Harold A. Bascom
On the foredawn of January 1st following the year of the BP oil spill, Mr. Delon Johnson, 70 years old, jerked awake, brows furrowed, and woke his wife Elaine. She turned, saw him sitting up and gently massaged the small of his back.
“Eh, Boy—you had a bad dream?”
“I swear I hear a fowl-cock crowing—loud—as though it come from in the hallway…”
She chuckled and yawned. “A fowl-cock in the white people subdivision? You joking, D. That was just a dream. …Come,” she cajoled, “lie close to me—hug me up; it chilly—I feeling cold…”
It was cold. The Metro-Atlanta subdivision in Loganville, Georgia was experiencing a dramatic drop in temperature, and the heating systems in the suburban houses turned out to be quite inadequate for the icy chill. Mr. Johnson folded his side of the thick comforter against his wife’s back, leaned over, and kissed her cheek. “I thirsty,” he said and got out of the king-sized bed.
He slipped on a thick robe and padded in warm slippers for the refrigerator. As he filled a short glass of water, he heard voices. One of them was that of his African American neighbor—a man who had never spoken to either him or Elaine in the fifteen years they had lived in the cul-de-sac. It wasn’t that Mr. Johnson never tried to speak to the guy—but this was a neighbor who never seemed to hear when he said hello.
One Sunday morning within the first month he and Elaine moved into the subdivision, Mr. Johnson saw the very light skinned, white-haired man plucking weeds from his front lawn and called out a cheery ‘Good morning.’ The guy looked up, watched straight through Mr. Johnson, and then resumed plucking his weeds.
“Maybe he deaf,” Mr. Johnson muttered to his wife
She sucked her teeth. “Deaf my ass!—he’s probably one of them African Americans who hate Caribbean people!”
“But we not Caribbean people, Elaine—we’s Guyanese…”
“As if he gives a rat’s ass!—listen, D—keep your good mornings to you-self, yeh!”
Now, with the sound of a rooster still echoing in his head, Mr. Johnson walked to the bank of windows that offered a grand view of the street. He opened the venetian blinds and saw his white-haired neighbor swaddled in a light blue robe on his front lawn and speaking to the neighbor who lived in the house over the fence from his. She, unlike him, would return the time of day to both Mr. Johnson and his wife. Pleasant little woman, but Mr. Johnson often wondered what nationality she was. Elaine thought she was Korean; he vacillated between Chinese and Japanese.
“My son didn’t hear it,” she was saying to her neighbor, “but I did—and you heard it too…”
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” the African American man said.
Mr. Johnson whispered to himself: “What are they talking about? … Could it be they heard the sound of a fowl-cock too?” He surmised that someone in the neighborhood coming home to the cul-de-sac from a New Year’s Eve party had probably blown mischievously hard into some sort of farmyard special-effects noisemaker. But other than his African American neighbor and the Asian woman, the only other house in the cul-de-sac was the unoccupied one with a tired ‘For Sale/Price Reduced’ sign with creeping vines was planted … the house with a weathercock on its roof. So who else could have been returning home from a New Year’s Eve party and blowing a rooster-horn in high spirits?
Mr. Johnson found himself thinking of the empty house now—wondering why it hadn’t been sold as yet. Was it that prospective buyers found out that the owner died alone in it and wasn’t discovered until the mailman—laying a package below the front door—smelt decomposing flesh and dialed 911?
Mr. Johnson sighed. He glanced towards the bedroom, walked to his front door, opened it carefully and went out. But now only the Asian woman was there—standing by her mailbox gazing up the silent street. She turned at his emergence and waved ‘Hi.’ He waved ‘hi’ back.
“You heard the rooster too?” the woman hailed over to him.
Mr. Johnson stepped onto his lawn and stood closer to his mailbox. He didn’t want to raise his voice lest he woke Elaine. “Yes,” he said. “I heard a rooster—and it woke me up. My wife told me it must have been a dream. … Did your neighbor hear it too?”
“Yes—it woke him too,” she said
“That makes three of us. …”
“When I heard it I was in my kitchen. My son was studying—we weren’t sleeping at all—but my son didn’t hear a thing! Isn’t that strange?”
“That is strange,” Mr. Johnson agreed.
“I wonder what it means?” the woman said.
Mr. Johnson though there was something tremulous in the woman’s voice; then again it could have been the chill. Fleetingly his mind recalled the strange melody in the classic sci-fi movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
An easy retort to the woman could have been, “It doesn’t have to mean anything, necessarily.” But it had to: three people in a suburban group of houses all hearing one sound that others sharing the same space didn’t. Then again… maybe her son, deep into his studies, heard nothing—like Elaine his wife deep into her slumber. He chuckled to himself and thought it was the only rational explanation.
At last Mr. Johnson said jocularly: “I guess we’re all victims of someone’s late-night spin around the cul-de-sac with some kind of horn that made that farmyard sound…” He stifled a yawn. “I’m going back inside—Happy New Year to you, Neighbor.”
“Same to you,” the woman said and turned for her front door too.
