Megan E Cassidy's bitingly satirical epistolary account of a middle class war between neighbours.
Dearest Momma and Papa,
It has been a fortnight since a banana was left atop our refrigerator, yet the pestilence of the fruit flies lives on. I have tried to capture them, but to no avail. The suggestion provided by the kind editors of The Online Home Journal for Ladies of Virtue and Courage detailed snares of paper cones leading to rotting apple slices. Sadly, the wily fruit flies used the traps for breeding purposes and have now multiplied beyond measure.
As our Sophie is absent for the evening, I endeavored to cook my darling Madison's dinner, a complex meal of all-natural soup from a can. But the dastardly swarm of flies blocked my path to the microwave, and I was too anxious to carry on. Hunter has bravely sacrificed his salt-intake to partake in Chinese takeout. Madison was content enough to dine on the remnants of yesterday's meal. I fear I am lacking their fortitude, and since the gluten-free pizza parlor across the street has terminated their delivery service for the night, I must go hungry.
My troubles are compounded by the fact that our Labor Day festivities are swiftly approaching. Between the fruit flies and the duties and responsibilities of our celebrations, I do not know how I will ever cope. What will Carolyn and William think of my sullied kitchen? What will Gretchen and Atticus say when we are forced to eat outside on the wooden patio?
Tears fill my eyes as I try to write this. I do not know why God has chosen to plague our once happy household. Perhaps somewhere along the way, I brought this karmic justice upon myself. Perhaps my trials occurred because I overstepped my boundaries last month when I informed Gretchen that her highlights were brassier than a newly-polished doorknocker. It was true, but saying it in front of her children was perhaps not entirely proper. In any case, I repent of this and my other missteps. I hope that, with a fully bleached kitchen, our troubles will soon end.
Your affectionate daughter,
September 8, 2015
I was ever so pleased that you and William could come to our little soirée yesterday, though you did humiliate me by departing prematurely. I apologize for the inconvenience of the fruit flies, which refused to dissipate even after many hours of cleaning and scrubbing on the part of our Sophie. I regret our home did not meet your exacting standards.
I also apologize for the troubles we faced with the barbeque. As you, Gretchen, and I labored over plates of organic potato salad and grilled artichokes, the men were not as watchful as they should have been, and shockingly allowed the meat to toughen and char. How shall I ever recover from this blunder? Each hour since that fateful meal, I have cried, overwhelmed with embarrassment. If only Sophie had been more vigilant in her culinary duties. If only I had the foresight to hire caterers instead of allocating such an important task to our men.
If only you, Carolyn, had purchased the meat from the butcher I recommended instead of debasing yourself by buying food from a common supermarket! I should have been more exacting in my standards regarding this point. Pardon me for my mistake in judgment; clearly the task was too much for you to handle. I promise that henceforth, I will send Sophie to find the highest quality meats, and in future, either she or a host of experts will prepare our meal.
(I will also find a more experienced sommelier to pair the meal with a fine rosé, delicately balanced to delight the palate and entice the senses. I think we can both agree that the wine provided by Gretchen was, like her matronly attire, quite dreadful.)
These are difficult times, and I value your friendship as we strive through our mutual misfortunes. For my part, I pledge to stand by you, even though your choice in meat left much to be desired and even though you were wearing white on Labor Day, a most unbefitting choice for our early autumnal celebration. In any case, I forgive you your flaws if you forgive me mine.
September 10, 2015
I was most distressed by your last letter.
I did not "malign" your protein selections. I merely pointed out that instead of becoming a patron of our local butcher, a man who produces the choicest cuts of grass-fed beef and mutton in the state, you willfully disobeyed my request and chose instead to shop among the ignorant masses.
I lie here in distress, dictating this letter to Sophie as she gently places cool towels over my brow. My head throbs as I picture you breaking my trust, navigating your way down cold impersonal aisles, and running your pristinely manicured hands over grain-fed slabs of steak and pork chops. The very image breaks my heart.
Due to this treachery, not to mention your letter's other remarks, I formally rescind my earlier apologies. Now that the fruit flies have ceased their infernal buzzing, my mind is quite clear. I can see that you acted with deliberate purpose in order to sabotage our celebrations.
Furthermore, you can mail me all the fabric swatches you wish, Carolyn, but the plain fact remains that your dress was summer white, not, as you claim, winter white. This latter, of course, would still have been inappropriate for our autumn fête, as the term itself implies one should wait a season until winter has actually arrived before wearing it. Thus, in either case, you are clearly in the wrong.
