Karenocracy Pt. 01 by themaneloco

Karenocracy Pt. 01 by themaneloco

“Welcome to the community,” a woman cheerily waved while hosing the pretty, purple flowers in her front yard. There was one small patch, sectioned off from the remainder of the garden, which just seemed to be a boring patch of grass without any character or personality.

“Thank you,” I said with a smile, before merrily making my way along the sidewalk. As I passed, I made a mental note of surveying all of the decorations she’d adorned her garden with; my own still rather plain considering it had only been a few days since I’d moved in. There were a few hanging baskets and potted plants near the door, and though they were pleasant, it communicated a lack of effort. I was already envisioning the ways in which my own garden would surpass hers. The opportunities were endless, and I was thrilled that I would get to play landscaper in a garden that I could call my own.

Things were so exciting recently, and as I strutted around the gated community, I finally felt like I was exactly where I belonged. The past years had been difficult, working my way up through the corporate ladder while living in a one-bedroom apartment. It had been a struggle, functioning in such cramped quarters, and I had been kind of embarrassed about the tiny size of my apartment. Even with my successful job, I’d refrained from bringing my friends back to my place, because I figured they’d feel the tiny apartment was beneath me.

However, having recently purchased a lovely new home, I now had a house that I could be proud of. I’d moved into a detached, two-floor plot that had its own front and rear yard, lined with a picket fence and a neat driveway to fit a large vehicle, if I’d needed. Along with that, was the benefit of living in such an exclusive community. There was none of the rabble that used to make noises all night long, as occurred in the apartments above and below my previous dwelling. The streets had been immaculate ever since I’d moved in, not a piece of trash in sight and no cars mounted up onto the sidewalk. It was just the kind of organised, clean and prospering neighbourhood that I’d always dreamed of living amongst.

My mother had been over the moon, and had excitedly helped me move in amongst that first week. She’d even given me some ideas about what I could do with the yard, and had purchased me a few decorative items to get me started with making the home my own. An oriental vase was the pride of joy in her own home, and she’d gifted it to me, along with a pedestal so it’d be the first thing anyone saw upon entering. It had the suitable effect, and I’d smile to myself whenever I returned after a long day at work, kicking off my shoes and being greeted by such a warming sight.

Gradually, over the first few days, I’d made the home my own, and it was beginning to reflect my own personality. It felt like I’d finally achieved something significant in my life, that went beyond the usual moments of things like graduation and a career. This was a financial step that I could be truly proud of, especially being a youngish, single woman. Some of my friends were still living with their parents, so for myself to have branched out with such an independent step, well, I was immensely pleased.

The few neighbours I’d crossed paths with so far had been friendly and welcoming. Often, while marching around the facility, I’d be greeted with waves and no one at all seemed hostile or unfriendly. My next-door neighbours, a youngish couple, had offered me smiles while watching my mother and myself move everything in. They’d even helped us lug a few boxes and I was already looking forward to the inevitable budding friendship we’d no doubt have. Things were on the up and I was so excited for what lay ahead of this important marker in my life.

About a week after I’d received the keys, and moved most of my things in, I’d been surveying my garden and considering what to do. All sorts of ideas were floating around, most of which revolved around garden ornaments. I figured I could have some decking laid, perhaps even have a pond installed. I’d perused some garden centres, and was quite taken in by the many stone flower pots, especially the ones with faces; where blooming flowers would resemble hair. I’d even liked the look of the metal archways that I could dot around, separating stone paths and hanging baskets of flowers and plants from.

I was just near the fence, measuring a few things out when the couple next door had arrived home after grocery shopping.

“Hey,” I shouted over with a wave after the car door opened. “How’s things?”

“Great,” the wife said. “You all settled in now?”

“I love it here.” I was stood with hands on hips. “I was just thinking about what to do with the garden.” I looked over at their own, which in all honesty, was rather mundane. They had some tables and chairs, but not much else. It seemed that gardening wasn’t something that they took a lot of interest in, whereas for myself, it was a favoured hobby. I’d had all sorts of fun arranging my mother’s garden, and the lack of one had been one of the reasons I’d wanted out of my old boring apartment.

“What do you have in mind?” the wife asked while heading to the trunk and taking out a bag.

“I have all sorts of ideas,” I smiled. “I was thinking I could have a load of flower beds put in, maybe even some decking. Get a BBQ and have a load of friends over from my work.” When she raised her eyebrow, I held my hands up defensively. “Nothing loud, don’t worry. Just a little get together to warm the house. You’ll be welcome of course.”

The husband too had lifted a few bags from the trunk, and had been listening with interest. “Just watch out for Carol before you go blasting any tunes,” he said. “She’s a total Karen.”

“Who’s Carol?”

“The head of the Homeowner Association,” the wife interjected. “But don’t listen to him. She’s all bark and no bite.” She scrunched the paper bag against her side and nodded towards the street. “She’s the reason that everything is so clean around here. She runs a tight ship. If someone blocks the sidewalk with their car”–she shook her finger at me–“it’ll be Carol to the rescue.”

I looked towards the road, and pursed my lips while nodding with approval. “It’s certainly a clean community. I’m really impressed with the security and everything. The corridors in my old apartment used to have trash all over the place. I used to have to clean it up because no one else would.”

“Yeah, it’s great,” the husband said with a sarcastic twang. He then raised his hand and pointed it in my direction; fingers rigid together in a salute. “As long as you do whatever mein fuhrer says.”

The wife playfully slapped him on the arm. “Oh, come on, she’s not that bad.”

“She made me get rid of my birdhouse, for Christ’s sake,” he said. “The tree is in our yard. How is that any of her business?” He then turned his direction towards me and glared. “She comes marching up our drive, chirping about how I’d broken some made-up rule. Apparently, I’m going to compromise the ornithological ecology of the community and then she threatens to fine me a couple of hundred dollars as if feeding birds is somehow mortally inconveniencing her.” He shrugged, completely aghast. “Ornithological ecology. Can you believe that? I’m not importing the damn birds, they were already here!”

“You and your birds.” The wife rolled her eyes. “I’d say she did us a favour. I’m fed up of wiping their droppings from the windshield.”

I’d been animatedly nodding my head while listening to the conversation, a growing smirk appearing as I reasoned this was all some kind of joke that I didn’t fully understand. I awaited the punchline; however, it never came. “Are you being serious?” Neither of their expressions changed. “A birdhouse?” I looked between the two of them, but still, none of the expected laughter arrived. “Hundreds of dollars? You’re…you’re being serious?”

“Deadly,” the husband said. “She’s a no-good busy-body that lives for misery.”

“Oh, come on,” the wife said. “She’s just a lonely woman with nothing better to do.”

“Is she really that much of a problem?” I asked apprehensively.

“Noooo,” the wife said with a flap of her hand. “My husband is just being overly dramatic.”

I dipped my head, still intrigued by his spluttering, my curious expression directed towards the husband this time. “Can they…can they actually fine you for something like that? For a birdhouse? I wouldn’t think they’d have the authority.” I glanced quickly around the street and noted that most of the front yards were absent of all of the ideas I’d had for my own. They were uniform in their decoration, as if they were adhering to some unwritten rule of abandoning all independent thought and expression.

“Apparently so,” he said in an annoyed voice. “We signed a load of something or other when we got this place and evidently we can’t do shit with our own property unless the great dictator approves. I even ran it by my lawyer friend and he said to just avoid breaking the terms and don’t draw her attention because these Homeowner things are a minefield. There’s late fees and all sorts she can dish out on us.” He sighed in resignation. “We were so excited to have our own place that we overlooked the small print.”

“But…a birdhouse?” I looked between the two of them, startled and confused. “What’s wrong with a birdhouse? That seems so petty.” I looked at the wife aghast. “Everyone likes birds, don’t they?”

“You’re telling me,” the husband said. “Welcome to Woodville.”

Just listening to that was enough to make me gulp. I’d been so excited about getting my own place, and after having spent countless hours exhausting myself through the credit and deed agreements, that I’d just brushed over the Homeowner Association literature when it had been passed my way. I mean, it was a good thing, wasn’t it? They had security to stop thieves coming into the community, and everything was so squeaky clean. I mean, when I’d first viewed the property, the seller had bragged about how there was no dog droppings on the sidewalk, because the Homeowner Association would fine anyone whose dog soiled. As a result, the streets were unblighted by doggy doo. What could possibly be bad about that? For a small fee every month, we got to have someone to look after the good of the neighbourhood. That’s what I’d wanted after my apartment building had fallen to ruin. I didn’t want to be stepping over someone else’s trash every day.

“Stop scaring her,” the wife teased, before offering me a warm smile. “She’s just one of those nosey ladies. You know the sort? Like those soccer moms that are always barking at their kids from the touchline. You just have to know how to deal with her is all.” She nodded her head towards her husband. “She’s been a lot nicer since we’ve had her around for dinner a few times, and especially since hubby changed the flat on her car.”

“Under much duress,” he said with a sigh, “while being told I was doing it wrong the whole time.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “I didn’t even get a thank you from her afterwards.”

I let out an awkward chuckle. “Is it bad that I’m already terrified of her? She sounds unbearable.”

“Look what you’ve done,” the wife said while pinching her husband’s arm. “You’ve gone and petrified the poor girl.”

“Just telling her how things are.” He put on an obviously fake smile. “This is a nice community and most people are lovely, but there’s just one bad apple is all.”

With that, the wife gave a final roll of her eyes, and they continued removing all of the groceries from the back of the SUV. I made my way back inside, many thoughts swirling around my head. I even took a quick look over all the papers I’d signed, but could make no sense of it. Surely, they were exaggerating. They sounded all jokey, yet, there was a lingering sense of dread creeping up on me. What if this Carol was actually going to be a pain in my ass?

Over the next few days, I gradually started getting really settled into my new place. With the help of my mother, I picked out a load of furniture from IKEA and I’d even taken a few days off work so that I could assemble it all and have my house starting to look more like a home. It was tiring work, but the end result was definitely worth it, and by the weekend, I was even able to move onto the garden and begin giving it my own personal spin. Despite the concerns of my neighbours, I pushed on, figuring they were making a mountain out of a molehill, and if this Carol did rear her head, I’d simply explain that I was just giving my yard a bit of personality. I mean, no one wanted to live in a boring abode, did they? It would bring a real feeling of spirit to have flowers, garden decorations and the like, wouldn’t it?

When I’d bought the home, I’d stopped outside the show house and marvelled at how wonderful the garden was. There were so many flowers and trees, along with various ornaments that really made the home pop. There was even a pond with fish. I wanted a similar, welcoming vision for my own yard, and I got down and dirty, digging up plots over the weekend so that I could lay a load of flowers that would hopefully bloom by the spring.

What I found rather bizarre though, was on a few occasions, while I was down and planting various bulbs and seeds, a few of my new neighbours passed by and struck up conversations. It was nice to get to know everyone, however, quite concerning was the repeated theme being raised about that woman called Carol. I heard a lot about Carol that weekend, with some odd questions, like whether I’d checked with Carol before starting work on my yard, or if I didn’t think I was going to have a problem with Carol? I brushed the questions away, as after all, I was planting a few flowers, not assembling a national park. Sure, my choice of garden wouldn’t be to everyone’s tastes but it was my garden, so frankly, I didn’t care what anyone else thought. This Carol could stick her nose in, if she wanted, and I’d be polite in response. Polite, but most definitely firm that I’d paid for this place, and therefore, I would do whatever I liked.

Once I’d planted all of the flowery arrangements that I wanted, I moved onto some of the garden furniture, having a table and chairs delivered as well as a BBQ and a load of coal. My plan had always been to throw a kind of housewarming party, where I’d invite some family, friends and colleagues from work. I’d envisioned a cook-out in the garden where we could all relax and I could play host, while everyone celebrated this important step in my life.

Upon delivery of the BBQ, my immediate neighbour, the husband of that lovely couple, came over with a look of concern. “Jodie, have you run that by Carol?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes, as we had built up a bit of a rapport by this point about this fabled Carol. “Run what, Joe? Do I need Carol’s approval to sit in my own yard?”

He bit his lip and nodded towards the BBQ.

