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In the end, after I told him about the poisoned orange juice a couple of times, we reached an agreement: we will have a new cook, but he is the one that is going to find them. I am not fully satisfied with this resolution — Albert is evidently terrible at picking cooks. But I was much too tired to start a bigger argument. And he is right, looking for a new cook would take up too much energy.



I decided not to tell Maria about going to her house the other day, but I needed to tell her about her parents coming over for dinner. Her reaction surprised me: she did not like the idea. I said I wanted to talk to them, to see what they are like. But she insisted that I must not do that. What should I do now? They are coming tomorrow! Albert will be upset if I tell him we will have to cancel dinner — and he is already upset about me going to the neighbors’ house, and about the new cook (who, by the way, irritates me just like the old one!), and about the curtains, and about me throwing his suit away (it was the one that he has been wearing repeatedly and looks old, and dirty. I keep telling him, every day, “wear something clean tomorrow, for God’s sake.” But he won’t. So I threw the suit away).


Besides all that, besides the fact that he is already upset, I also need him to see how bad the neighbors are before I bring adoption up. He is the type of person who will not believe anything anyone says. He needs to see with his own eyes. And after dinner I am certain he will.



Dinner was awful. Mr. and Mrs. Owen arrived on time, but I wasn’t dressed yet. I forgot what time they were supposed to arrive!


They had wine, I didn’t. “She doesn’t drink,” Albert explained. But I would like to, I thought. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to focus on Maria.


“Who is Maria with right now,” I asked, and I must have spoken too fast out of anxiety. They looked confused by my words. Before I could explain myself, Albert changed the topic. The conversation he led was much less important than the one I tried to — I don’t care to know what the Owens do for a living, or where their families come from. So I asked about Maria again as soon as I had a chance, which happened to be too late. By then, the Owens were already laughing at something else, showing their purple lips. “What?” Mrs. Owen asked, with that annoying post-laughter smile on her face. I cannot stand talking to drunk people, so I stood up and came to my office. Albert is probably mad at me. He doesn’t like it when I act less than polite, and I don’t think I even said Excuse Me. But I don’t care. At this point, I do not care.


He is knocking on the door now; he says they left. I should let him in.



It’s been over a week since I could write, and I missed it greatly. But Albert and Dr. Campbell think that writing requires too much energy, and I have been awfully tired lately — which is why Albert called the doctor in the first place. Even when I don’t do anything, I feel exhausted from an overwhelming loss of ambition I cannot quite explain. Despite what they say, however, I don’t believe that journaling, at least, could possibly be bad for me.


Today I decided I needed to find this notebook. But I had to sit down for five minutes after looking for it — it was here in Albert’s office (who would imagine that?), and the door was locked. After I had looked everywhere else but this office, the new cook refused to unlock the door for me, so I had to climb up to the window from my garden. I had to climb up all the way to the second floor! I am tired as I have not been in a long time, different tired. My arms and legs hurt. But it was worth it. The last time I was in this room was when we first visited this house, before we bought it. God, I did not remember it being this small. And I think it looks different now too, with the books Albert brought in, and his working chair (which is very comfortable, by the way). And pictures! There are so many pictures in here — I am going to take some to my office, and to the rest of the house! Pictures of the both of us, together, having dinner, and by the northern mountains, and smiling. Even Albert is smiling in these pictures. I love them. I love all of them, but one: there is a picture of Albert with a little girl on his lap, having a picnic. I can’t stop staring at it now. I don't know who that is! She looks a bit like Maria (she even has the same blue dress Maria wears often), but this girl is smaller. Probably one year or so younger. I must ask him who this is. And I must take the picture with me, so I can show him what I am talking about — I think Albert has been having stressful days at work. He never pays attention to what I say, he never knows what I am talking about.



The girl in the picture is Albert’s niece, he said. But I think he is lying: he stuttered! And how come he has a niece I know nothing about? We’ve been married for 15 years!


It was when I said the girl looks an awful lot like him that his face turned red, and his eyes watered rapidly. He took a deep breath in, and I thought he was never going to breathe out again. But he did, just to whisper: “Look closely.” I was looking, I had the picture two inches away from my nose. I was paying attention, I was — and the only thing that looked familiar to me, other than Albert himself, was the lake in the background of the picture. But he asked insistently, “Don’t you know her?” And then he started crying, when I did not know how to respond. I just stared at him, and I could not stay there any longer. He was scaring me. “I’m going to see Maria,” I said as I gave the picture back to him. I think he wanted me to stay: he held me in his arms and started to scream, like a madman, saying that I had to stop this. Stop what, I wonder? “You need to take your medications and rest,” he’d say — he started not to make any sense! It is hard for me to say this, and I wouldn’t to anyone other than this piece of paper and Maria, but I think Albert needs help.


I left the house, came outside to write. He tried to follow, and so did the cook along with Dr. Campbell (I’m not sure what he is doing at my house today, but I didn’t have time to ask. Maybe Albert truly doesn’t feel good, after all). Fortunately, they don’t know the gardens as well as Maria and I do. And they don’t run nearly as fast, either.


It is a lovely night! We are resting by the lake, and I want to swim. Maria is going to teach me how.