To answer your final question, yes. Our old feud is reignited. This incident is far worse than your previous sin of showing up on the occasion of Gretchen's wedding in the same dress I had chosen to wear. I feel even more forsaken than the afternoon you declared that you were also naming your youngest child Madison, though Hunter and I had chosen the name for our baby just days before.
I cannot believe I ever considered you a trusted ally in this war against ignorance and inelegance. I now see that the words refinement, sophistication, and discrimination have never been a part of your tragically limited vocabulary.
Call, text, or write only when you are able to admit your faults and can make sincere attempts to correct them. Otherwise, I never want to see your face again.
September 13, 2015
My Beloved Hunter,
I am troubled today by a new ordeal; these hardships never cease. William and Carolyn, our pugnacious neighbors across the lane, have allowed their teenage son to purchase a new car, and he has inexplicably decorated the sides and back of his new vehicle with garish stickers and decals. Now, when I look out the window into the great panorama of the lands outside our home, my eyes are continually drawn to this crude display.
Tacky signage screams from every angle, "Tolerance!" "Replant the Rainforests!" "Foie Gras is Not High-End Cuisine!" "Conserve Water!" While I do not completely fault this ill-advised teen for the revolutionary political notions so beloved by rebellious youth, announcing them to the entirety of our district via permanent bumper stickers is indecent. Think of our Madison and the other impressionable children forced to view this lurid sight on their way to school each morning!
Convince this ruffian to alter the décor which mutilates and defiles our otherwise pristine landscape. Write a formidable letter to his guardians if you must. Urge them to cease sparing the rod and spoiling the child. William, at the very least, may heed your words and relent.
I beseech you to act now for the sake of our home and our community. First come the bumper stickers, then come the protestors, and before we know it, we shall be living in the midst of an appalling commune where human feces are used as fertilizer for flower gardens.
Your loving wife,
September 14, 2015
My woes continue as our war escalates. I must say that your maneuvers are admirable, and I rue the day I allowed you within a hundred miles of my once happy homestead. Your son's automobile is appalling, and I cannot believe that William allowed it to remain in the driveway, particularly after receipt of Hunter's strongly worded letter.
I thought my outrage knew no bounds, but I was sorely mistaken. You crossed the Rubicon when you changed the curtains in your front parlor, and I will not accept this atrocious attack.
Carolyn, I refer you to the Association regulations which you agreed to when you moved here. Rule 83 states, "All curtains, blinds, and other window treatments must be white in color or exhibit a white backing." You cannot flaunt these regulations like a brazen hussy by choosing to display an extravagant shade of blue in your windows!
I know what you will say to this, for I do recognize your tactics. You will reply that the drapes are Tiffany blue, and should therefore be acceptable. But the rest of us want to feel at home when gazing out at our neighborhood - not as if we are standing in the middle of an overrated jewelry emporium.
When I first viewed this distasteful scene, I cried out, "Where shall I go when hostile forces await my every step? To whom shall I turn when my bosom friend seeks out a life of shocking distaste?" After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I finally found my resolve.
If you do not wave the white-flagged curtains of defeat, I shall have no choice but to report you to the Homeowners' Association. I assure you that Gretchen and I have already drafted a petition. Gretchen is particularly anxious to begin collecting signatures, fueled by a desire to ruin you after you declared her book selections "uneven and vulgar" at our last literary society luncheon. She has become a wonderful ally, and I plan to take her shopping soon. Taste is something only a select few of us are blessed with at birth, but Gretchen may still be able to blossom under my watchful tutelage.
PS: For obvious reasons, I am cancelling Madison's playdate. I shall inform my daughter that yours has lice. I have no doubt that if it is not true now, it will be true one day soon.
September 16, 2015
My Dear Sophie,
Madison and I have travelled to the park alone this afternoon because my war with Carolyn rages on, and it seems you, my once loyal trooper, are turning against me. Why do you insist on mistreating me? Have we not treated you almost as one of our family? And yet, your words to me this morning were most distressing.
It is true that upon acceptance of your employment, you informed me that the "Christian" name given to you by your (possibly saintly but no doubt misguided) mother is Tallulah. But why should that matter? I am in the midst of a war. I cannot think on both your vanities and my sanity. Each reminder from you, no matter how gently you phrase it, pushes me further into the depths of despair.
Your continual harping seems to demand an explanation, and I fear I must give one, or I shall never have enough silence to find inner peace. Firstly, Tallulah is too difficult a name to pronounce. I will not allow the questions of whether to pronounce it with a qu sound as in quash, or as a k sound as in "kick" to trouble my fragile psyche. And please refrain from any cultural commentary. I have neither the time nor the patience for such trivialities.