“It’s just to cook some burgers and sausages? Why’s that a problem? I’ll keep it clean. You going to try and tell me that eating goes against the rules here?”

Joe held his hands up in surrender. “I’m not saying it’s right, but she’s totally going to get you on that.”

“What do you mean?” I was utterly perplexed. “That’s just a normal garden feature. Everyone has them.”

“Everyone doesn’t have Carol as a thorn in their side.” He wafted his hand in the air. “She’s totally going to make up some bull about environmental pollution or the like. She did the same thing when we had air con fitted, even had some guy come out with a decibel reader to check we weren’t destroying the peaceful harmony of the community.”

I grimaced towards the BBQ. “Well, there will be smoke, yes. It’s not like I’ll be using it often. Just for a housewarming party.”

“A party?” He blinked rapidly and shook his head. “I thought you were joking about that. That’ll be interesting.” He took a deep breath, before scratching his chin in thought. “Don’t be surprised if she shows up outside your house wearing all white and claiming the smoke ruined her clothes.”

I spluttered at the joke, but then became serious as I realised I was the only one laughing. “She wouldn’t…she’s not that bad, is she?”

“She’s a nightmare. Trust me. She sticks her nose in our business and makes all of our homes her problem.”

“Well, if she says anything, I’m just going to ignore her. It’s my home, not hers.”

He looked unconvinced. “Well, good luck,” he said, before whispering under his breath as he turned away, “You’re going to need it.”

I shrugged, and continued unpacking and assembling the BBQ in my yard. It was a bit fidgety, and the instructions left a lot to be desired, but eventually, with pride, I had the whole thing put together. I stood with hands on hips and marvelled at my creation. The party was going to be awesome, and I was already picturing everyone mingling and having a good time.

“What’s all this?” came a shrill, almost shrieking-like voice. Such was the grating, banshee squeal of it, that I instinctively flinched as if a seagull was about to dive-bomb me. I couldn’t even tell where the annoying wail had come from. I frantically looked around, in search of whoever had yelled at me in that way; even considering that perhaps it was my neighbour playing a joke on me. “What’s with all of these bags on your drive? Is that coal?” came another shriek, and I winced under the ferocity of the question.

I took a step towards the driveway, and a figure came into view, previously hidden behind the lone tree in the corner of my yard. “Can I help you?” I asked tentatively while I approached.

There was a woman stood peering over my fence, wearing a matching cream tracksuit and sneakers, along with a baseball cap, where her blonde ponytail had been threaded through the back. She was wearing a pair of glasses, and from the wrinkles around her eyes, I could make out that she was likely middle-aged. “Who said you could have one of those in your yard?”

“Excuse me?” I asked while squinting, before turning around and surveying my yard. “One of what?”

“Those!” She gritted her teeth, before pointing violently at my recently assembled BBQ. “You’re not thinking of lighting that thing, are you?”

I turned back to her, and waited for her to begin laughing and admit that I was the butt of some community joke. However, she just thrusted her finger at the BBQ once more. “How is that any of your business?” I asked, growing tired of her shenanigans. “What I do in my own home is up to me.”

Her eyes narrowed behind her glasses. “I guess you’re not up to speed on things? I’m the president of the–”

“Oh, I see.” I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms and tapped my foot. “You’re the neighbourhood Karen I’ve been hearing about, right?” I cocked my head. “The one who thinks she has the right to tell everyone how to live their lives?” I’d seen enough videos on Tik Tok and Instagram to know the correct way to deal with a Karen and her ridiculous, childish behaviour. A pinch of salt and a bout of mockery seemed the best ointment to their gnat-like presence.

I noticed the skin tighten in her face as her lips dropped to a frown. “What did you call me?”

“Nothing,” I said with a roll of my eyes, slightly amused that labelling her had somewhat rattled her composure. “Anyway, I need to get all of this set up.”

“Why do you need to get it set up?” Her head bobbed back and forth like an ill-tempered chicken. “What are you planning?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Are you having a BBQ?” she asked, looking around aghast.

“Not that it’s any of your concern,” I said in a patient and patronising manner, “but, yes, I am. This weekend I will be having a little housewarming party. I’m new here, and I want to celebrate.”

Her hands had balled into fists. “The hell you will,” she said.

I let out a deep sigh, already tired of her performance. “Take care, neighbour,” I said with a peevish wave. “Feel free to come if you like. I’m sure we’ll all be having a good time.”

“We’ll see about that,” she said with a stamp of her foot, before she marched off away from my fence and power-walked down the street.

The next day, the guests arrived as expected, though, all seemed to be my personal friends, family and colleagues. I’d sent out a few invitations to my new neighbours, though most hadn’t replied, or had basically said that they were busy and couldn’t attend. Only Joe next door had given me a truthful response, “Being seen there will be like a bullseye on my back,” he’d said dismissively. “I’ve had enough of the Wrath of Khan, or Wrath of Karen, whatever you want to call it.”

I’d expected him to laugh and then confirm that they’d come, however, he’d simply scratched his head and scampered off back into the house.

Anyway, I’d put all of that drama out of my mind, and welcomed all of my friends and family with a smile on my face and a glass of wine. Some had even thought to bring housewarming gifts, which were more than welcome, and gradually, once the BBQ was fired up, everyone settled into having a merry old time.

Things were working out exactly as I’d hoped, and my friend groups were mixing and getting to know each other. Most were impressed with the property, and while enjoying a drink, glanced around the neighbouring plots and nodded approval at the whole feel of the community. Some even enquired as whether there were other dwellings still available for purchase. I even took them on a walking tour to view the pool and gym, and everyone was in awe of the beautiful home I’d bought.

However, there was a slight blip once we’d returned and the party had commenced. Carol appeared at the fence and spat some outrageous accusations at a few of my guests. I walked over and got involved when a few of my friends complained about the ‘miserable witch’ and how she was ‘dampening the mood’.

“What is it?” I asked with impatience, and Carol’s beady eyes honed in on me.

“What are you doing?” she raged. “I told you that you couldn’t do this!”

“Who made you the queen of the town,” one of my friends quipped, and a barrage of laughs were directed in Carol’s direction.

My one friend, Brad, who was a bit of a clown, cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted out, “Where’s Dorothy when you need her? The Wicked Witch of the East is still alive and well.”

Everyone burst into laughter, however, Carol gurned and fumed, before stamping her foot. “Put out that fire immediately,” she said. “Our there are going to be serious consequences.”

I rolled my eyes, and directed my friends away from her. “Ignore her,” I said, while remembering the words of the pleasant woman next door. “She’s all bark and no bite.”

Carol was still shrieking while we paid her no mind, instead enjoying the food, drinks and music, and eventually she took the hint and buggered off. I thought that was the end of the matter and we could actually focus on having a good time, however, that was until a cop car rolled up. Immediately, I noticed many looks of concern amongst my guests’ faces.

“Jodie Atkinson?” the one officer asked as he got out of the car.

“Yes?” I said, while breaking away from the group and nearing the fence. I wasn’t used to dealing with the law, so I was already nervous; my voice taking on an audible tremor. “Is there a problem?”

The officer let out a long, breathy sigh before holding up a piece of paper. “We’ve received a complaint for a noise violation and an environmental pollution violation”–he squinted at the paper in his hand–“due to some agreement you’ve signed.” He looked back towards his partner before adding, “Is this not a civil matter? Why did they call us out?”

The partner rolled his eyes. “You know why.”

The noise wasn’t that bad and the smoke from the BBQ had already died off. “Really?” I asked in surprise. “Who made the complaint?” I already knew the answer, but some part of me still couldn’t quite believe that she’d escalate things to this petty level.

“I’m not at liberty to share that information.”

“It’s that Carol, isn’t it?” I asked with a snort, before turning to my guests and rolling my eyes. “It’s that Karen from earlier. She’s made a complaint.”

A work colleague began shaking his glass of wine around. “That old shrew by the fence that wouldn’t know fun if it hit her in the face.”

A couple more jokes were cracked about how annoying Karens could be. The partner still in the cop car even sniggered as someone likened Carol to a troll with a stick up their ass.

The officer near me shook his head, clearly being tired of the whole thing. “Could you just turn the music down slightly, and maybe cool the coals off?” He scanned the yard a final time. “I can see you’re just good people having a fun time, but she’s not going to stop until we’ve responded.” He leant over the fence, slightly, before beckoning me closer with his finger. Once I was near, he whispered, “This has come from higher up, so do with that information what you will.”

I swallowed nervously at hearing that. “Okay, I’ll turn the music down.” I immediately cranked the Bluetooth speaker volume down on my phone, much to the gasps and groans of my guests.

The cops wished us well, and left us to it, however, the party became muted after that, the fun and energy completely sapped. At one point, I even swore I noticed a figure in the distance, a reflection of binoculars pointed in our direction. However, before I could investigate, I was distracted by one of my cousins, and upon turning back, the figure had disappeared. I had planned for the party to go into the late evening, but as the atmosphere died, most people had left by eight. I’d enjoyed having those close to me celebrate my new home, however, the police arriving had really put a dampener on things and I realised that our community Karen was going to be a real headache. I mean, I’d even invited her that day she’d thrown a tantrum, and instead of coming and having fun, she’d obliterated my event with her meddling.

I brushed off the party failure, and got back into the swing of things at work. I’d been working as a marketing specialist for a few years now, and the salary was decent and the work environment a lot of fun. The bills had been racking up since the new move, and obviously, I’d budgeted for this and it had been expected. My plan was to leave some of the bigger purchases to a bit later, now that I had most of the essentials on site. Thankfully, my mom had covered a lot of the initial furniture, and if I was a frugal in a few areas, then making the mortgage payments were a breeze, as well as the small facility fee that was included every month. I’d jumped at this as it meant we got access to shared facilities in the community, for instance a gym and pool. There was also the added benefit of the streets being kept clean as well as security at the front gate so that no one could just waltz in. It was a price worth paying as far as I was concerned and as long as I didn’t go crazy, buying furniture beyond my budget, I could comfortably settle into my home. The booze for the party had been a one-off extravagance, but I was prepared to be sensible from here on out.

A few days later, I came home from work, and having checked the mail, I filtered through the usual bills before seeing a handwritten envelope. Unlike the other letters, there was no postage fee stamped on, so it had clearly been hand-delivered. I tore it open, then my jaw dropped as I read the contents. I was being fined for the party I’d held, by none other than Carol! As president of the Homeowner Association, she’d deemed my gathering to be anti-social, and as I’d caused a nuisance to my neighbours, and a community as a whole, I was being charged with a punitive financial penalty of $200 for the noise pollution and a further $200 for the environmental pollution. I had a week to pay, unless I removed the BBQ from my property and provided a written apology for my actions. If I didn’t comply, then late fees would be added to the fine, and eventually court proceedings would commence to recover what was owed.

I was distraught. The BBQ had cost me close to $300 as it was and I’d only used it once and was now being ordered to get rid. The written apology was just ridiculously childish and petty, I mean, we weren’t in school, were we? There was even a police report included as evidence as well as a victim impact statement from an anonymous source, which had to have been from Carol herself, claiming they’d had to attend a clinic due to smoke inhalation. That was so farfetched that it belonged in a comic strip, but there was a freakin’ medical attendance record to go along with it.

I almost scrunched up the letter right there and then while still stood in my driveway. Who the hell did this woman think she was? As if she could just dish out fines as she pleased. There was no way I could afford that with all of the recent expenditure of moving in. I mean, it wasn’t enough to put me in debt or anything, but I had an emergency fund which such an amount was surely going to eat into. She was threatening to dent my finances if I didn’t do as she pleased and get rid of my BBQ? I mean, I could just give it to someone else, but the principle of it all was really grating at me.

Joe from next door was just returning from work too, when he shouted over. “You alright, Jodie? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I turned to him, still in shock, and held the letter up. “She’s issued me for a fine for the party.”

“Oh God,” he said. “That sounds familiar.”

“She can’t do this, surely?” I read over the document multiple times and it all seemed so official. “Can she?” I looked up horrified, completely shell-shocked that this was actually happening.

“I’d speak to a lawyer,” he said. “Because it’s not going to end here. That woman is as relentless as she is annoying. She fined us once for having my mother-in-law stay over without signing some bleeding notification.”

