It’s been about two years since we’ve had our passes for the neighborhood pool. And since the kick off of each season includes food and music, we decided that we’d wait no longer to test the waters.
We ordered up a little snow for the five to enjoy. It started early, while I sat scrutinizing my peacock painting at Cheers. First, it looked pretty sparse, just a few flakes wafting through the air before settling and melting. But then, they came faster and began to stick. Suddenly, there was a blanket of white. Traffic slowed, as caution and chaos battled along the roads.
And when they called closure for school, we decided to explore the few open spaces that remain in the community. We were first to the hill, with our makeshift sleds in hand. Why can we never find the real sleds when needed?
Ri wanted no part of the snow or cold, while JD insisted winter was his favorite season. But when his wet canvas sneakers began to freeze, he was more than happy to escort baby sister home.
We gave it a good half hour and left the hill when too many would be sledders joined us on the slope.
A swift breeze brings the thousand little hairs to life. They dance around her neck, undulating to a rhythm no one can hear. She walks with a purposed stride up the sidewalk as traffic whips past her. Bracing from the sudden shock of cold, she shudders and rolls her shoulders. Inside her long coat, she looks quite stocky. Her shopping bags droop with the weight of their contents, each sack seemingly filled to capacity. Her sneakers look weathered beneath her loose hanging jeans. Her knit hat seems barely able to withstand another season, as yarn slips loose and waves in the winds of traffic. She too, with her dark leathery skin, has the look of years passing. She shows no sign of slowing, even as the cross walk light blinks its red hand to hault her progression.
I’d like to pause that moment in time. That moment when the little boy – pale skin flushed red in the autumn chill, brown hair tousled in his scurrying, big eyes bright with wonder of the world – still looked at things without judgment.
“My dog’s not a puppy,” he said with a smile. “He’s three!” The word rolled off his thick tongue like tree, and he took great effort to convince three chubby fingers to remain upright as he trapped his pinky with his thumb. He couldn’t have been more than four, himself. He looked at me, and began to rattle on about his dog. His mother, eyes wide with something akin to horror – – or was it disgust? – – gently urged him away. His father tugged the dog’s leash and quickly continued along the path away from my group. The couple spoke to one another in hushed whispers as they hustled further and further still.
Moments prior to our seconds-long encounter along the trail, the boy’s parents had seen our little entourage ahead of them. Three of my children, my mother, our tiny Grigio on his leash, and me were slowly making our way back to the parking lot. When they saw us, the man halted, jerking his happily trotting dog as he tried to avert our paths crossing by returning the way they’d just come.
“It’s okay,” mom had said happily, as she scooped Grigio into her arms. “I’ll pick him up.” They hesitated – that deer in the headlights pause – before slowly, begrudgingly pressing forward.
Our children – both sets – smiled happily as we drew closer, oblivious to the tension. It’s amazing, really, how young people are blissfully oblivious to prejudices of their parents.
A lump had formed in my throat, but I returned the boy’s ready smile. “Oh, three? He looks so young,” I responded, eying the puppy-faced dog as the boy patted the caramel-colored fur on its head. Stone-faced and silent, the parents continued their now-purposeful escape away from us.
As he was quickly led away, he turned to walk backwards and continued to chatter, raising his voice to be heard over the increasing distance. “Well, bye!” He finally shouted, turning to catch up with a fast paced trot that matched his parents fleeing.
“I can’t believe they were going to skip the trails just because we were coming along the same path,” my mother said in a hush meant only for me. “Why deprive themselves of the experience? Clearly their dog didn’t mind ours. He didn’t even notice.”
“I think they minded us, not Grigio.” I said what she chose to purposely ignore.
“Yeah, I know.”
I suppose I’ve become that nosey neighbor.
It used to be the woman who strategically took her dog for bathroom breaks outside while she chugged a cig and noted the changes of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. She knew folks’ comings and goings, their new arrivals and their sent aways, and she was a master at delivering each person’s juicy gossip – as observed and not told directly. Most of us figured the dog was incontenent; I mean, no dog has to “do his business” every hour on the hour. Talk with it’s owner, though, and it was clear that the “business” was being minded was ours.
And now I find myself being the voyer. When I’m cooking, I’m glancing out the window lightly shielded by the sheer curtains. When I’m outside at the mailbox, I linger a few minutes observing the different vehicles occupying the spaces beside my house. When I walk to the bus stop to meet my son, I note each house’s front lawn – some painstakingly decorated for the seasons despite HOA warnings.
There’s this one house on that route down the street that always causes me pause. The owner (whom I’ve never seen), is a paid-per-delivery employee’s dream. Every day, new packages sit on the porch. They’re in plain sight and carelessly close to a very busy street. And these boxes of many sizes are most often from Amazon, as the bright red tape emblazoned with “fire” entices attention.
Two little brown-and-white dogs sit on either side of the door peering out through the windows that frame it. They watch as I pass by, barking acknowledgement – or warning. They must be waiting for more packages.
The owner is female. I know this because I dared to walk closer and glimpsed her name, which is, coincidentally, merely a letter added to my youngest’s moniker. I wonder what she is ordering. I wonder if her commute is long and she busies herself shopping online. Were those couple of shoe boxes from last week housing sensible work shoes, or does she house a stellar collection of fashionable high heels? I wonder what this woman, with the name invented like my daughter’s, might be like.
And then I walk on by.