Beyond this point, which should be enough to silence your doubts, all of my maids and servants have been called Sophie. As I fight these hectic battles of taste and style over tackiness and ignorance, keeping one name for all employees saves me much time and aggravation. I cannot worry about the exact name (or horrifyingly ethnic pronunciation) for each new girl.
You threaten to leave our employ, but I assure you that you are like a member of our family, even though we do insist that you eat in the kitchen instead of the more formal dining room. I cannot find it within myself to share a table with the help. However, be assured that although you do not eat at our table, you are there in spirit. Whenever I bring a fork to my lips to taste your scrumptious delicacies, I can almost feel your presence at my side.
Now that these difficulties are behind us, I pray you are able to continue attempting to work in the dutiful and loyal manner I require. To this end, my first request is that you book an appointment for both Madison and I at Francisco's Salon and Day Spa.
Carolyn and I have patronized Maurice's rival establishment for the past six years, but after much careful deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot risk seeing her there, particularly with my cuticles in their current condition, and my hair nearly splitting at the ends. It would cause me to lose my upper hand in our little dispute. It was a difficult journey to this decision, one with many torments and obstacles barring my path, but now the decision has been made, I cannot turn off my chosen course.
And so, it is up to you. Be brave and fearlessly call upon Francisco's. The woman manning the secretarial helm is a cutthroat wench by the name of Tish who does not suffer fools lightly. So, when you call, please give the salon my name, or at the very least, give them the name Sophie. I fear that "Tallulah" will not pass the secretary's first line of defense, and I need an appointment this week, not next month.
Know that this is their prejudice, dear, and not my own. For my part, I love you almost as much as I love our cat Juniper.
Until my return,
September 17, 2015
I feel as if civilization itself is coming to an end. I pray you are sitting while reading this, dear one. If you are standing and skimming it on your cell phone, please cease. The import of my statements may cause you to stumble.
After a full twelve weeks of service, our Sophie has deserted us. After receiving her notice, I also was also given a missive from Carolyn stating that Sophie would now be in her employ and going by the name Tallulah, as my former friend found that moniker more fitting. I cannot think of anything more dreadful.
Meanwhile, the disastrous automobile decals and tacky blue curtains still mar my view of our land, and I do not know where to turn. I believe our feud may last longer than I first expected, and this may mean temporarily placing Madison in a new kindergarten, one where the schoolmarms and headmistresses are unfamiliar with Carolyn's daughter Madison and will not encourage their continuing friendship.
While I have charged Momma and Papa to investigate those possibilities, you and I must soldier on, and therefore, I am requesting that you procure a new Sophie before the week is out. I am sorry that our dear maid has departed from our world, but I cannot bear the thought of going on without any help or support. And I obviously cannot hire someone myself. You know how fragile my disposition has been lately.
Please move in haste, my dear. Your love means more to me now than it ever did before. You are my backbone and my lifeline.
Always and forever,
September 25, 2015
Darling Beloved Carolyn,
I forgive you all your faults, including the theft of our beloved Sophie. I realize we have been angry with one another as of late, but I am on my knees pleading with you to put our petty differences aside. As we have been squabbling, the most cataclysmic event has come to pass.
The Internet is no longer accessible from our little home, and word comes to us that no one shall be able to mend it until tomorrow. Think of these tremulous hours spent without a portal to the outside world!
You may ask, dearest, how I am able to correspond with you this dark and joyless day. The truth is that I write from inside the public library, which hums with a stench of urine and shame. This dreadful place is my only haven of refuge.
Underhanded librarians creep around every corner, pointing their talons toward paper-bound tomes on abandoned shelves, beckoning me to hold these manuscripts in my hands. Carolyn, can you imagine the horror of holding an actual book while thin sheets of paper scrape and puncture your delicate skin? My body shudders at the thought.
I defy these harpies and read my tablet, maintaining ideals above the old-fashioned notions of this backwards place. As I eagerly await returning to the safety and comfort of our street, I think of your kind hospitality. Through all of our disagreements, your home has always been a space of stability and safety, even if the rooms are a bit confining and the floor plan not as open as mine.
The day is long, and I seek sanctuary. I have spoken with my parents already, but they are away this evening and cannot take us in. Momma recommended borrowing some library books to read should my batteries perish. She then suggested purchasing a puzzle, but neither I nor my sweet Madison can bear the thought. I weep when I think of my childhood hours spent slaving over an unsound card table, trying to match tiny jig-sawed pieces together. I will not doom my child to the same fate.