I screwed my face up; just let her try the same shit if my mother came to stay. “You didn’t pay it, right?”

“Well, no.” He looked off to the side in thought. “But she had all these legal documents about how we were causing a hazard by not declaring the correct amount of people in attendance. Even got the fire marshal involved stating how my mother-in-law would have been left to die in an emergency because there was no record she was here. All over the top, but legally, we couldn’t fight her on it.”

“That sounds ridiculous.” I looked at the letter again. “Almost as ridiculous as this.”

“The wife smoothed it over. Why do you think I had to change that bleeding tyre?” He shrugged. “Maybe go speak to her? She’s probably just flexing her muscles because you’re new around here?”

“You had to change her tyre to avoid being fined? What the hell is this? A labour camp?”

“We signed up to it,” he said in resignation. “Stupid Homeowner Associations, but you know, it’s not like other communities where they’re actually reasonable. She’s been president of the board for so long that it’s all gone to her head.”

Traipsing back into the house, I looked for that stupid agreement again that everyone seemed to be talking about, and it took me a few minutes to filter through all of the paperwork. I couldn’t even figure out what it was, until I realised that there was a bunch of pages attached to the back of the one talking about the facility fee, with all of the amenities such as the gym. Evidently, I’d been so drawn in by the pool and the like, that I hadn’t noticed there was a whole other section, to which I’d also signed my name. I read through quickly, and realised that the gated community I’d moved into could be quite strict in regards to causing a nuisance towards your neighbours. There were all sorts of fines that could be dished out for doing something without approval; you even needed written approval to change your mailbox!

There were also some fairly loose terms in there, such as doing something that was ‘broadly offensive’ and ‘partaking in activities that compromised common decency’. What the hell did that even mean? Those descriptions were so vague that basically anything could be interpreted as falling under their umbrella. What if a neighbour had an aversion to the colour blue? Did that mean I couldn’t purchase a blue car? Surely, it was way too wide to even be considered legal. But I’d foolishly signed it all the same.

I moved onto the building and fixtures section, and that was even more ridiculous. Any work undertaken first required an approved plan, as well as a deposit paid to the Homeowner Association, which would be returned upon signing off of said work. That seemed extraordinary. It totally made sense that work would require approval, but surely that should come from the relevant construction authorities. What the hell kind of expertise did Carol of the Homeowner Association have in regards to building regulations? So, if I built something, and Carol didn’t like it, she could get some jobsworth to condemn it and keep the fucking deposit? That was ludicrous.

I quickly dialled one of my friends that worked in a legal office, and talked through the paperwork. “You didn’t buy in one of those HOA’s, did you?” he asked tentatively after listening to me splutter for a few minutes. “They’re a law onto themselves. I would have advised you not going ahead with it.”

“What?” I asked, as my throat ran dry. “She can’t fine me for having a party though, can she? I wasn’t harming anyone. It didn’t even finish late. Does she even have the authority to do that? She’s a nobody.”

“I mean…I don’t know. That’s not really our area. All I know is that these things can get dragged through the court, and since you signed the agreement, you’d need to be really careful in future regarding violating anything specific. It honestly depends on how far she wants to take this, but these ridiculous associations can be a real headache. I mean, even if you win and get it overturned, the court fees will end up being more than the initial fine. I would have advised you to buy elsewhere because frankly, Jodie, you have way too much personality to fit into one of these places. Sometimes they’re reasonable, but other times, like you’re finding out, they’re way too restrictive.”

“Bit late for that now, isn’t it?”

“Maybe it’ll come to nothing. I know a few judges that would laugh her off and throw it out immediately, but if she pushes this through a collection’s agency and the courts, and if she has the right connections, well, who knows where it could go. Court fees most definitely will end up dwarfing the penalty. Maybe it’s best you go and speak to her? Maybe she’s just being dramatic and there could be a reasonable, amicable resolution to this. At the end of the day, is getting rid of the BBQ really that much of a deal if it means you live in peace?”

“Why should I though? She’s just a Karen. If I give her an inch, she’s going to take a mile, isn’t she? I have to nip this in the bud from the beginning.”

“Well, good luck to you. Do you want me to put you in touch with someone?”

I was still dwelling on that mention of her connections, the cop’s words ringing in my ears, and how he had only attended my property because of the ‘higher ups’. She’d caused such a stink over my small party, that someone high up in the police department had used up valuable resources to have me turn the music down a notch. I’d complied, and now I was being punished anyway, just because she could?

“I’ll try talking to her,” I muttered, while considering the bills I had to pay, still grasped in my fingers beneath this outlandish letter. “I really can’t afford to be paying something like this, especially after having just moved in. Maybe we can come to a compromise.” I was imagining myself changing her flat tyre, before I recalled our minor argument on my driveway. “Maybe she’s annoyed I called her a Karen.”

“You called her a Karen?” my friend said with a slight chuckle. “Yeah, not a good idea. Guess you’ve made yourself an enemy.”

“The worst kind.”

I ended the call, and with the letter clutched in my hand, I marched through the street, in search of whichever house was Carol’s. The superior and pedantic nature of the letter had infuriated me; I’d been addressed and reprimanded as if I were a child. Not even my boss or mother ever castigated me in that way, yet this vile woman, because she had somehow landed herself this token role of power, felt like she could belittle and talk down to me because of a fucking small party on my own property? I mean, what harm had it really caused? The police had shut it down before anyone had even got drunk! Now, because this Carol didn’t like it, I had to get rid of the BBQ completely or pay a fine on top? Even though I’d just paid hundreds of dollars for it. That was ridiculous and so unfair and I was simply way too principled to allow her to run havoc over me.

While I stomped my way down the street, I came across a guy who was pruning the shrubs in his yard, knelt down in a mound of dirt. “Hey,” I said, while waving the letter in his direction. “Do you know which house”–I paused to squint at the name signed off on the bottom of the paper–“this Carol Broom lives in?”

He gulped, before scratching his head. “Ms. Broom?” He nodded towards the paper. “Always a bad thing when you get one of those through the door. I had one once about my kids’ paddling pool and how it was a drowning hazard.” He tried peering at the letter. “What have you done?”

I shook my head. “Does it matter? I just need to know where she lives so I can sort this nonsense out.”

He grimaced. “Good luck with that.” He then began trimming the leaves from the bush once more, not even looking in my direction. “She lives in no.1, of course, she’s been here the longest of all of us. The one right near the security.” He then turned me to once more. “Her ex-husband is the developer, you know that, right? He appointed her as the president of the Homeowner Association before they separated.”

“Yes, and she’s already exerting her made-up authority on me.” I scowled. “Shouldn’t we get a vote on that anyway? We’re paying fees every month for it.”

“We should,” he said with a sigh. “But, we don’t. Carol is in charge of it, and, unfortunately”–he lowered his voice slightly–“Carol is one of those middle-aged women that is somehow offended by everything and thinks the world owes her a favour. You know the type? Like other people’s happiness and comfort is an inconvenience to her.”

“I know,” I said. “She’s a fucking Karen.”

The guy guffawed. “A what?”

“A Karen! That’s what they call those type of women. She’s a fucking Karen.”

“Oh, well, in that case…we’re living in a Karenocracy.” He scratched his head, inadvertently getting soil in his hair. “Welcome aboard.”

“Which is no.1 anyway?” I balked. “Wait, the one at the front by the security?” I asked in surprise. “The one with all of the hanging plants and the pond in the garden? I thought that was the blimming show house.” I then narrowed my eyes. “Wait, she was bitching about your paddling pool when she had a fricken’ pond the whole time?”

“Yeah,” he said in a deadpan voice. “It’s a ‘do as I say, not as a I do’ kind of deal around here. It was just easier to get rid of it than getting into anything with her. The kids can still use the community pool anyway.”

“But…but…but…” I shook my head, completely perplexed by the hypocrisy. Her house was notably bigger than the others, and looked like she lived in a bloody botanical garden. I was being reprimanded for having a small BBQ without her permission? Who the hell did she think she was? Did she expect me to send her a letter every time I wanted to add a garden gnome too?

“Good luck,” he said again. “You’re going to need it.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that to me?” I asked under my breath, before marching away before the guy could answer.

I headed towards the main entrance of the gated community, just beyond the security hut and to what I originally thought had been the show house. When I’d first come to look at the facility, I’d even walked around the garden, not realising that someone had lived there. I figured that it was just a pretty display to entice us all in. As if it was showcasing the kind of home we could build ourselves. I never considered that it was a taunt of what the ‘president’ was allowed to enjoy while everyone else had to suffer beneath her iron fist. I mean, denying a child a paddling pool in their own garden? That was just spiteful and petty. Especially when she had some expansive pond that looked like it was straight out of a Japanese garden, even with the pricey Koi in tow! My yard looked like an empty plot in comparison, and she even had a bunch of wind chimes flapping and rattling around that were causing more of a noise disturbance than the music had been at my party.

I walked up to the gate, and without even pausing I’d rung the bell mounted on the wall. I was so annoyed by the audacity of the letter, especially after now knowing this was her home and that apparently the same rules didn’t apply to her. I lived four streets over in the facility, so it wasn’t as if she could even hear the music or see the smoke from my party. She must have deliberately walked over and made it a problem for herself.

When no answer came, I impatiently rang the bell two more times, and was stood with arms crossed when she finally came to the door.

“Who is that?” she yelled over. “You never heard of being patient? Stop ringing my bell.” She pushed through the door, allowing it to swing behind her and slam closed. She was wearing a tank top and a pair of shorts, along with white, leather Birkenstocks and this annoying, almost Karen-like visor tucked into her blonde hair above her ever-present glasses. Why was she even wearing a visor in the house? It made no sense, but her appearance just seemed to grate me for some reason. “What do you want?” she asked as she neared the fence. “You know how rude it is to just turn up here and start ringing my bell over and over?”

I almost burst out in laughter at the attitude on her. I held the letter up and waved it around. “How about almost as ridiculous as fining someone over a BBQ?”

She adjusted her glasses slightly, squinting as I continued to flap the paper around. “What are you talking about?”

My face soured. Was she acting like she didn’t even remember the stupid complaint to the police she’d made about me? Was she dishing out so many of these letters that I was just one amongst many? She couldn’t even remember the annoyance she’d caused and how she’d ruined my housewarming party? “You called the police on my party,” I said with a scowl. “I had to turn the music down and now you’ve sent me this letter saying I need to get rid of the BBQ or you’ll fine me $400.”

“Ohhhh. Yes.”

I blinked, and waited for her to elaborate. When she just stood staring at me, I felt pressed to enquire further. “What do you mean ‘yes’?”

“That’s correct.” She shrugged. “You violated two stipulations of the Homeowner Association rules and you face a suitable penalty for these infractions.”

I had to blink again, and my words caught in my throat. She was just being so forthright and self-righteous about everything. I had expected her to squirm and talk her away out of it now that I’d confronted her. “How…how is that fair?” I asked, with far less conviction.

Surely, she’d realise that her stance was completely unreasonable and she’d embarrassingly waive the fine and send me on my way. However, she appeared to be standing firm and her posture was unrelenting. She merely shrugged again. “You were fully aware of the agreement when you signed it. A gathering of people of that magnitude, and with music of that volume, is a public indecency and a nuisance to the community as a whole. We can not have a repeat of that, along with the smoke pollution, which is a public hazard. You compromised the clean air in our community and it’s not a big ask to request that you do not do that again in future. Removing the BBQ is a fair compromise and an official apology will smooth things over. If you choose to keep it, then that is entirely your decision, though there will be a $400 penalty for the inconvenience you caused everyone here. Failure to pay in due time will lead to late fees.”

“Who was inconvenienced?” I asked aghast, while spinning on the spot and flailing my arms around. “No one was inconvenienced by my little get together. You’re the only one who made an issue out of it and it wasn’t as if it was bothering you from here. You must have had to walk over to even know it was happening.”

“I regularly take walks around our community. That’s part of living in such a nice area. We’re all free to enjoy the facilities and the tranquil, fresh environment. That’s until an inconsiderate neighbour like yourself deems it right to pollute the clean atmosphere.”

