too. It is hard when people neglect their own animals – makes you wonder why they have them in the first place. The way I look at it is if you don’t have the time to care for them, don’t get a pet. It’s that simple.

    I will shy away from further contact with my neighbours, I suspect. It’s been 4 years of disregard – I can’t see it changing any time soon. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see.

    LAURI: They ARE the tree cutting neighbours. I know I should give it a chance but part of me thinks – ‘What’s the point?’ Still, an olive branch is an olive branch…..

    TIMOTEO – You got it in one. It’s the needlessness of the situation that gets to me. People going on and on about things that are just so petty. I can’t be bothered with things like that. I would love to live in the desert right now. Such an amazing landscape. You are very fortunate!

    KATHERINE – You are definitely approaching things the right way. Kindness can be very disarming. I suspect for me that there is too much water under the bridge, though. And it is very murky. As long as the cat is OK that’s all that matters!


  20. TRAVELRAT – Whoops. I read that wrong, didn’t I? My neighbour has actually threatened me with the police and with lawyers all because I dared to call her out on her kids. Having the cops called on you just gives you an edge of street cred, doesn’t it? Word.


  21. I live in the city, and I love it; I love the colour and the sounds and the action. Yesterday I was sitting on a sunny patio with my daughters, and one of them said, as we watched a disabled woman sail by on a motorized gurney rigged just to accommodate her twisted body, “some things you only see in a city.” But yes – it’s the people in the city that get me down. I get weighed down by rudeness, impatience, unwillingness to SEE one another.

    Sometimes, as you say, Selma, we just have to walk away from it and soldier on.


  22. It should be the other way around shouldn’t it? It should the PEOPLE that sustain one another. I guess we need to grasp on to those experiences in which they do.


  23. JENNIFER – We surely do. It should be the people who sustain one another. I think we’ve got everything backwards, that’s why the world is in such a state. Having said that though, I do like most of the things about city life. There are so many wonderful things to see. I probably would find it difficult to live somewhere quieter.

    KATE – That’s them. They threw cigarette butts into my garden and some of them were still lit. And I’m the one who’s the psycho! Go figure….


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