The Neighbors

            by Ursula Abdala


I love the new house! It is much bigger than the one we had downtown in Edinburgh—it has eight rooms! And it is more beautiful, too; baronial style, it looks like a little castle. I particularly like the gardens here, they are magnificent: what a variety of rhododendrons, and so many bluebells! The gardens have a bluebell copse! I enjoy spending time outside now that it is not too cold anymore — Spring is certainly my favorite season. Even when I am inside, I catch myself looking out the windows often. That is why I picked the room that has a view of the lake for my office. It is a wonderful lake; if I could swim, I would do so every day.


Albert asked what I need an office for, he thinks I can write in our room. But I don't like to write with him watching me. He talks a bit too much sometimes, and he asks too many questions. He doesn't understand I need to concentrate, even though I have told him numerous times.



This afternoon I found the perfect spot in my secret garden: a wooden bench under my new favorite oak tree. The neighbor’s daughter likes it too, she told me. She startled me at first. A tiny little girl I didn’t know, walking into my garden from behind the yew hedges while I was reading. But she is so sweet! She looks like a doll — wearing a bow on her hair, and cute little dresses. We must have talked for about twenty minutes before we heard Albert calling my name (he always sounds urgent, his voice scared Maria away). I hope she comes back tomorrow, so I can explain that Albert is a nice man, no one to be scared of.


I told him about my new friend over dinner, I thought he would be happy because he has been complaining about my moodiness lately. But no: “You can’t be friends with a seven-year-old,” he said. I changed the subject to curtains when he mumbled something about our age difference, and that Maria’s parents would find it to be odd.

I did not have the energy to argue with him, and we do need new curtains. I don't know what the people who lived here before were thinking when they got these awfully dark, brown curtains.



Maria came back! I asked her if her parents were upset that she spent time in my garden yesterday, and she said they are not. I knew they would not be! What is wrong with that? I must tell Albert that he is wrong, but he hasn’t arrived from the office yet — he has been getting home later since we moved farther away from the city. I miss him, but I also enjoy having more time for myself. I like the silence; I like not having his voice to confuse me, and interrupt my thoughts.


Maria’s voice doesn’t bother me, though. She makes me laugh an awful lot! It just makes me sad when she is sad.



There is something wrong with the neighbors, I am pretty sure. Today was the third time Maria showed up with a new bruise on her arm, so I told Albert about it. He doesn’t like it when I interrupt his Saturday newspaper reading, but it was important. “I think they are mean to her,” I finally said after staring at him for a while (I tried to wait for him to be finished, but it took him much too long). He had no idea who I was talking about — sometimes it feels like Albert is not even here. Not once did he look up from the newspaper. He only looked at me the moment he heard Maria’s name, and he did so to start an argument; to remind me that he had warned me against my friendship with “that girl,” as he calls her. I was angry. It makes me mad when he treats me like I am his child, a rebellious one that wears him out. All I wanted to say, and I did somehow, was that there is something wrong with the neighbors — and that I am going to do something about it. I was not asking for Albert’s permission, I was informing him.


After one sigh and another, with that shaking head of his, Albert agreed to invite the neighbors over for dinner! But what does he mean by "be nice?" And what does he mean by interrogate, as in “do not interrogate them?” If I need to ask questions, I will.


Albert said that the neighbors are coming next weekend, but I cannot wait that long. Today Maria cried again before she had to leave, and she said she was scared! “What scares you, sweetie?” I asked. But all she did was beg to stay longer — so many times. It broke my heart when I heard Albert call my name, and she ran away. Before I could invite her in to have supper with us, she was gone. I worry about her now. I must do something quickly! And I must not tell Albert about it, or he will try to stop me. I must not tell anyone. (I think that the new cook spies on me.)



I finally did it: I walked all the way to the neighbors’ house when there wasn’t anyone there, and Albert was in an important meeting in Edinburgh. (Poor Maria, she walks so much every day to see me. I had no idea her house was that far! It took me fifteen minutes to get there, and it is uphill all the way.) To my luck, there was an open window in the back of the house. It was difficult to climb in for the window was tall, but I snuck in. And I found out that Maria, poor thing, doesn't even have an appropriate room for herself! There are six rooms in their house: none with dolls, or toys, or things little girls like. One old teddy bear is all that I found!


That is it. I will tell Albert that we need to take Maria in.



Albert is still mad at me for going to the neighbors’ house. He said their gardener saw me sneaking out, but I doubt it. I bet the new cook was the one that told him! She must have seen me as I left. She irritates me a lot, always wanting to know how I am doing, and if I need anything. And there is something else: earlier today I could swear I saw her put some sort of bottled liquid in my juice, so I refused to drink it — of course. She tried to make me because it was orange juice. Orange juice is rich in vitamin C, she explained, which is good for colds such as the one I think I have. But I did not drink that juice. And I told Albert I don’t want that woman here anymore.

He did not agree to fire her at first. “I think she is great,” he insisted. Nosey is what she is, but how would he know? He has hardly ever been at home for the past few weeks, and when he is here, he is locked up in that office of his. He has been too tired to pay any attention. Tired like me, I think — I have even wondered if he has a cold like mine.

Ursula Abdala is a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and currently lives in Arlington, Texas. Although her first language is Portuguese, English was the language in which she found her passion for writing. Ursula went to University of Texas at Arlington, where she studied film and creative writing.

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