“It was a small BBQ! I was hardly polluting anything, was I? Are you telling me you’ve never had guests visit your residence?” I looked at her pond, and then noted a birdhouse, nailed to the tree in her yard. The hypocrisy was unbearable. “How come you’re allowed that then?” I asked. “If anyone else puts one up, you complain and threaten to fine them. You even deprived some poor kid of his paddling pool.”

She turned towards the tree, before rapidly shooting her head back towards me, her ponytail flicking in the air while her eyes narrowed in annoyance from behind her glasses. “It’s pretty,” she said with a tut. “That one you’re talking about was ghastly. It hurt my eyes seeing it every day, plus, it was drawing birds away from my yard.” She then rolled her eyes. “Don’t even get me started on that plastic abomination of a pool. That thing was awful and a crime against acceptable garden decoration. It looked cheap, and nasty, and was a horrid colour.”

“In whose opinion? Yours?”

“Precisely,” she said with a nod of her head, “and the opinion of anyone with decent taste.” She glanced towards the paper in my hand. “Have you come to settle that? I assume from the stink you’re kicking up that you won’t be parting ways with your abhorrent cooking device.”

“I’m not the one kicking up a stink.” I crossed my arms, crunching up the letter against my ribs. “Actually, I have come to settle this, but not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Then you better come into my office.” She had turned and walked back towards her door without even waiting for my response. Once there, she held it open. “Well, don’t keep me waiting. I do have other things to do, you know? You’re not the only person that matters around here.”

“God,” I fumed, before pushing through the gate and stomping my way towards her door. She headed down the hallway towards a back room, and I followed, entering just as she took a seat behind a desk. “You actually have an office set up in your house?” I asked in surprise. “You really take this stupid role seriously, don’t you?”

She glanced up at me, before grimacing and signalling towards the seat opposite. “The sooner we sort this out, the sooner you can bother someone else.”

I slumped into the seat, shocked that she was portraying me as the one doing all of the bothering. I couldn’t think of anything witty or clever to say, instead falling into a silence as I looked around her ‘office’. There were lots of pictures of her with various people from the town; notable people that likely had a lot of pull. There was also a load of trophies for something or other on the top shelf, as well as various books regarding legislation and the law. Clearly, Carol Broom thought she was quite the important person.

“So, how do you intend to settle this fine?” she asked while adjusting her glasses on her nose. “Cash or cheque? I usually require apologies to be written so I can keep a record, but since you deemed it necessary to attend in person, on this occasion, I’ll accept a verbal apology.”

“I’m not–”

Before I could even finish, there was some kind of intercom on her desk that was activated. “Ms. Broom,” a voice said through the speaker. “Are you at home?”

She leant forwards and pushed a button, before speaking. “Yes, but I’m rather busy dealing with a community violation.”

“Oh dear,” I heard the female voice say. “Some people really have no respect, do they?”

Carol glanced up at me, before saying, “Quite.”

“Anyway, it’s Miriam,” the woman said through the speaker. “From no. 11. I’ve brought you some of the muffins you like. I baked a batch freshly this morning.”

“Oh, alright.” Carol reached out her hand towards me, and after a moment of confusion where she impatiently wiggled her fingers, I passed her the letter. She lifted my letter in her manicured hand and read through it, before speaking through the side of her mouth. “Leave it on my door step. I’ll take a look later.”

“Certainly, ma’am,” the woman said. “There’s double chocolate, chocolate chip and blueberry. Just the type you like.”

Carol clicked off the intercom without even replying. “So, what’s the problem?” she asked, while allowing her thin glasses to settle on the tip of her snooty, upturned nose. She looked at me over the lenses; her eyes impatient in their wants. “Can you pay this right now?”

I flinched and had to fidget in my seat. “Ummm, actually, no, I can’t. That’s the point.” When there was no insight in her expression to what she was thinking, I hesitated, before adding in a slightly flustered voice, “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. It’s my garden. Surely, I can do in it what I want? I wasn’t bothering anyone with a small party. It was a one-off event.”

“Is that right?” she asked. “Well, what you think doesn’t matter, does it? It’s clear in the Homeowner Association rules. You can’t do anything that damages the aesthetic harmony and environment of this community. A loud, disruptive party with billowing smoke does exactly that, doesn’t it?”

I gasped and chuckled in surprise. “It was hardly loud, and that smoke was anything but billowing. We cooked a couple of burgers. I’d put it out before it had barely started.” I blinked. “How does my little party do any of that stuff you’re accusing me of?” I looked passed her and nodded towards her window. “Your windchimes cause a nuisance, and they’re constant, not like a one-off party.” I signalled over my shoulder with my thumb. “That little fountain thing leading into your pond makes a trickling noise. I’m sure that annoys your neighbour.”

“My property is not up for debate,” she said, before offering me a patronising smile. “All of my decorations were approved by the Homeowner Association board.”

“Of which you’re the president.” I sat back in the seat, unamused by the carve-up I was having to go through. “That’s quite convenient, isn’t it?

“If that’s the way you want to look at it, but we’re not discussing the convenience of my role in this community, are we? We’re discussing the inconvenience of your actions.” She shrugged then waved away my protestations. “In my opinion, you violate both orders.” She settled the letter back down and tapped the final paragraph. “This letter was a courtesy, and you were given until today to rectify this violation and remove the apparatus from your property. Have you done that?”

I looked at her, perplexed. “What are you asking me exactly?”

“Has the violation been removed?”

I blinked again. “Are you asking me if the BBQ is still there?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes, before speaking a in a slow, condescending manner, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m asking you.”

“It’s still there.” I swallowed nervously. “I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, so I errr…didn’t see why I had to remove it.” I nodded towards the letter. “I literally received this an hour ago.”

“Well, you did do something wrong, and you haven’t rectified it, therefore, the fine issued will be collected. You were given the opportunity to avoid a fine by correcting the violation and apologising. You have chosen not to do so, and therefore, a fine is the appropriate punishment.” She reached over and plucked a file from her bookshelf, before turning to a page and scribbling something down.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making a record of your violation and your punishment to be collected.”

“Punishment?” I asked, completely flabbergasted. “What is this? School? You can’t punish me for putting a BBQ in my garden.”

She ignored me and reached for her diary, before scribbling something in today’s section. “I assume from your behaviour that you’re not settling today. You have until next week to pay. If you miss the deadline, then I will add late fees of $20 on a daily basis. After a further week, I will escalate your violation to the courts.” She looked up and offered me a serious expression. “Note that any extra fees outside of my control will be due to your lack of cooperation.”

“What? Are you being serious right now?”

“We have a legal team on hand, and we’re more than willing to recover our damages.”

My hands balled into fists. “What damages? You haven’t incurred any damages?”

“You’ve damaged the harmony and nature of our living space.”

“How have I done that? You spied on my place and found a problem where it didn’t exist. I wasn’t harming anyone.” I swallowed nervously, my voice becoming panicked, and as a result, I went on the attack. “Is this because you’re such a Karen that you can’t stand seeing other people enjoying themselves?”

At once, Carol’s eyes widened and her face turned purple. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” However, after a moment, while I sat there shocked and frozen, she seemed to calm and let out a sigh, before rolling her eyes and pointing towards the door. “Your attitude is so unjustified. You can leave now. I’ll expect a cheque by tomorrow, otherwise I will begin topping up late fees. Have a good day.” She was already stood and offering me towards the door. “Come on,” she said. “I have other things to be doing.” I was so confused and perplexed, that I rose to my feet and made my way to the front door, turning and mumbling some protestations which she easily waved away and shushed. “I’m done talking,” she said. “Either settle or we’ll take further action through the courts.”

Once she’d directed me outside, she glanced down at the basket of muffins, before she looked up towards the security hut. “Henry,” she called out. “Come and take these for me.” She reached into the basket of muffins, plucked one of the blueberry ones out, then curled her lips in disgust, before squashing it and tossing the crumbs onto her garden. “Miriam’s baking is only good for feeding the birds,” she said, before abruptly going back inside and closing the door.

I stood in shock on her doorstep for a few minutes, watching silently as the security guy came over, nodded politely, then took the muffins back to his hut to enjoy with his colleagues. The arrogance of the woman was outstanding, and I couldn’t believe the way in which she had spoken to me. I’d had my ass metaphorically spanked and sent on my way as if I was an unruly child in need of a lesson. What did she expect me to do now: go away, find the money, then crawl back and pay her? It was completely unjust and there was no way I was going to give in to her demands.

On the way back to my property I called up my friend again. “She’s come out guns blazing,” I said. “She says either I pay or go to court.”

“Didn’t you discuss any alternative arrangement?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know…something…anything other than going to court? Did you engage? Were you polite and reasonable?”

“I was as polite as she was,” I said with pride.

“Oh God, Jodie. Sometimes your stubbornness gets you into a right hole.”

“I think she’s bluffing,” I said.

“I guess you’ll find out in due time.”

The next week was a mixture of work and continuing to settle into my home. I put Carol and her shenanigans out of my mind, focusing on more important issues that improved my life, rather than made it worse. Clearly, she got off on pushing people around, but I wasn’t about to become one of her victims. She could go to hell regarding the payment, and she was the single blip in an otherwise beautiful community. She was an annoying irritation, and I wasn’t about to extend a single thought more than I needed towards her.

I guess I kind of entered an out of sight, out of mind way of thinking, and the weight lifted as I buried my head in the sand. I figured that I could just pretend that my run-in with Carol hadn’t happened, then she’d probably forget about it and move onto other more important things. In the grand scheme, $400 was hardly something for her to fret over, and it was glaringly disproportional to the apparent ‘crime’ I had committed. She had to realise that. I mean, she clearly wasn’t a stupid individual, was she?

I settled into enjoying the facility, visiting the pool each morning before work and swinging by the gym afterwards. I fell into a routine, where I felt refreshed and energised, and I accepted that despite finer details of the Homeowner Association rules being a hassle, the actual benefits I received in return were well worth it. I was just mindful of making the same mistake in future, as the other people in the community had mentioned; Carol was a persistent annoyance, and one just had to find a way to handle her. She was a pest that needing swatting, or at the very least, I needed to erect a figurative fence to keep her at bay.

By Friday evening of the next week, I was well into my new fitness regime, and I was already feeling the benefits to my body. I’d been varying the muscles I exercised each day, and Friday I’d lined up for an extended session of cardio. I arrived at the gym with positive intentions, however, my mood became glum as I noticed a figure in a pink tracksuit, with a familiar blonde ponytail swinging back and forth through the window. I hesitated, wondering if it were better to have a rest that day and come back when the gym was empty. However, as I was about to walk off; my pride tugged at me. This community was as much mine as hers, and I’d paid to use these facilities. We were bound to run into each other again in future, so it was better that we got things out of the way.

After taking a breath to steady myself, I opened the door and walked into the gym. Carol was busy on the elliptical, flinging back and forth while humming along to whatever music she was listening to. With slightly sweated patches beneath her armpits. She squinted at me with annoyance, before making an over-the-top demonstration of removing her pods from her ears. “Now, really isn’t the time,” she said with a snarl. “Can’t you see I’m busy with my work out?”

“What?” For some reason, under the watchful look of disdain from her, I felt the need to apologise. “I’m not disturbing your workout.”

She blinked at me, before raising her head slightly and peering down her nose at me. “You should have come by my office to settle your fine. This is extremely rude to come bother we while I’m exercising.” She shook her head. “And just so you know, with incurred late fees, your fine is over $500 by this point.”

I was holding my water bottle and towel, while wearing my singlet, sweat pants and sneakers. It was pretty damn obvious that I’d come to use the gym. “I’m not here to pay that fine, or whatever late fees you’ve tacked onto it.” Since the ice had been broken, I figured now was as good a time as any to settle this matter once and for all. “Anyway, I’ve already removed the BBQ, if you would like to come and see?” The truth was it was dismantled and in the trunk of my car. Even though I had no intention of paying the fine, I’d taken down the BBQ just in case Carol escalated things. In the event she came by, I’d planned to drop the BBQ off to my mother’s so that Carol wouldn’t have anything to complain about anymore.

“Obviously not,” she said. “You can see how busy I am.” She was about to put her air pods back in, when I reached out and grabbed the handle of the elliptical, causing her face to grimace in distaste.

“Come on,” I urged, while looking up at her hopefully. “I really feel like the fine is no longer necessary and I’d really like for us to come to an agreement.” I nodded towards the remainder of the gym. “I don’t want awkwardness whenever we’re in the same place.” I was being way more diplomatic than she deserved after her behaviour.

She simply rolled her eyes, then let out an impatient huff. “Just pay it and we’re good.” She then squinted at the watch on her wrist. “It’s due today, isn’t it?”

“I can’t afford it,” I said in embarrassment, while looking down and away from her. “With all of the moving costs and my mortgage, I just can’t afford something like this on top, especially for something so petty.”

I expected some level of sympathy, however, she continued to look down her nose at me while perched on the frozen elliptical. “Well, you should have thought about that before you violated the agreement, shouldn’t you? You were warned by myself about holding a BBQ in your garden, and you went ahead and did it anyway. So, don’t come here and act like I’m the villain because I was rightfully enforcing the rules. If you knew you couldn’t afford a fine, then you should have worked harder to avoid receiving one.”

“I’ve read through the Homeowner Association rules and regulations,” I sighed. “I don’t think you’re being fair. I’ve only just moved in here.”

“Would you stop harassing me,” she suddenly said, before reaching for her phone. “Unless you’re here to settle what you owe, then I have no interest in interacting with you.”

“I’m not harassing you,” I shot back defensively, completely flabbergasted at the suggestion. “I’m just talking to you.”

“Everyone,” she said randomly, before turning her phone towards my direction. “Look at this. I’m trying to enjoy my workout in peace, and one of the women in my gated community is harassing me.” She shunted the elliptical steps slightly, and when they refused to move against my fingers clutching the handle, she let out an over-the-top screech. “See, she’s stopping me from working out and I can’t even get down from the machine.” Her voice took on a gasp-like horror. “I feel threatened for my life.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said, while looking around embarrassed and fearful that someone else might have overheard her yelling. “I’m not threatening you. You’re the one that was threatening me!”

She lifted the camera and focused on the door behind me. “She’s positioned herself so I can’t escape. She’s blocked my exit and is threatening my life.”

I instinctively released my hand from the elliptical and stepped away. “What is happening here? What are you doing?”

“She’s been here for an hour berating me, threatening me and all because I had no choice other than to send her a letter about a violation she committed. She’s escalated to violence and I’m in fear of my life.”

I continued to back away, shocked into silence at the performance she was putting on. “I…errr…what?”

Carol must have flipped the camera on her phone, because she was suddenly talking into it. “Someone send help. You think you’re living in a safe community and you get people like this harassing you. This is why no one wants to be the president of the Homeowner Association, because people embark on personal vendettas.”

“I’m going,” I said desperately. “I’m leaving you alone, okay?” I backed out of the gymnasium a mixture of confusion and panic. Once the door had swung shut behind me, I paused and looked through the window, while Carol was still animatedly talking into her phone.

She must have noticed me, because once again the camera was turned towards my direction. “She has me trapped,” she screeched, in an elaborate, dramatic shriek. “She’s totally unreasonable.” With that, she suddenly put the phone back down, before smiling and waving at me sarcastically.

My lips were quivering as I slinked back to my home; feeling more confused than anything.

I kept a low profile after that encounter, avoiding all of the communal areas of the facility and staying inside my home. I only left when I had to go to work, thankfully, at such an early hour that I never saw anyone else. I’d work late into the evening too, and wouldn’t come home till it was after sunset and I wouldn’t be bothered. It was a real bummer, as I enjoyed the amenities of the facility, but Carol had made me feel completely unwelcome.

The last thing I wanted as a reputation was to be a pariah that harassed middle-aged women. I didn’t see Carol through the rest of the week, and I’d hoped, after scaring me with her dramatics, that an end to everything was in sight. After all, she’d got her way, hadn’t she? I’d removed the stupid BBQ from my garden, just like she’d wanted. She’d successfully dictated to me that my garden had to remain plain while she was apparently allowed to make hers as extravagant as she liked.

My peace all came to an end though, when by the next Sunday, I’d received another letter in my mailbox. This time, it had been co-signed by a solicitor, who was warning that if the fine wasn’t settled by the next week, then it was going to be followed up through the courts and a debt collection agency would recover it from there. I was informed that the fine, along with late fees, now totalled $600. It may have been extravagant, it may have been complete bullshit. Whatever it was, it was enough, after a panicked phone call to my friend, to spook me into writing a cheque for the full amount and heading straight over to Carol’s residence. I was going to have to dip into my emergency fund, but I couldn’t afford subsequent costs from the case being heard at a court. It was clear that this problem wasn’t going to go away like I’d hoped, and Carol was becoming a splinter in my mind.

Once I arrived at Carol’s, I saw that she was relaxing in her yard on one of those beach recliners next to the pond. She was wearing a rather revealing one-piece swimsuit, which seemed totally inappropriate for a gated community. I mean, anyone could have been walking past her yard with their kid and they’d be greeted by this middle-aged woman revealing more of her pasty body than needed to be shared. It also seemed completely hypocritical that she continually harped on about causing a public nuisance and indecency, when she was the one spread out on a recliner in half-revealing clothing. She was sipping some kind of pink drink while reading from a book; a pair of sunglasses in place of her usual spectacles. Next to the recliner were her tatty old Birkenstocks that were in dire need of an upgrade; the imprint of her feet etched into the leather. Her feet themselves were crossed at the ankles, a demonstration of her relaxation, which was completely at odds with the nervous squirming she’d induced in my tummy from that threatening letter I’d received.

“Carol,” I said in a soft tone while I approached her fence. “Please may I speak to you for a moment?” I held the cheque aloft. “I have the payment for the fine. I’d like to bring an end to this whole thing.” It was killing me inside that I was actually going to pay this wretched woman, but I was fearful of the weight she could pull in court, especially since she’d had the police dancing to her tune. The last thing I needed was a court appearance on my record, and subsequent fees on top of this already outrageous fine. I knew in my heart that I was correct in all of this, but that didn’t seem to matter when I had everything weighted against me. For my own peace of mind, I figured it was better to just be done with the whole thing. “I don’t agree with it, but I don’t want to go to court, so I’ll pay it.” I actually felt ashamed of myself for giving in, I had no other choice. I couldn’t afford a bloody lawyer.

Carol glanced up from her book, and though her eyes were hidden behind her shades, I could see the grimace on her lips. “You just love disturbing me when I’m busy, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, remembering our previous encounter and how she’d completely manipulated the situation with her dramatics. “I just want to pay what I owe.” It was my turn to grimace. “Not what I owe, but what you fined me.”

She flopped the book down on her lap. “You do realise that we don’t all exist to please you, right? Your little debt may be a priority in your life, but it’s certainly not a priority in mine.” She waved me away dismissively with her hand. “You should make an appointment to see me like everyone else.”

I was about to say something, when I paused, unsure if she was actually joking or not. She was hardly busy, was she? Lazing around in the garden and reading a book. Plus, I was only there because she’d deemed it necessary to fine me for something completely trivial. I would have been more than happy to never cross paths with her again, but she was the one delivering letters to my home and demanding payment while threatening court. The sheer gall of her to suggest I needed to make an appointment to see her was the icing on the cake. She was a resident here, the same as I, though she was acting like she was the queen or something. All of this was her doing. I hadn’t turned up on her door the first day and demanded she had to remove her pond, had I? Now, she was twisting the situation as if I was currently harassing her when I just wanted to bring a conclusion to our altercation.

I swallowed, and steadied myself, remembering to be amicable, as my friend had suggested. Even though I was raging at her arrogance and dismissive treatment of me, especially since she was the one causing problems in my life, I knew I didn’t want to complicate matters further. “Please, could I just pass you this cheque, and then I’ll leave you alone?”

Carol lifted her sunglasses and pushed them back into her blonde hair. The sun was reflecting from the lotion she’d clumsily wiped all over her face. Beneath the shades, in an almost dorky way, she was still wearing her regular glasses. She looked me up and down, before holding out a hand towards me. “Fine,” she said, “Bring it over here.”

“Thank you.” I opened the gate, and started heading towards her.

Carol snapped her fingers impatiently, which caused me to skip and quicken in pace. “Come on,” she said. “I don’t have all day.”

When I reached her, I handed her the cheque, which she snatched from my hand and read. Meanwhile, I stood there awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. There was a strange feeling inside me and I felt completely out of place, as if I was somewhere that I didn’t belong. The way she was just laying back in her swimsuit, with her bare feet crossed, relaxed and completely at ease while I was in the height of trepidation and desperate for this to be the end of the whole matter. On top of that, the way she had snapped her fingers at me as if I was some servant bringing her a morning coffee only seemed to compound my uneasiness further; especially since my natural response had been to leap to her signal and quicken my stride.

“You can leave now,” she said, before placing the cheque on a small table next to her.

“Is…is everything good between us now?” I asked.

“I already said you can leave.” She picked up her book and flopped down her sunglasses once more. “You’re bothering me,” she said, “and now you’re trespassing.”

I froze in place, and though I knew it was probably better to just retreat from her property, I was hesitant and out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what to do, and I felt like whatever choice I made would be the wrong one. Instead, I lingered in place, taking a step away, before pausing and hovering near her recliner. “I…uh…”

Carol huffed, before looking up at me in silence. She seemed on the verge of snapping some retort at me, however, she paused, and instead she fingered the corner of the current page she was reading. She considered me for a moment, before glancing at the cheque, then adjusting her position to make herself more comfortable. She bent one knee slightly, crossing the other leg over it so that one foot dangled in the air. “Why are you still here?” she asked impatiently. “What is it you want?”

“I…ummm…just want to know that everything is settled,” I said uneasily. “I don’t want to have to bother you again.” I flinched at the implication of my words. Why the hell was I using language like that? She was the one that was constantly bothering me. She was the inconvenience, not me.

She’d closed the book and was tapping the leather cover with her index finger by this point, while she stared at me, apparently lost in a deep thought. “Apologise,” she said, as a small smile came to her lips. “If you feel the need to still be here, then you can apologise for your behaviour over the past week. That was the second part of your penalty, wasn’t it?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, somewhat surprised. I had no intention of apologising as it was her behaviour that had been completely unreasonable. I just wanted some reassurance that as soon as I got home, I wasn’t going to find another letter posted in my mailbox sanctioning me for a further made-up infraction. “No, I had to remove the BBQ and apologise, or pay the fine. You said I missed the chance for the first part, so I’m here to pay the fine.”

Carol shrugged. “Well, since you’re here, it would be polite to apologise anyway, wouldn’t it? Call it a gesture of goodwill. So, apologise for all of the drama you’ve caused. You could have just accepted your mistake and dealt with it immediately like an adult. BBQ gone. Apology. No fine. Simple as that, but no, instead you’ve prolonged this and taken up a lot of my valuable time.”

“What?” I asked in astonishment as she castigated me as if I were a child. “That’s not what happened at all.” I suddenly felt more reassured in my position; I wasn’t in the wrong after all. “I’m not apologising for that.”

Carol scoffed. “So, if you’ve no intention of apologising for your immature behaviour, then why are you still here and blocking my sun?”

I realised that I was casting a shadow over her, and I stepped aside while muttering, “I just want this over with.”

She dismissively flicked her fingers at me. “It is over with.” I was just about to turn and leave, when she added, “I’ll be sure to come by soon and check you’ve no further violations.”

That made me pause in my stride, and I turned back, distraught. “What? Don’t say that.” I looked her up and down. “My home is private property.”

“You’ve already proven you don’t adhere to rules.” She plucked the cheque back up. “You think this changes things? This is a temporary remedial until you commit another violation. I know exactly your type. Always causing a nuisance to those around you.” She dropped the cheque back down. “I’m sure this won’t be the last time I see you coming to me with a cheque.”

I blinked and couldn’t believe what I was hearing as she pretty much described herself without a hint of irony. Her ignorance was mind-blowing. “You know this wasn’t easy for me?” I said. “I really can’t afford that.” I nodded towards the cheque. “That’s going to make my life difficult for the next few weeks.”

