A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you're about to fly.
When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He's a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.
It's been a week of blissful summer weather and so we sit back there evenings, sometimes mornings, especially now that our own fledgling has flown off to summer camp.
She tried to hide it but she was eager to leave and we've not heard a word from her since. She's a sociable kid, a busybody, a member of the gang, who loves drama, and life at home as an only child is much too sedate.
To be the daughter of a writer means hanging around a silent inert parent who is of less interest than a scarecrow. Camp means swimming, hiking, gardening, camping with a gaggle of equals. There's no comparison.
Once in a blue moon, she calls. If we text her, she responds with a word or two. I've given her several postcards, stamped, addressed to me, which is a joke. The chance of her writing a postcard to her father is zero to minus. She and I hug when she's home and sometimes she walks over to my laptop and says, "Make me laugh," so I do.
She and I share a keen sense of humor involving bodily functions and I know her vulnerabilities and though she folds her arms and looks very stern, I can make her fall apart. