A blue corrolla sputtered past, its muffler sounding like a fart cushion squeezed soft and slow. I pictured a Shriner’s mini-car at the front of a Thanksgiving Day Parade, driven by a tassled fez hat-wearing driver.

The morning’s parade had already started. There’re no homecoming-like tractor-pulled flatbeds with members of the high school Homecoming Court waving to cheering friends and family. There’re no floats of Mardi Gras Krewes festooned with lovely ladies and lads tossing plastic beads to screaming crowds. This 5-day a week parade consisted of two types of cars. Each driven by their own respective fez-hatted drivers. Type 1 Cars include a prominent grill, a growling engine and shape you might see on ‘Animal Kingdom’ snagging a sunbathing seal in its mouth, shaking it and then disappearing beneath the surface. Titters and cries from the tour boat riders. I pictured the tour boat’s sign saying “Watch the sharks eat somebody else’s young. $25 per person, 2 drinks and lunch.” There’d be a grisly picture offering proof. I imagine the car driver’s buffed, pumped on energy drinks and self-talk; Master of his Universe.

I raised the morning’s first cup of coffee to my nose and inhaled. Mmmm.

Category 2 cars have no grill, a boxy backend and an engine that runs silent, not deep. Their drivers think a vegetable garden is a farm and wear over-sized and over-priced farmer’s hats, farmer’s coats to prove it. And, LL Bean puddle jumpers. If they had an ad , it would be digital ( save the trees, right) with pastel colors and happy voices chirping “I have the money to do-good and you... well, you don’t. Buh-bye.” Their cars are always painted white. Very asexual. Probably a good thing.

Who doesn’t love a cliche’? Then again the reason they’re a cliche’ is... ‘cause they’re true?

I shake my head to scatter those thoughts and get back to my priorities. The most important being the morning’s first sip. Like a true friend, a loyal dog, it’s there for me.  Hot, dark, feisty enough to snap my eyes open and demand I pay it attention. A smile comes to my day. The bite and the adrenal surge scatter the morning’s cloudy miasma like the sun scattered the morning’s fog. In its place a crystal clear morning had arisen, all dew-laden grass, flower petals standing up and perky waiting for someone to notice and I do.

The aroma of flowers - magnolias, azaleas, dogwoods and cherry trees and tulips and my own hanging baskets of geraniums and verbena - staged an orderly retreat laying groundfire, literally, coating the surfaces of shrubs and grass and porch railings with their reminders.

Tree limbs near the top sway with a morning breeze so soft it’s like a lover’s apology. I have to go. Sorry. But I’ll see you tomorrow. Promise.

Another sip and it’s still hot, dark, packing a little nip like a cat insisting you honor its presence. My smile is stretching. The parade slowed to a trickle of cars, a background hum.

My smile must be almost a leer now. It’s the one my wife swears I hide behind when I’m thinking ‘impure’ thoughts. Then she giggles and walks away while she looks over her shoulder at me. Works every time.

The screen door shushed closed. ‘Hey you,’ I heard before her jasmine perfume flooded my senses. Words and voice and scent... wait for it... and touch and warmth as she glides past. One warm hand trails across my bare knee. Shivers up my neck. She saw it and laughed.

She eased onto the cushion beside me, rockin’ the porch swing gently. Our love boat, she called it.

What are you thinking?

She stroked the side of my face and then leaned over and kissed the top of my head.

Jelly, I said.

She laughed, happy to still have that effect.

We sat and sipped and observed, mmm’ing and ahh’ing at each other’s commentary on the morning in front of us, interspersed with tasks, errands, uncertainties, worries, family, neighbors. Nothing so much said but everything heard and understood.

Life is good, I said. With that we both confirmed we held empty cups and placed them on the porch by our sides.




Stragglers to the morning’s parade raced to catch up. The little engines in boxy white, run silent cars whining at their owners. Kinda like little kid running and whining about being left behind. We both leaned forward and turned our heads to watch.

The smell of gasoline and oil and hot engines and warmed-up asphalt overwhelmed the flowers and leaves and dew. For now.

Are you happy we moved here?

Yeah, I am.

Me too.

The bypass comes in next month.

That’ll make it nice.


Appreciation should go up.

Yep. And our taxes.

The sweet smell of success.

I raised my nose up and sniffed loud. Smells like a parking lot, I said.

For now...

She snuggled into me and I wrapped an arm around her and we swang like that for a few minutes or an eternity. Or both.

She poured us each a cup from her thermos and I sipped from her cup while she poured mine. Tastes better, I explained. Happiness in a porch swing. Doesn’t get better. 

Mr. Watson’s out early, I said. Chin pointed across the street to a neat lawn leading to a small two-story brick home defended by a fortress of delicate pink petals. Azalea bushes. Decades, said our neighbor to the right - Jackie Lambert.