“It would have been less difficult if you’d apologised.” She yawned and stretched out in the recliner. “I mean, if you’d apologised from the start, then maybe I would have waived the fine weeks ago. Instead, you came at me with attitude, and that only convinced me that fining you was the right course of action. We can’t have your disruptive sort running around and causing problems in our peaceful community.”

My first instinct was to march off, cursing to myself, however, I thought for a moment, while watching as she lay back casually and taunted me over my situation. “Would…would you still consider waiving the fine if I apologised?”

There was a slight smirk on her lips, as she leant over and picked up the cheque a third time. It looked so delicate between her manicured fingers. “You want me to rip this up, do you?”

“Yes,” I said eagerly. “Would you?”

She shrugged. “I’ll think about it, I suppose. Let’s see how good your apology is.”

I looked around nervously, worried that someone else might hear. “I’m sorry,” I muttered, beneath my breath.

“Is that it?” She was clearly unimpressed. “I’m certainly not ripping this up after a poor attempt at an apology like that.”

“I’m sorry,” I said a bit louder and with more conviction. “I’m sorry, Carol.”

“Sorry for what?” That little smirk appeared on her lips again, and it became evident that she was enjoying taunting me. Clearly, it had been a mistake to share with her the fragility of my financial situation. Still, the idea that I could get off the hook and avoid having to part with any money was worth the mild humiliation of apologising for something that I hadn’t really done. I knew saying sorry for having a BBQ was ridiculous, but it seemed I’d been backed into a corner and this awful Karen was able to exert more power than I realised. I’d figured she was a mild nuisance, a busy-body that loved sticking her nose in other peoples’ business, but it seemed like she actually had some pull in legal circles.

“I’m sorry for taking up your valuable time.” I felt like an idiot for saying it, but I just wanted this all over with. “I’m sorry for causing a public nuisance.”

Carol crossed her arms and looked all smug. For a moment, I thought that would have been enough, but then, she let out a small chuckle as if an idea had come to her. “Ma’am,” she said. “Try again.” She bit the corner of her mouth and smirked.

“What?”

“Don’t you know how to talk to your elders with respect, young lady?” She dipped her head and I could see her staring at me accusingly over the sunglasses. “You should be respectful and polite when apologising. I can hardly believe it’s genuine if you’re rude about it, can I?”

“Fine,” I said with a huff. “I’m sorry for taking up your valuable time,”–I averted my eyes with shame–“ma’am.”

She let that word hang in the air. “Don’t let it happen again.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a gloomy, nod of my head, dropping my eyes and unable to look at her. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“It better not,” she said. “Or you’ll be receiving a strongly worded letter in your mailbox.” She cleared her throat. “Along with a suitable fine to teach you a lesson. You know I have the authority to do that, right? If you break the terms of the Homeowner Association rules, then I have the right to issue out appropriate punitive measures.”

“I know that,” I said, before tutting beneath my breath. “I’ve learned my lesson.” When her face soured and I could see an eyebrow raised above her sunglasses, I cleared my throat and corrected myself. “I’ve learned my lesson, ma’am.” It felt so wrong to address her in that way, and I loathed having to do so, but I just wanted that fine out of the way and behind me.

“Good,” she said, before gesturing towards the door. “Now, be on your way.” Her eyes were at once hidden behind the shades, and her book was back up in her hands; my cheque slotted between the pages as a bookmark.

I hesitated, lingering, not sure if there was anything else I was supposed to do. She’d told me to leave, but still, she hadn’t ripped up the cheque. What was stopping her from cashing it anyway? I already knew I couldn’t trust her. “So…uh…is the cheque going to be ripped up, like you said?” When she didn’t answer, I added in a shaky voice, “Ma’am? Are you going to destroy the cheque, ma’am?”

Carol tutted out load, before she slapped the book closed. “You’re really not good at paying attention, are you? I said I’d consider ripping it up after you apologised. I am still considering it, and will do so for the remainder of the afternoon while I enjoy the sun. But to honest, with the way you’re annoying me, I’ve a good mind to go and cash it right now.”

I couldn’t bear the thought of wondering for the rest of the day whether Carol was going to cash the cheque or not. “Carol, please,” I said, in an almost begging manner. “I just bought this place. The mortgage is going to pound me every month. I can’t afford this on top of that.” I nodded towards the cheque in her hand. “That’s really going to set me back. I’ve learned my lesson, I swear. Can we just call it quits and I won’t cause you anymore problems?”

“You should have thought about that before erecting that ghastly eyesore for the rest of us to suffer its smoke.” She then removed her shades, and narrowed her eyes at me while looking down her upturned nose. “And it’s ma’am to you, young lady.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “You know what? I’m tired of your attitude. I’ll be cashing this cheque once I’ve finished this chapter.”

Such was the strict, forcefulness of her tone, that I almost shrank in my demeanour, my spine rattled. “Sorry, ma’am,” I said nervously, my throat feeling tight. “It’s just…if there’s anything I can do to convince you to let me off the fine, please, just tell me and I’ll do it.” I licked my lips. “I already apologise like you wanted, so you can see I’m willing to compromise.” The advice of my friend was fresh in my mind. Be reasonable, be amicable and come to a compromise.

Carol was silent for a moment, her arms crossed while she sat the picture of confidence. Her one foot was still dangling over the knee of the other, and casually swung from side to side. It was such a bizarre scene to be taking place, with myself being an easy twenty years younger than her, while she was the one barely dressed and laying around in the sun. She squinted her eyes in my direction, almost considering me. “What are you suggesting?” she finally asked.

I gulped, before shakily adding, “Well, someone told me that you let him off a fine because he changed the tyre on your car?” I didn’t have a clue how to change a tyre, but it seemed way more appealing to me than a $600 fine.

Carol cocked her head. “Are you offering to work off your debt?” She pursed her lips in contemplation and shrugged as if it was a possibility. “I may be open to some kind of community service arrangement in leu of your fine payment, I suppose.”

“Community service?” I was already envisioning the humiliation of having to sweep the streets or something, as if I was on day-release from prison. That wasn’t at all what I’d envisioned when I’d bought my new home, but everything seemed to be going tragically wrong. Still, having to do that for an hour was better than having to dip into my emergency fund. “What kind of community service?” I figured that if it was something reasonable, then it might be worth it. Something along the lines of changing a tyre, but something I was actually capable of doing. Especially with the way she’d framed it, maybe I could offer some of my skills to the local children, perhaps arrange some fun activity in the communal park area.

Carol had slotted one arm of her sunglasses between her teeth while she thought, before her eyes wandered around her garden. “Well, I suppose my grass could do with cutting.” She then nodded towards the trees along the rear fence line. “There’s a lot of leaves that need raking, and some have blown into the pond water.”

“You want me to clean your yard?” I asked in surprise. “I thought you meant…do something for the community, not just for you.”

Immediately, Carol’s eyes shot to me in a scowl. “Are you suggesting I’m being selfish? Because I was actually considering a way out for you that didn’t involve a financial penalty. That’s the thank you I get for my generosity? You twist my kindness as if I’m trying to personally profit from your labour?”

“No, no…” I said anxiously. I was on the verge of finding a solution to my predicament and I didn’t want to blow it at the final hurdle. “I wasn’t suggesting that. I was just surprised. I’d be happy to clean your yard in exchange for the fine being written off.” I had a quick look around her garden and it really wasn’t that bad. She obviously did a pretty good job herself looking after it.

“Well, don’t let me stop you then,” she said, with another casual swing of her foot. I could see she was enjoying tormenting me, despite her expression remaining neutral. “It’s not going to clean itself, is it? If you do a good job, then I’ll waive your fine.”

“What? Now?” I asked in surprise. I was hardly dressed for gardening duty; decked out in a blouse, shorts and my favourite boots.

“It’s entirely your choice,” she said. “Don’t act like I’m forcing you to do anything. You can just pay off the fine and we’re good. If you choose to work instead of paying it, well, that’s up to you.” She signalled with her head towards the rear shed. “There’s tools and gloves and stuff back there. I’m sure if you put some real effort in you can have it finished within an hour.”

The thought of this all being brought to conclusion within an hour was most welcoming. “Yes, ma’am,” I said, and I even offered a moronic salute, as if trying to lighten the mood.

Carol just had this way of talking in a constant patronising manner and barking out unreasonable demands and orders as if she was a drill sergeant. On the face of it, I knew that cleaning her yard in exchange for the cancellation of a fine, one I didn’t even deserve, was ridiculous. But, this was the situation I found myself in, and I lamented the fact I hadn’t kept schtum about the party I was having. That first day when she’d shown up, I should have just brushed her away, but I had to go ahead and front up to her, didn’t I? Perhaps this was all a punishment for my petulance. I mean, I was the one that had called her a Karen straight to her face, hadn’t I? I’d figured I could show her that I didn’t care about her self-imposed authority, but evidently, I was completely out of my depth and now I was about to clean her frickin’ yard while she lay around enjoying the sun.

Carol shook her head dismissively at me, clearly finding no amusement in my behaviour. “Just get on with it and stop bothering me.”

I gulped at the audacity of her, and the way she casually gave me instructions as if I was the hired help. It was such a strange feeling, to be attempting to please a woman like her. She was a Karen, there was no denying it, and Karens were fucking annoying. Everyone knew that. They were a constant source of amusement as they ranted and raved about some imaginary injustice they’d been forced to undergo. You know, like smoke from a BBQ from across the other side of a gated community. But, Carol wasn’t being mocked, was she? She was laying back without a care in the world, and instead, it was me that was going to be the subject of mockery. I mean, people were going to see me working in her garden, weren’t they? Her yard was right next to the security gate, so whenever someone drove in, the first thing they’d see was Carol reading with her feet up, while I was cutting and raking the grass. Those who didn’t know me would probably figure I was her employee or something.

I gulped at the thought of that, considering I was basically doing this unpaid. Yes, it was to wipe off a fine, but that was an injustice in the first place. I’d basically been trapped into working for Carol’s benefit, taking care of her yard while she’d fined me for having fun in my own!

I grabbed some shears and a rake from her shed, and then came back out to the garden. Carol was still sprawled out on the lounger, and busy reading her book, sat in comfort with her feet up relaxing. I looked over at her and was suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of contempt. It was so damn unfair, but she appeared to have no remorse at all for what she was about to make me do. She was just going to lay there and chill out while a girl twenty years her junior cleaned her yard for her. It wasn’t as if I was doing it voluntarily either to help out an aging woman. I was pretty much being forced against my will, but evidently, that didn’t mean diddly squat to her. She’d even framed it like it was my own choice, that it was my fault for not paying a fine I so clearly deserved.

I couldn’t believe she didn’t even have a lawnmower too, so I was forced to hunker down and begin snapping at the blades of grass with the blunt shears, all the while cursing and grunting to myself.

“Make sure you get every corner,” she called out from the comfort of her lounger. “Get right in there. Right up against the bricks. I don’t want to see any mess or bits of unkempt grass left over. If you’re going to do this in leu of your fine, then you better do a good job.”

I grit my teeth and ignored her, my lower back already hurting as I scraped the shears up against the bricks in my attempt to get every blade of grass puffing out. My blouse was already sticking to my skin from the sweat of effort, and my boots were caked in mud, but apparently, that meant nothing to Carol.

“Did you hear me?” she called out.

“Yes,” I said back in a rather short manner. “I heard you.”

“Is that how you’re speaking to me now, is it? When I give you an opportunity to work your way out of your penalty.” She blew a petulant raspberry with her lips. “I’ve never allowed anyone else to do this. They all accept they were in the wrong and pay their fines immediately. You should be a bit more appreciate of the chance I’ve given you.” She shook her head and continued reading her book.

I stopped mid-cut with the shears as her ludicrous musings grated at me. I should be grateful for being allowed to clear up her yard? Her arrogance and entitlement were ridiculous, but I guess it wasn’t unexpected with her self-importance. I mean, she felt like she had the right to interfere in everyone’s homes and choices, and now she felt like she had the right to order me around. Still, her words just had a way of twisting things, almost like she was an expert at gaslighting and making me feel bad. I knew she was full of shit too, since my neighbour had told me all about the tyre incident. But I just wanted to get the work done, clear the fine, and get the hell out of there. Mostly, I just didn’t want to hear her annoying voice anymore. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said, hoping to put an end to her exhausting monologue. “I heard you, ma’am.” The sarcasm was obvious within my own head.

