In the city, it’s not unusual for one to have only the vaguest of acquaintance with one’s neighbors. My current next door neighbor is an excellent example. He moved in perhaps two years ago, three years ago? One loses track, and our paths cross maybe two… most certainly not more than four times a year.
His arrival had been hardly noticeable. One day the old resident’s name disappeared from the mailbox. Then, some weeks later, a new name appeared. And oddly, a smudge blossomed above his doorway, as if someone had held, for a time, a candle too close to the ceiling. Or had it always been there? When we finally met, I didn’t ask about it. It was hardly important, after all, and that it had anything to do with him was pure speculation.
Over time, he was always cordial but closed. “Working hard,” he would reply to “How are you?” “Going to work,” he would explain if we met on the landing: an older, quiet, always neatly dressed gentleman with a vague accent that somehow evokes the eastern Mediterranean.
Some months (how many?) after he moved in, the smudge became an X… or is it a cross? When did that happen? I hadn’t noticed, but the possibilities seemed amusing somehow. I entirely missed the appearance of a second ‘X’ some indeterminant months later. When a third ‘X’ appeared, I was a bit flummoxed. When did this happen, or had there always been three?
Oh, but it isn’t my imagination. A few weeks ago, there were suddenly four.
The turbulent wind of an open convertible at highway speed rattled the envelope in his hand. It shook and bobbed like a leaf on a tree. From the driver’s seat, Maeve looked across the car. Soft spoken, her voice was hard to hear against the wind: “It’s from your father. Aren’t you going to open it?”
Was he? Dad could have called. He could have emailed. He could have knocked on their door. And he could have done that months ago. But now, a letter? What could that mean? With Dad, the medium was often the message; did he really want to know? Instead of answering, Dan sighed. After a moment he awkwardly torn the end off the envelope and extracted a sheet. It said:
Four months have gone by since we last spoke. I am doing something that I hadn’t planned to do, and that is, to make one more try if you will do the same thing also. I shall offer you what you wanted for a starter, so here goes. I apologize. Now, I expect you to come through with your part, namely, a two way, one on one, thoughtful, equal, sensitive and not insulting start at communication with an end goal of bridging over the gap which separates us. Agreed? Otherwise, J’ai fini, this time for real.
“What did he say, Dan?” Maeve asked.
Dan held the letter between two fingers while it gyrated in the wind. After a moment he let go and it flew away.
For all pedestrians who’ve had to negotiate lawn sprinklers.
Ah’m sorry, Ma’am. Ah gotta water the sidewalk. Ifn you don’t water the sidewalk, the concrete’ll juss turn brown and blow away! But lissen here. With proper irrigation and a judicial application of dogshit fertilizer — Why, Ma’am, come Fall, we’ll have a FINE harvest of gravel. Juss you wait ‘n see!
The street was in an uproar. A mob surrounded the tree. Foul-mouthed sparrows, get-off-my-lawn robins and cardinals, starlings from as far away as the next blocks over, grackles, even a few rock doves: for the two offenders were clearly visible in the not fully foliated oak. I joined the mob and looked up.
One crow shifted uneasily on its branch. The surrounding mob might be evaded, deterred, out run, but humans are dangerously unpredictable. This was getting to be more than the crow had figured: “I was only along for the ride.”
A few branches below, the second crow regarded me impassively, a dead hatchling held firmly beneath one claw. The crow shrugged. “Breakfast,” it said, and dug in.