In front, like bushy sentinels stood two apple trees, also fully-blooming. All these flowers so close must be intoxicating at night when the wind and the noise lay down together.

Hand clippers in one hand, he reached into the petals and snipped off the heads of traitors who bent the wrong way or alien invaders like snake vine and poison ivy.

Problems on the homefront, Meena asked. We both stared across the street, neither one of us needing to see the little one-sided grin on her face.

God, after, what, 40 years... you’d think.

Yeah, you would.

She’s a talker...

Never stops.

But she’s funny...


Nobody’s funny all the time...

After 40 years...


We let that truth hang in the air between us.

Will you still laugh at my jokes...

After 40 years?


If they’re funny...

We both laughed. She squeezed my hand, I squeezed hers back.

Mr. Watson raised up, stretched his back and waved at us. We smiled and waved back. Neighbors being neighborly, the foundation of democracy. In the lull between cars Meena shouted “Your yard’s so beautiful!”

He waved and returned to his beheadings. 

He heard, she said.

He couldn’t have heard. I can barely hear you. That made her laugh. She placed her hand on my knee and kept it there.

The Mad Painter and his mom lived on the right side of The Watson’s as we sat. Pin oak tree on one side of the walk with limbs so wide they shaded his entire postage-stamp front yard, from the edge of Mr. Watson’s shrubs and all the way to the edge of the side street bordering his property. He’d converted his garage into a studio long before we arrived. Now it stood as little more than a lean-to with a hasp lock on a windowless front door. At all times of the day and night we’d seen him scurrying back and forth from house to studio.

Never any shows, no gallery openings. But a week after we arrived he invited us over for a glass of wine and a tour. I saw a progression of talent and themes in his work. He saw them, too; seemed proud to see it through our eyes. We bought one, considered it a $250 investment in good neighbors and a man’s sanity or food budget we weren’t sure. It hung in my office and its flowers painted in brilliant colors and violent strokes made me smile in the darkest hours of this pandemic. Meena’d always laugh and shake her head and then face me in such a way as to not see it.

That one-and-only tour had been interrupted by the buzzing pager on his belt. He nodded his apology, we nodded our permission, and he left. A few minutes later he returned, said ‘Mom, needed a few things’ and never mentioned her again.

We never could decide if he was our own Boo Radley all grown up or Norman Bates escaped and living under a fake ID.

Either way, he kept his lawn clean of those tiny pin oak leaves in the fall, shoveled his sidewalk in the rare snowfall and sometimes waved to us.

He allowed his front porch to be used as a shelter for bus riders. He’d built a bench inside it, added some functional paint-splashed cushions. Some of its ‘customers’ donated a few bucks, added cushions of their own and even brought plants and watered them in the summer, packing them up and taking them home in the late fall.

The joy of this neighborhood watch ritual, which was often as we’re a tolerant pairfor wind and rain and heat - all that, is to people watch. Who, what and when. Who is obvious, what they wore, and when they arrived or departed - you can or we can now tell a lot about a person with these first three. But then which bus they used, t leave or return and finally and this is icing on the cake... do they walk home or does someone pick them up? Likewise, in the morning. It’s not the Walk of Shame. No, we coined it The Dropoff of Shame. Some dropoffs needed no commentary, just a fist bump and maybe a ‘told ya.’

Sorta like being judges on American Idol. Meena played crazy Paula. For some, she’d wave her arms in the air and dance ‘the woogy’ as we called Paula’s dances. For others, she clapped like a 2-year old. I’d play Randy - booming an suburbanized version of hip hop cool - or Simon Cowell, sneering and sarcastic. Never lasted long, we’d always laugh after the first seconds. We’d wait until our victims left ‘the stage’, even biting our lips and sitting on our hands so they wouldn’t see us.

Harmless fun. It’s the little rituals that keep a marriage alive. We’d tell ourselves that.

We sat there, the picture of domestic bliss, until Meena pointed at the corner of our front yard where a life or death drama played out for our amusement. A large maple tree anchored that corner. Bobbing at the end of its limbs, almost twigs in size, 3 finches and 2 robins had formed a ragged circle in the air above an ageless tabby cat with one eye and a bent tail. Like prison guards in their towers they monitored his every movement. They’d squawk and flap their wings if he moved. He’d turn his head sideways and stare up at them with his one good eye.


He’s fucked.

How long.

I give him 5 minutes.


I set my phone’s timer and we waited.

6 minutes later the one-eyed feline leaped up, missed the nearest avian guard by 3 feet and upon landing raced off underneath the porch where we sat. The guards were still flapping and squawking.

Burgers or spaghetti, she asked.


The intermission stretched on. We joined it and stretched in turn, first Meena and then myself. I’m a cup ahead of you, I said, and headed inside for a bathroom break.

2 minutes later I eased back into the swing. Must be nice, she said.


Zip down, zip up.