“Good,” she said while turning the page; her toes wiggling at the end of the lounger as she stretched them out and gripped at the material. “Now, stop bothering me and do your work. The garden isn’t going to take care of itself.”

I turned back to her, astonished once more that I was being made out to be the bother, but this time, I bit my tongue, instead feeling a warm flush flow through me at being spoken to in such a belittling way. It cut straight through to my pride, and it angered me immensely that I wasn’t able to retort or defend myself. I felt trapped, and unable to adequately defend myself, fearing that any witty riposte would only worsen my plight. Instead, something inside me made me respond to such arrogance with deference. “Yes, ma’am,” I said, and immediately I was overcome by a warm and fuzzy sensation that made me involuntarily flinch in a shudder. It felt so wrong to address someone you disliked with that level of respect, but I felt like I had no choice. I felt like I’d been backed into a corner.

Her behaviour was deathly offensive to me, and pretty much represented the arrogant selfishness and belief of every Karen I’d ever seen on the internet and all those I’d encountered first hand. At work, I’d go along with their complaints, because I was being paid. Yet, now I was suffering one where I lived and I was no longer reacting in the way I’d expect. Instead of recording her while she embarrassed herself with her immature, petulant demands, and sharing it for the world to laugh at, here I was praising her for it and following her demanding instructions. Despite it killing me inside, I was still crouched down and tending to her lawn while replying to her with respect. The more I thought about it, and how I had no choice, the more unfair it felt, and the warmer and more anxious I became. “Yes, ma’am,” I said again without even thinking, as if to test the waters of my body’s reaction; a feeling of shame immediately ripping through my pride. I saw in my periphery vision that Carol had glanced up from her book, her eyes squinting at my inconvenience of bothering her read instead of doing my apparent new job.

“Much better attitude,” she said, “but be quiet now, and do your work in silence. I don’t want you interrupting me again.”

I gulped as my face reddened at being overheard, and I dropped my head at being castigated as if I was a naughty child. Instead of reacting, as I knew I should have, I remained quiet, following her instructions to a tee while using my frustrations to energise myself into working my way through the grass. In the baking sun, the heat became quite unbearable, and the longer I worked, the more I found my clothes becoming sweaty and my boots scraped and dirty.

Meanwhile, Carol was relaxing carefree, enjoying the sun as it lightly-tanned her skin. However, she too began to notice that we were experiencing a hotter day than expected, and while I was lumping a bag of shorn grass passed her, I heard her sigh and whine, “It’s too hot.” She covered her eyes with her hand, before arrogantly snapping her fingers at me. “Are you busy?”

I blinked while clutching the bag, before glancing down at what I was doing at that moment. My forehead had a sheen of sweat and my hair had become matted to my skin. I couldn’t even process whether she was asking a serious question or just mocking me; obviously I was freakin’ busy as hell, doing her grunt work while she lazed around in the sun. “Yes?” I asked, while looking back at the cut and now neatly levelled lawn. “I’ve been working for over an hour, you’ve seen, right?”

Rather than being impressed, Carol rolled her eyes impatiently, then snapped her fingers once more, before pointing to a parasol a few feet away. “Come here and move this for me so I can sit in the shade while I monitor your work. I’m starting to burn, but I can’t go inside because the first instant I stop supervising you, I know you’ll go all workshy.”

“I won’t…” I felt mildly offended at the connotation of being lazy, and my first instinct had been to defend myself. However, I’d trailed off while Carol’s attention had gone fully back to her book. She’d snapped her fingers and summoned me like I was her trained lackey, before ordering me to perform another task while dishing out an insult to my work ethic. Now, she’d simply returned to her book and expected me to accept her disdain and perform her instruction without question. Inside, I was fuming at the way she was treating me, showing no gratitude at all for the work I’d already done. Yet, there was something else growing inside me, and the way she was treating me without regard was bringing butterflies to my tummy for a reason I didn’t understand. I’d had people be rude to me in the past, but none had belittled me in such a way, and shown no concern for my own feelings. It was as if the more she realised I wasn’t opposing her, the more of a Karen she became. She could have easily got up and moved the damn parasol umbrella herself; I was busy and exhausted enough as it was.

I looked at her, and was blown-away by the entitlement, and the ease of which she held no qualms about giving me extra work. It was just so wrong, to see a Karen get away with her behaviour. It was like she believed that I existed to do this kind of work for her, and I was finding the whole thing confusing and strange. I mean, I was already exhausted, and now she wanted me to help her rest in more comfort? It was just so…unfair, but I found that oddly provoking. Carol had to have known it was unfair too, but she was demanding it of me all the same. I was curious how she would respond if I actually just did what she wanted; would she ease in her attitude, or demand even more from me? That was a perplexing consideration and I was disturbed by the strange feeling in my tummy at the thought of Carol barking even more orders at me, while being trapped and forced to comply. It was almost like she had me restrained in legal bondage, and if I didn’t do as she wanted, she’d financially punish me. It was a power of which I was most envious, and therefore, I became fearful and almost revering of her might. While not really understanding exactly why, I found myself dropping the bag, nodding my head obediently and whispering, “Yes, ma’am.”

I scurried over and moved the parasol in place, before setting it up so that Carol’s reclining body was completely shaded from the sun. She made no comment and offered me no thanks, not even bothering to look in my direction; her focus entirely on her book. Still, I hovered their awkwardly, seeming paralysed as I waited for some fragment of recognition, some minor praise tossed in my direction. I was doing everything she wanted, wasn’t I? After all of her Karen demands and the way she framed everything as an inconvenience to her; I was agreeing and sucking up to her, yet, I didn’t even get any acknowledgement in return. Instead, I was left stewing there, my body still oddly tingling in turmoil as I remained forcibly attentive to Carol’s selfish needs. “Is there anything else I can do for you, ma’am?” I prodded tentatively, almost eager to make her happy. Why? I didn’t know, but there was something almost fascinating about witnessing an unrelenting Karen in her element. Almost like a Karen off the leash that was running wild, and rather than trying to restrain her, I was curiously encouraging her to break free.

Despite the safety of being away from Carol, by getting through this work and then keeping away from her, I found myself hanging around and almost wanting more unjust mistreatment from her; I couldn’t explain the catalyst, but it was like I somewhat craved it, because that odd feeling of being trapped in her power was vitalising. It was weird whenever she castigated me; it always brought a reaction, like I used to feel in school whenever I’d been caught doing something naughty. My skin would redden, my head would drop, and I’d instantly be remorseful. Even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, the teacher was the authority figure and therefore, I’d struggle to defend myself. I was having those same feelings flowing through me as Carol continued to talk down to me and tell me about all of the ways in which I was wrong and she was right. The more she did it, the more I felt like that little girl again. The more I believed I had no right to talk back to her.

Carol gave me exactly what I strangely desired, dismissively waving a hand at me and ordering me, “Shoo.” She didn’t even bother to look up in my direction. “Get back to work she said,” before turning a page and casually adding. “I’ll call you if I need anything else.”

For the next hour or so, I toiled laboriously, shaping and pruning Carol’s garden in all the ways I’d planned to do so for my new home. My fingers were already sore, and my palms calloused at the repeated chopping of the shears and digging of the trowel. Occasionally, I’d look upon my previously pristine manicured-fingers as they were buried in the soil, my femininity seeming to diminish with each passing minute. It was almost like I was destroying my own delicate, pretty features for Carol’s benefit; my face likely streaked with similar dirt with the amount of times I’d had to wipe the sweat from my brow and cheeks.

Each time I’d look at the dirt lodged beneath my fingernails, I’d glance up and feel overcome with resentful jealousy as I spied Carol relaxed in her lounger. Her feet casually crossed with French-pedicured toes looking pristine and unblemished. It was so bizarre, that my fingers were wrinkled from repeatedly plunging into the soggy soil, whereas Carol’s decades-older bare soles seemed flawless as they mindlessly flexed while enjoying her book.

It was at that moment, while I was staring a bit too longingly at her twitching toes, that I felt a twitch between my legs and in my nipples, and I panicked, not fully understanding what had happened. I’d been lingering on her reclined body for a minute or so, my mind wandering to the fact that she was laying there in comfort and at ease, while I was suffering at her direction, working my body to exhaustion and all for her benefit. After all, this was her garden being cleaned up, not mine, and why? Because Carol had objected to me having a BBQ, something that was blatantly no business of hers. Yet, she’d made it her business, and now she was making my business being an apparent lackey for her to pay off an unjust debt!

The unfairness was warping my thoughts, and I seemed to obsess on it; she was just so annoying, opinionated and selfish, and yet, here I was doing what she told me despite her being a thorn in my side. It was like I couldn’t draw my eyes away, constantly glancing up to her as she shifted and sighed in total relaxation. The more I sneaked peeks at her flawless soles as I worked, the more it was seeming to act as an incentive to toil harder. I couldn’t explain the desire behind my actions, but Carol had been such an irritating intrusion to my life, and now I was being forced to do as she said while she treated me with utter contempt. It was a situation I had never found myself in before, having mostly been treated with dignity and respect. So, perhaps for that reason, with it being completely new and taboo, and a reminder of my lack of power, that I was absurdly finding her arrogance exciting? It felt strangely good to be so casually used and with such inconsideration. To be suffering and aching, so my new worst enemy could relax and enjoy herself.

“What are you staring at?” I heard from across the yard, and I flinched upon seeing that Carol was looking over her sunglasses at me. Immediately, I averted my eyes, my cheeks glowing with embarrassment; had she actually caught me looking at her bare feet? “Stop daydreaming and slacking off,” she added. “You’re here to work, not stare into space.” She then moved her sunglasses back in place and shook her head. “See,” she muttered to herself. “I knew your sort needed supervision.”

I was mortified that I might have been busted staring at her feet. I mean, how would I even explain that? But, it seemed that she was just annoyed that I’d paused in my work. With the feelings of injustice flowing through me again, I was trembling with excitement as an urge to apologise overcame me. It was wrong, and she certainly didn’t deserve it, but I couldn’t help it. I was just too curious to see how she’d react if I acted with further deference towards her constant insults and snappy remarks. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said with a slight bow of my head. “It won’t happen again, ma’am.”

“It better not,” Carol snarled. “Buck your ideas up, girl, and put some graft in.”

The more she snapped criticism at my free labour, the more I dropped my head and stewed in this rare feeling of humiliation. I was so good at my job, that I hardly ever made mistakes, so being talked down to or made to feel embarrassed was something completely unfamiliar these days. Even when clients complained, especially ones of Carol’s ilk, I’d deal with their problems with patience because I was still in control. Even when they became rude, and had to go out of my way to maintain face, I’d brush it off, because I was being paid. This was different, however. It reminded me of being youthful again, and how I’d feel whenever a boy would catch me looking their way, or if one told me they liked me. My usually tanned skin would immediately take on a crimson flush; I’d shake in a mixture of fear and exhilaration while my tummy would twist and turn. My teeth would chatter and I’d get pins and needles in my fingers and toes. It was both mortifying and yet a sensory overload at the same time; my body seeming to take on a will of its own at the stimulation from an outside force of which I couldn’t control. I’d look about in a panic, convinced that others could see the way I was bashfully responding, and that in turn would only compound the experience further. Despite being shy, I lived for those moments back in school as they were almost a reminder that I was alive, and now, bizarrely, I was feeling similar sensations whenever Carol lambasted me, or I sneaked glimpses at her completely at ease while she put me to work. It made no sense, but I couldn’t deny the response of my own body to her goading and demands.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said a final time, and I finished raking up the grass and moved onto the pond area. There was plenty of leaves that needed fishing out, as well as algae that had collected near the sides and required scraping off.

Carol continued to enjoy her book for the next half or so, before she abruptly stood and headed into the house without a word. Immediately, I breathed a sigh of relief, and it was almost as if the haze I’d been existing in dissipated now she was out of view. No longer was I taunted by her enjoying her book while I worked, and it was almost as if the incentive had been taken away and a clearer mind returned to me.

