The terrorization had lasted for eleven years. The latest malicious act from B.H.’s neighbors Archie and Buck had been the soiling of his mailbox: the letter from IRS and one from his lady friend living in CO had been covered with mud.
It was the television appearance that had sparked the neighbors’ anger. B.H. had always stood out from the crowd, not because he was flamboyant and craving for attention, but because he was a good and modest guy who always wanted to assist the others and help them to get rid of their old furniture and other waste.
B.H. owned a small house with a big yard: his property was the sanctuary for old trees and moss. Almost daily, he wore his blue worker’s overall. In the summertime, he never wore shoes. The terrorization, however, had turned the happy guy into a sulking old git, and nowadays, instead of dancing barefoot, he was anxiously marching around his yard. His beard, mustache, and hair had begun to turn from gray to white, and the town’s folk were calling him “Blue Hedgehog” instead of Ben Hedge. The artist lady who had originally asked the news crew to check out B.H.’s property and tell everybody about his “remarkable lifestyle” had distanced herself from him after the harassment had started. Once, they had been friends, but nowadays, she almost completely ignored him. Grudge was what B.H. felt, but never had he cursed her or anybody else for that matter. Instead, he had turned inwards and, mentally, into the spiky animal everybody associated him with.
The elderly Georgian had wiped the mud off from the letters, and fortunately, the dirt had not soiled the handwritten arks of paper from Gloria. She was a 40-year-old unmarried woman who had dedicated her life to being “a pain in the ass” for those who were not respecting God’s priorities. She had contacted B.H. after bumping into his old interview while going through the “environmentalism in the USA” tagged media archives from 2008. It had been a part of her research, how much had the attitudes towards Nature changed in the U.S. mass media if you compared the years 2008 and 2018. B.H. and Gloria had been exchanging ideas through snail mail for ten months now. Occasionally, she had also phoned him, making him feel awkward and a bit embarrassed since it was not a common thing for him to get attention from younger females. Even the ladies around him in their 70s, 80s, or 90s were not interested in him as a person – an individual with his unique emotions, thoughts, and needs – but because of his ability to move stuff from place A to place B. He was the handyman, and even though he did flirt with a woman or two now and then, he did not feel any desire or passion towards them.
The latest letter from Gloria had been so kind and so attentive that for the first time B.H. had lowered his guard with her and written about the terrorization. The letter had been a three-sheet fact-filled tale of his life. Although it had not been a letter from a moaning git, so to speak, he had hesitated for a moment before dropping the letter into a mailbox. He did not want to bother her, but at the same time, he was tired of hiding like a hedgehog. How was it possible that for the first 50 years of his life he had been happy, but for the past eleven years so miserable? Why did he have to distance himself from everybody: to hide his true nature behind the spikes of grudge, sadness, and blooming depression and madness? It was not right.
It was Friday and the 22nd day of the month when B.H. received an unexpected phone call. It was Gloria, and she greeted him with a fake local accent and told him that she was waiting for him in the café on the main street. After a few “whats” to which Gloria answered with the flowing spasms of laughter, B.H. finally believed that she had taken time and money to meet him face-to-face. He was over the moon. How could it be? What should he wear? He felt like a complete ass, and after a few minutes pondering, he just decided to wear what he always wore. Gloria was just an acquittance, nothing more and nothing less.
When B.H. parked his Ford at the front of the café, he felt the butterflies, and for a moment, he pondered if he should go back home. Yet, he felt that he could not miss such an opportunity. Would he ever travel to CO? No, or he could, but the reason for him to do so would have to be monumental: either work or marriage. He wanted to see and to feel Gloria and also, to catch the scent of her. Again, he felt like an ass, but he took a deep breath and walked in.
The same old faces were there to greet him, but Gloria was nowhere to be seen. He hesitated, but then asked the waitress if she had seen a tourist matching Gloria’s description leaving the café. She said “yes” but then told B.H. that the lady had actually told her to tell him to wait for her. The tourist had preordered and paid his lunch. Bewildered, B.H. sat down. The moment the waitress served him the sandwich, the pineapple slices, the green salad, and the iced tea, and told him to enjoy his lunch, B.H. heard the sharp rang of the bell above the door, and as he turned around, he saw a medium-built woman with long honey-blonde hair. It was Gloria: he recognized her from the picture she had sent, but in person, her aura was fuller, and her smile made her look like a 30-year-old rather than a 40-year-old.
With a civilized and sparkly voice, Gloria announced that she had found a perfect present for B.H. She hugged the man and joined his company. Before he could overcome his sudden fit of shyness, the air was cut with the howling of a fire siren. The fire truck drove past the café, and some went to see what was going on. As B.H. looked at Gloria, he saw that there was a dried burdock flower sitting on the right shoulder of her black velvet coat. He thought it was odd since the few patches of burdocks around were growing at and near his property. As he took the liberty to move closer and gently snipped the flower off, he smelt the faint scent of gasoline. At the same moment, the waitress holding her cellphone hollered to B.H.: “Ben, I’m talking to Angie. She says that a fire has gulped Archie’s house, and the flames have now reached Buck’s yard. I think you should rush home.”
B.H.’s jaw dropped. He turned to Gloria who was trying to hide her smile. She patted B.H.’s hand and said: “No more Mr. Blue Hedgehog. It’s time for Mr. Ben Hedge to return. Go and help them. Let your neighbors feel ashamed for their wicked ways and wrongdoings. Dancing days are here again… babe.”
Paula Puolakka is a Beat poet, writer, and MA (History of Science and Ideas) who has won poetry and short story contests held in the USA and Israel and gained honor from the essay contests held in Finland, for example, by The Finnish Reserve Officers’ Federation. Between April and October 2019, Puolakka was 15 times the winner of the daily poetry challenge held by Poetry Potion (South Africa.) Her latest work can be found through Spillwords Press, Arts Quarter Books, Woody Guthrie Poets (Speak Your Mind anthology,) Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry (Word Daubers poetry collection on Lulu,) Former People, and The Voices Project.