Fate seems continually stacked against the both of us, Carolyn. But I know that though we have skirmished, we have always been on the same side of a larger war. In the midst of our quarrels, I took one small comfort when gazing toward your homestead. I noted that you too have been unrelenting in perpetually watering your lawn, even though the authorities have threatened legal recourse.
Carry on, Carolyn. Ignore the wearisome cautions regarding our supposed drought. We live in California and we have the means to acquire whatever we want, whenever we want. First they take our verdant lawns, then our golf courses, and then our swimming pools. What shall be left? Nothing but desiccated desert plains and the parched residents struggling to carve out decent lives amongst them.
I must bid you leave now, as this dreadful library allows but three hours of online access a day. I entreat you, allow Madison and I to enter your gates. One cannot live without Wi-Fi, and your signal is the strongest in the land. Beyond that, you are like the sister I never had. For although I have three sisters, I cherish none as dearly as I do you, my best friend. I have yearned for your companionship and have bitterly grieved our petty quarrels.
September 26, 2015
In all of your madness, I never expected to see anything as disgustingly vile as your last correspondence!
I am nearly unable to read or write for the pain behind my eyes, so enraged am I at your cruel joke. I seek comfort, yet no one seems to come to my aid. I do not know whether I will be able to endure!
After I sincerely implored you to allow us shelter in your home, you refused to unlock the gate. This would be bad enough, but then, you had the audacity to have our new Sophie deliver a gift basket to Madison in form of reply. I cannot excuse you for the "gifts" which you bestowed upon my innocent child!
The Frozen DVD you sent to Madison to "distract her from a lack of Internet" now plays day and night. Strains of saccharine music float into my room, assaulting my ears and burrowing into my brain. If you desired to persecute me, you succeeded. For now, Madison has become your instrument of torture, warbling in her untrained voice the words I have already come to loathe. Over and over again, I hear her begging me to "Let it go!" but I cannot.
For if this present was not bad enough, you defiled my home by further by stuffing the basket with factory-processed popcorn, chocolates, marshmallows, and artificial juice boxes!
How dare you!
After the conflicts and struggles we fought together when we petitioned to have corn syrup banned from our children's schools, I never thought that you of all people would never betray me in this way. You have directly attacked my sweet daughter's ever-expanding waistline, and I shall never forgive you!
My hands tremble as I write this.
How long, Carolyn? How long have I struggled to fight against this dreadful monstrous plight, which is even now warring against my child and yours? I feel today as if all those labors were in vain. I have lost, not just a battle, but an entire war!
You have taken up with my worst enemy! Corn syrup is truly the most dreadful appalling abysmal bane of my existence, and I JUST CANNOT EVEN...
Dear Mrs. Banks,
Mrs. Christina seems to have passed out in front of the keyboard, so I'm taking her to the hospital. It's probably just dehydration, but I guess last time she fainted, the doc seemed to think it could be stress-related, and obviously I want to be careful, especially my first week on the job! I'm sure she'll write more once she's got some fluids in her.
I don't think she was totally done writing, but I thought it might be something important, and I also thought you'd want to know what happened to her when she didn't respond right away.
If you'd like, I can arrange for a basket of flowers or muffins to be sent to over to her hospital room in your name. Let me know either way.
Maria (The new Sophie)
October 29, 2015
To update you on the situation, it's been three days now without any changes. Christina seems to have gone into some type of shock, and even the specialists don't know what's wrong with her. She just rocks back and forth, muttering about corn syrup and Disney, of all things. No one's quite sure what happened. The last time she had a spell, she was insensible for an hour or so. This time, the doctors believe her condition may be permanent.
Thanks so much for the basket of muffins, which Maria and I enjoyed, and the basket of movies, which Madison adores. I appreciate having your and Will's support during this difficult time. I know you asked about a possible divorce. I cannot fully consider that possibility yet. It has been over a month, but Christina's condition may improve. However, for the sake of her fragile health, I am sending her away to a special facility with more attentive care. Don't worry about me. Maria is more helpful than I ever would have realized. Thanks again for recommending her to me. I don't know how this house could function without her.
On a separate, unrelated note, our office Halloween party is in a few days. The partners at my firm always choose a bawdy theme, and I'm unsure what to do about my costume. Normally, I would ask my wife, but since she's unavailable at the moment, I come to you, a woman of obvious sophistication whom I still consider to be her best friend, even though I realize you had some sort of a tiff recently.
My silly little question is this: how does one avoid wearing white to a post-Labor Day toga party? Would colored sheets suffice?
Again, thanks so much for all your help. Come visit again when you can. My best to Will and the kids.