I screwed up my forehead in confusion. Jodie, what the hell are you doing? I thought. I glanced around the garden and took in how good it looked. I’d been hard at work for hours by this point, and I’d pretty much delivered her a free landscaping. If I’d put as much effort into my own yard then it would have looked immaculate and homely. Instead, I’d wasted an entire afternoon on Carol. This was Carol, for God’s sake, that annoying Karen-like bane of my life, and I’d been working for her benefit? All because she had stuck her beak into my private party on my property.

I shivered and stood from my crouched position near the pond, almost feeling disgusted with myself. I’d done more than enough to make up for that stupid fine she’d issued me, and she was taking me for a fool. I was about to down tools and leave, when a throat being cleared from above startled me. I looked up and saw that Carol was now wearing a silk robe, while looking over the balcony. She had an annoying straw hat on above her sunglasses. Typical Carol, I thought. Who doesn’t wear a hat in the sun, but then dons one once inside?

“How’s the garden coming along, girl?” she asked while stepping up near the rail and leaning on her elbows. She looked down at me while sipping a steaming cup of tea, her eyes moving around the garden while she nodded her head.

Simply being called ‘girl’ by her was enough to bring back those strange feelings, and my response was shaped as a result. “Very well, ma’am. Almost finished.”

“I can see everything from much better up here.” She chuckled to herself. “It’s like a landowner checking the workers aren’t sitting down on the job at a vineyard.” She then made eye contact with me before shrugging. “You know what you migrants are like. You need constant observation.”

I blinked, barely able to comprehend the casual racism that was being thrown my way. Was she implying I was lazy and an illegal because my skin was slightly tanned? I mean, my grandfather was originally from Botswana, but I was as much a native of our country as she was. She was so blunt that I figured I must have misheard her. “What do you mean–”

She’d already waved her hand to silence me while taking another sip of her tea. She then narrowed her eyes in disapproval, before pointing her foot out between the bars of the balcony fence and turning her ankle to point at various spots of her yard. “Make sure everything is the same length. Rake and bag it all up afterwards, then you get can started on trimming the bits along the edges that meet the flower patches.”

“I’m finished?” I said in surprise. I was truly staggered that she was unhappy with what I’d done. I’d spent all bloody morning working my fingers to the bone. “You’re not happy with it?”

She grimaced; a bitter distaste evident on her curled lips. “You think that’s a good job?” She pointed with her toes towards a particular bush near the far fence. “I can see from here it’s completely uneven.”

I looked over at said bush and had no idea what she was talking about. It was a bush, after all. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“I don’t like it. Isn’t that enough?” She raised her eyebrow. “Do you have a problem with that? Because you’re lucky I don’t have you clean inside too.” She gave a final grimace around the yard. “I’d hardly say this pitiful work makes up for your fine.”

I swallowed, then sheepishly looked away beneath her authoritative stare. Already my skin was tingling even more from the odd sensation of unjust humiliation that she seemed to bring out in me. Immediately, all reservations and defiance abandoned me, and I longed to squirm beneath Carol’s expectant demands once more; it was deliciously fulfilling to stew beneath her scornful stare, despite me utterly loathing her. It was like I was trapped in a purgatory, but one that I found immensely satisfying? The work was more than good enough, but Carol still wasn’t happy, she never seemed to be happy and nothing I did was good enough for her. I almost felt like I was inconveniencing her by insisting the work was up to standard, and a dire need to bow to her petulant nit-picking arose once more. It was wrong, and not how a Karen should be treated, but I was lured to acquiesce to her unreasonable viewpoint. “No, ma’am. I’ll get it done,” I said, my breath becoming hot as I shivered with unfathomable excitement. “I’ll do it until you’re happy with it.” I almost fainted at the thought of having to do this sort of work forever because Carol could never be satisfied. What the hell was going on in my mind?

“Good, because I want my yard looking spick and span. Not like that deplorable excuse for a garden of yours. If you don’t get that into shape, then I’ll be re-imposing your fine and I’m not afraid to drag you through the courts to get it settled.” I caught a smirk before her lips disappeared behind the tea cup. “We both know what that means, don’t we? Since you can’t afford to pay your penalties.” She nodded inside her bedroom. “I have plenty of other chores in here for you to make up what you owe.”

“That won’t be necessary, ma’am,” I said while swallowing nervously. “I’ll get the garden finished.”

“We’ll see,” she said, before turning and going back into her bedroom.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon groaning and griping as I raked around the garden, levelling all of the grass and neatly trimming the edges so that the entire yard looked pristine. Occasionally, Carol would stroll out onto the balcony and watch me work, making sure to point and chastise me for any area I apparently missed. Each time my body would react in a bizarre way as I clutched the rake, my head dipping as I heeded her criticism and responded accordingly. Even when I knew that she was wrong in her assessment, and I repeatedly had to go over the same patch of grass, I did so, because Carol was up above me and arrogantly instructing me to. It was unfair how she always seemed to get her way, with everyone fearful in the community, but for that reason, a part of me was allowing her to continue to do so at my own expense. It was just so tempting, like looking at something you knew you shouldn’t, or putting your finger into a hole where you knew it may get stuck. I knew in my heart that Carol didn’t deserve to have me slaving for her, especially with her atrocious behaviour, but I couldn’t resist the draw to do so and the odd feelings it brought to the fore. It was like a cut in the mouth that I couldn’t stop from tonguing; the worse it got, the more I wanted to do it.

Once finished, I leant up against the tree in the corner of her yard and grimaced, completely exhausted. The garden looked fabulous, and I was strangely proud of my work, yet humiliated that it had all been for Carol’s benefit. My garden was already overgrowing since I hadn’t had the chance to buy a lawnmower yet, and here I was, slaving under the demanding authority of a woman I truly loathed and who had ruined my experience of my first home. I’d spent all afternoon blushing while I worked so publicly for her, convinced that the other neighbours were watching from behind their curtains and disgusted with what a pushover I was.

“You better be finished.” I heard from the balcony while catching my breath. Carol had re-emerged, in all of her annoying majesty. The robe had been abandoned, and she was now wearing some matching sports tracksuit, the kind she always donned whenever she was power-walking around the facility and looking for something to pedantically jobsworth over. It was like her specialised uniform, and she had on that dweeby visor tucked into her hair. “Because I won’t tolerate you standing around on the job if there’s still work to do.”

“I’m finished,” I said while silently cursing her.

Carol surveyed the garden, her beady eyes dancing around from behind her glasses. She scoffed at a few areas, before she pointed accusingly towards the drive way. “Look at that,” she fumed. “There’s grass clippings everywhere.” She then groaned and batted both her arms in its direction. “Don’t you even know how to do a job properly? I should have got some border jumper to do this. At least they follow instructions properly.”

I was shocked at the way she was speaking, and the outrageous bigotry from her lips, but still, I turned surprised and saw that she was correct. One of the black liners that I’d filled with grass must have blown open in the wind, and a few stray clippings had sprayed over the driveway. It was no more than a one-minute job to clean it up, and though exhausted, I sighed and headed over to do it.

“You want me to have a garden as messy as yours, do you? Hoping I’ll have to issue a fine to myself, are you?”

“No,” I said, while looking up at her confused as I swept the driveway. “It was a mistake.”

“You seem to make a lot of those, don’t you? If you’re going to do something, then you should at least do it properly.”

I closed my eyes, before letting out a deep breath at the entitled way she was behaving. Despite the strange feelings that had been spurring me on to do her bidding all afternoon, my body was wrecked and my mind was at the end of its tether. Her pokes and prods were relentless, and despite my best efforts, I uncontrollably snapped, “You know what?” I paused in the sweeping. “You’re welcome to do this yourself, if you prefer? I’ve been more than accommodating in this whole thing.”

“Excuse me, young lady? I’m the one that’s been accommodating,” she snarled, “but, you know what?” She snapped her fingers, already turning back towards her bedroom. “If you’re going to give me attitude, then to the office we go. Right now. We need to have a discussion.”

I stood there open-mouthed while she marched off into her bedroom. I was still stood on the driveway, clutching the broom and at the point of being finished. All I had to have done was kept silent and swept the last few clippings up and my unfair debt would have been paid off. I’d been on the brink of being free from Carol’s tyranny. Yet, she’d been pushing my buttons all afternoon, taunting and goading me while I offered her free labour, and I’d been responding more and more submissively. My outburst had to have been because I was simply exhausted and it seemed like there was nothing I could do to make her happy. She had ridiculous unreasonable standards and it was as if she felt like I just existed to do as she told me, however rude and demanding she was being. Perhaps she had been getting away with this kind of behaviour for years. Maybe everyone tip-toed around her and she was just used to pointing and barking orders to other adults as if they were her underlings.

My mind wandered back to the muffins. Was that why that woman had baked her fresh muffins? It wasn’t a nice act between neighbours, but rather one adult sucking up to another which held power over them? I mean, maybe they’d all adopted the strategy that it was better to adhere to this tyrannical Karen than try to oppose and mock her. What had Carol’s response been? She’d given the damn muffins away and insulted that sweet lady’s baking skills.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed by everything, as if I was completely out of my depth and I’d poked the bee hive by not immediately cancelling my BBQ when Carol had insisted. I’d basically put myself in her cross-hairs and now it seemed like she was going to be petty and annoying to me forever more. I was already envisioning the months ahead, where she’d be peering into my home from the sidewalk and finding any reason to make my life miserable, that stupid Homeowner Association agreement wielded as a weapon. Maybe the right course of action was just tip-toeing around her like everyone else seemed to do. I mean, it had been working pretty well all afternoon, hadn’t it? I had even felt strangely good while seeing her relax at my expense; working hard so this Karen could revel in her seizure of my weekend. My day of rest twisted to a day of free labour. I shuddered at the mere recollection of that injustice. God, why did my body keep responding in this way to being unfairly mistreated by her?

Before I could even finish up trying to save the situation, Carol appeared at the front door, and beckoned me with a crooked finger. “Didn’t you hear me, girl? Office. Now.” Her eyes were narrowed through her spectacles. “You need an attitude adjustment.”

Her tone was so commanding and expectant, and her once again referring to me as ‘girl’ made me feel tiny in her presence. Before I could squeak out a pitiful ‘yes, ma’am’, she’d already turned and disappeared back into the house, as if she knew I was going to obey. I thought about just slamming the broom down and marching home. I mean, why was I wasting my day off doing whatever this unbearable woman demanded? Ever since I’d moved into this community, she’d made my experience a living hell. She’d pretty much drained all of my enjoyment and enthusiasm from my achievement. Now, to rub salt in the wound, I was being forced to suffer in her presence and basically serve her in order to pay off the make-believe debt that she’d landed me with. Still, with the thought of being dragged to court in the back of my mind, and subsequent fines and fees mounting up, I knew I had no other choice than to do what she said. I couldn’t afford a lawyer, and despite being extremely annoying, it seemed that Carol was wealthy and well-connected. That’s the only reason I was working for, wasn’t it? I tried to delude myself that this was the case. It wasn’t because of the way working for her made me…feel, was it? How I became all warm, fuzzy and submissive whenever I caught sight of her relaxing while barking orders at my exhausted self? I swallowed nervously as my mind considered how deep into this I was getting; questioning my very own identity.

To make matters worse, those final words lingered in the air: you need an attitude adjustment. What the hell did that even mean? She almost sounded like some strict principal that was about to dish out a punishment with her trusty cane. I mean, I was a grown, adult woman. I was independent and successful. Yet, this unbearable Karen summoned me inside so she could apparently discipline me for something as simple as talking back. Talking back after working slavishly for her all day? It was ludicrous, and in being so, bizarrely intriguing. Once more, those same feelings of unfairness and injustice came seeping back into me, and I was having visions of just what kind of way Carol intended to adjust my attitude. Was she going to lecture me? Was she going to…spank me? I blushed right there on her doorstep while picturing that scene, bent over Carol’s lap while she smacked my ass and scolded me for talking back to her. I was almost dizzy while picturing the utter humiliation of being physically disciplined by a Karen; told that I was in the wrong again and again while knowing I was clearly in the right.

1 thought on “Karenocracy Pt. 01 by themaneloco”

Leave a Comment