Joel Schwab by Abigail A. Lyons

Hi son – sorry I didn’t answer the phone earlier. I was having a drink with Joel. Aye Joel Schwab, yer man from that house on the corner. No, you’re right, we’ve not really talked to him for ages. Only things changed recently, let me tell you…

So, you probably remember him as “Creepy Crabbit” – I probably have stopped you kids from calling him that but, you know… He did keep himself to himself a lot by then, but he wasn’t always so, what d’you call it, reclusive. He was quite sociable when his wife was around – probably she was the social one, really but he came to the parties and all, and would chat away with the best of them, not realising that we were mostly just listening to the sound of his voice, rather than the words he was saying.

He told me once that he was Scottish too, only he said Scotch which was a dead giveaway, even before he added that he was German and Polish too. Dinna be daft, man, I said, you’re American 100%. You wouldn’t have had to hear him speak either, he was forever wearing a baseball cap and his teeth were too straight, and he had that tan that never quite faded. And you couldn’t have forgotten that fancy mower he had! My eyes near popped out of my head the first time I saw him on that! One of those things you sit on and tootle round the garden as it does all the work. I think he had it shipped from the States – must have cost a bomb.

Their kids were nearly grown up when you were still little. They’d all left home by the time the wife died. Terrible shame that – she wisnae all that old. Cancer, I think. Can’t remember what type – your mother probably knows.  So, in pretty short order he was mostly by himself. He still got invited to stuff but he hardly ever came and was kind of a killjoy when he did. After a while we stopped asking and he was left alone, surrounded by that big garden that he kept so perfect. And that was what it was like for most of your teenage years – him all separate and you kids making up stories about him.

Anyway, the bit I was going to tell you about was what happened last week when we got all that snow. I was thinking about how much you’d have loved it when you were wee – the kids here certainly did, there were hunners of them sledging down the big field.  But it was a right scunner for us adults. The city snow ploughs couldn’t make it up the hill and almost the whole estate was snowbound and slippery as all get out. People were trying to shift the snow with garden spades, but they weren’t much use – and even if you got your driveway clear, the street was still impassable. Folk were having to walk out to the supermarket. It really makes you think about what you need when you have to carry the shopping back 2 slippery miles.

Then, like some sort of miracle, Joel appears on that mower of his. Except now it’s got this sort of mini snow plough attached to the front of it. He did his own driveway first and then he cleared the pavements. All the pavements. One by one the neighbours twigged what was happening and came out their houses to cheer him on. He had such a smile on him! Then he cleared a route for the cars to get out of the estate.

I don’t think he’s had to cook a dinner since. All the wives have been taking him meals or inviting him round. It was our shot the night. He was a bit quiet to start out with but loosened up after a wee nip. It’s a shame it took a snowstorm for us to realise he was only shy but better late than never, I suppose.

Abigail A. Lyons.

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