Yep, I agreed. Life is good. Baby it’s a man’s world and she struggled to keep her coffee in her mouth. Once swallowed she leaned away from me and punched me in the arm. There’s more where that came from, too.

I kept my mouth shut, knowing when discretion is the better part of valor.

We turned sideways, call it a 45-degree angle, so we could watch the Gray’s house and the bus stop. The Gray’s house sat on the left of Mr. Watson’s. Like The Mad Painter’s, a large tree dominated the front yard of the Gray’s. A 30-foot tall pine tree. Scotch or spruce, we could never decide.

We could also never decide how it landed there and survived garbage trucks and the morning parade and salt and sand in the winter. But it had and now it towered over the neighborhood, a one-tree beacon you could see from the grocery store 6 blocks away.

The house had been dark for 2 months? 62 days, 47 work days. Not a peep, not a light. No cars in or out.

63 days ago, a man had lived there. We never met him. He worked the night shift. We’d see him stepping off the bus, at the end of our morning intermission. He looked tired, we looked happy. Never the twain shall meet. We didn’t.

Computers or something at the telephone company. That and a head nod from Mr. Watson confirmed Mrs. Watson’s report.

32 days ago I mentioned I hadn’t seen Mr. Gray step off the bus since I don’t know when. Top notch neighborhood watcher, I am.

Me either, my eagle-eyed partner in life said. No, not in awhile.

What we had noticed back then was another, smaller, parade. We studied this work-day ritual in amazement, disbelief, awe and wonder. It hurt like hell, too.

Wait a minute, Meena said.


He’s coming.

The finest example of a pure-bred Heinz 57 dog trotted into view. Heinz 57 because there were so many breeds jockeying for dominance in that small body. Beagle, terrier, chihuahua, basset, lab... Rhodesian Ridgeback... Get out... No serious, it’s the short hair... A head that consumed 35% of his body’s length, stubby legs so short his bellows-deep chest barely missed the ground. Lopie ears, a bite so strong he ate bones and a grin so big you had to laugh. He paused, front half, which was mostly his head, in the sunlight, the rest we assumed remained in the shade from the giant watchtower pine tree.

There he is, I said. Though we sat in the shade of our porch, downwind and 50 yards away, we froze. Her cup in mid-flight, mine wanting to be.

He glanced left, glanced right and then held his nose up. He considered those inputs before turning to his left, towards the corner and the Mad Painter’s house and the bus stop. Empty now. Had been for 30 minutes.

Meena, cup still frozen halfway between her lap and her lips, kept her other wrist in her lap and turned it slightly so she could see the time.


He’s early.

Tippie, we’d heard him called that, trotted down the sidewalk. Focused, purposeful, heading towards an appointment. Mr. Watson beheaded dead heads, Mrs. Watson watching or waiting... couldn’t see her; couldn’t imagine her not watching or waiting. The Mad Painter painted or drank coffee or tended his mom. We weren’t sure, hadn’t seen him.

At the 3-step stairs that led from the sidewalk to the front porch he paused. He raised his head, sniffed the air, decided all was well and bounded up those stairs, his ample chest never touching the steps’ concrete surface.

He glanced up at the shaded porch with its chairs and couches too high to conquer or its carpeted floors and decided the tree’s shade would be better. Better breeze, better sounds, better sight lines. Maybe he didn’t think through those options but he lay down, his head on his paws, in the exact spot we, expert and observant Neighborhood Watch Commanders that we were, decided was the optimum for all three. Smells, sounds, sights.

His eyes toggled left, right. Once he raised his head for a quick sniff then lay back down. Eyes open. Waiting.

By now Meena’s cup had completed the round trip from her lap to her lips and back. My cup had never left.

The driver of the bus could see the watchtower pine by now. If he was looking. The passengers couldn’t unless they knelt in the aisle and look through his windshield. Doubtful.

The bus stopped two blocks away. Tippie raised his head. Tail wiggled, just the tip. He was pacing himself. I knew Meena’s eyes had teared up. The bus’ transmission ground up to 3rd gear. Getting closer. Tippie sat up.

The bus was 50 yards away. Tippie trotted down the steps to the sidewalk and faced the direction of the bus. Focused, tail wagging in a 45 degree span. Ready.

The bus continued past. Not slowing, not stopping. None of the passengers saw Tippie. They never did.

Meena sniffled, wiped her face with one hand and left.

Tippie waited then at the bus like he was wondering if the driver forgot, maybe he was playing a trick on him. Once it disappeared from sight and the morning quiet settled back in Tippie’s giant head nodded once. He rose up and trotted home.

He’ll come tomorrow, I said, and left the porch to join Meena.

May 22, 2020 17:25

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Karen McDermott
08:36 May 28, 2020

Real poetic, some great similes here. Also it makes me wish I had a swing and a porch to put it in.


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Unknown User
03:36 Jun 06, 2020

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