Back in his home, Mr. Johnson entered the master bedroom where Elaine looked as though she was fast asleep. Gently he lay next to her.
“I hear your voice outside, D… what you did doing out there, Boy?”
“The neighbors—they hear a fowl-cock too… I guess they come out to see what or who it was,” he murmured. “They saw nothing—nobody…”
“So you wasn’t dreaming—somebody actually drive into the cul-de-sac blowing some blasted New Year’s Eve blow-blow. … I guess I really does sleep deep.” She chuckled.
“That is all it could have been in truth, you know,” he agreed.
“Them crazy white teenagers, no doubt,” Elaine mumbled, yawned, and drew the covers over her head.
Mr. Johnson settled in after his wife—spooning his lanky body onto her warmth. He soon fell into troubled sleep and dreamt of the empty house with the weathercock in the cul-de-sac. In the dream the dead man stood transfixed in his yard as he gazed with white-marble eyes to the roof of his house—while on the street running by, the residents of the street, including Mr. Johnson and his wife, all stood transfixed—and every one of them was as a filmic zombie, with rotting, maggot-filled, putrefying flesh. Collectively they too gazed at the weathercock on the dead man’s house: a tin rooster painted red with elaborate black tail feathers.
Mr. Johnson awoke once again. The sound he had heard—that the others had heard: the sound of a cock crowing—a rooster … Had it anything to do with the man who died alone in that empty house with the weathercock? Was it the spirit of the dead guy manifesting itself through the weathercock on the roof? — “No!” he whispered to himself. “No!—absolute nonsense!—what wrong with you, Delon?—you getting senile or what?”
But he couldn’t go back to sleep. He found himself thinking of the recluse of a man who died alone in the house with the weathercock—and it wasn’t that it was an old, crotchety guy. He must have been no more than thirty—thirty-five—in the prime of his life. Mr. Johnson never saw the beet red, clean-shaven bespectacled young man return home with a woman nor had he seen a woman leaving—never saw anyone like beer-friends visiting the house with the weathercock. On week days he would emerge from his two-car garage in his yellow Mustang and sweep by, eyes ahead, past Mr. Johnson’s house, and on weekends he’d either mow his lawn or sit before his garage door with a laptop.
Mr. Johnson sighed and remembered the first day he didn’t see the garage open and the yellow car emerge. He remembered that for that week he didn’t see the car emerge—and for one month after. He thus presumed that the guy had left for a vacation. But what about his lawn? Bit by bit it was growing unkempt.
In the aftermath of the decomposing body being found by Loganville police, Mr. Johnson took to wondering if the man wouldn’t have been alive if he, Mr. Johnson, had gone over to see if something was amiss. It didn’t enter his head to go ring on the guy’s doorbell to see if he had fallen and couldn’t get up. No one did that in the cul-de-sac. Delon and Elaine learned this very quickly after moving from Far Rockaway, New York to Metro-Atlanta, Georgia, and soon he and his wife became reluctant American suburbanites living, too, behind their shutters.
* * * * *
New sunlight streamed through the drawn curtains of the bedroom window onto his side of the bed.
Elaine stirred. “Morning D. … What you thinking about so, Boy? You okay?”
Elaine asked, yawning: “Did you sleep at all, D?”
He yawned and sat up in bed. “Yes … I sleep.”
“So why you yawning?—why you don’t lie down back?—is Sunday. …”
“I going for a little walk…”
“Ok… but make sure you bundle up…”
“I will. …”
But Delon Johnson didn’t go far. He soon stood over from the dead man’s house and gazed at the weathercock as the harsh, cold, wintry wind raked his lungs. He heard footsteps, turned his head, and saw his rude African American neighbor approaching.
“Good morning,” the man said cheerily. “How ya doing?”
Mr. Johnson was taken aback but he responded: “I’m fine.”
His over-the-street neighbor stuck out his hand. “I’m Martin Wright…”
Mr. Johnson took his hand. “Johnson—Delon Johnson—pleased to meet you…”
Mr. Johnson was curious—wanted to ask Martin Wright if he too had dreamt of the dead guy in his yard and the rest of them silent zombies gazing up at the weathercock, but he decided not to.
“Do you remember the young man who lived there?” Wright said.
“It was around this time, two years ago, they found him, you know. … My wife reminded me.”
“To think of it—that’s true!”
“Dreamt about the guy last night,” Wright said.
Mr. Johnson’s head grew and was tempted to say that he too dreamt of the dead man, but chose not to. It would seem too weird.
“I was thinking,” Martin Wright said. “My wife and I are having a few old friends over later—you know—to celebrate the New Year…” He looked at Delon Johnson. “We’d sure appreciate you and your wife coming over.”
“We wouldn’t mind at all, Mr. Wright—what time?”
“Call me Martin—around six this evening?”
“That we’ll do,” said Delon Johnson as they both gazed at the weathercock.
Harold A. Bascom is a Guyanese playwright, novelist, and artist, who now lives in Loganville, Georgia. He is the author of the novel Apata: The Story of a Reluctant Criminal (Heinemann, 1986). He is currently working on a series of acrylic paintings which will become part of his first art exhibition in North America.