Pop Goes the Weasel by Sandra Arnold

Mr Pop-Pop-Poppity Pop begins every day at 6 am shooting at rabbits. The blasts from his shotgun shatter each morning. Then the new neighbours’ four dogs start barking as soon as their owners drive off to work. The man across the road starts up his chainsaw and after hours of whining and grinding two more 100-year-old oaks fall to the ground. He says he hates trees. All that raking of leaves in Autumn. Another neighbour hops onto his ride-on mower and zips up and down the grass verge in front of his neatly trimmed hedge. Up and down. Up and down. Until it’s bowling green perfect. Over the cacophony the dogs keep up their barking and set off a reciprocal racket from the dogs on the new housing estate which now sprawls across what used to be farmland. The barking stops at 6pm when the dog owners return. That’s the cue for the neighbour on the corner to rev the engine of his motorbike on his evening race around the roads until he’s completed ten circuits. Revving and revving until 9pm when light begins to leach from the sky. A moment of quiet before the boy racers from the housing estate roar down the road with their stereos at full blast, leaving swirls of black tyre tracks on the grey asphalt. 

By midnight the village is silent. Tabitha sits on her verandah missing the warmth of her cat,  a casualty of the boy racers. Everything she left behind in the city a decade ago is creeping closer. Not the all-night Friday and Saturday drunken parties. Not the neighbour playing his bagpipes at those parties. But the tranquility she loved here is gone. She remembers looking over acres of wheat and corn before farmers sold off their fields to property developers. She remembers pūkeko with their chicks in the hedgerows before the bulldozers came and high fences staked out new boundaries. 

Her children are long gone to a big city in another country. They love the buzz, they say. They keep telling her to sell up, move countries, and buy a place near them. They ask her how she can stand living in that godawful village with its crushing silence. But what she remembers from all her visits to the city with the buzz is the crush of the crowds and the deafening roar. 

She remembers visiting a lighthouse with her parents when she was a child before the lighthouses in New Zealand became automated. She remembers the longing in her father’s face as the lighthouse keeper described his days identifying birds, his nights identifying stars and listening to the sea. She remembers her mother’s frown when her father slipped away to gaze at the shush-shushing waves.

She remembers reading a while back that some old lighthouses were up for sale. She wonders if that’s still true. 

An owl hoots in the trees, bringing her back to her garden under the arch of a star-filled night. She thinks of her days shared with quails and fantails and blackbirds and thrushes and green finches and chaffinches and song-filled magpies. She wonders if that is enough.

Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books including three novels, a non-fiction work and a collection of flash fiction.  Her work has been widely published and anthologised internationally and placed and short-listed in various competitions. She has been nominated for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and The Pushcart Prize.  

www.sandraarnold.co.nz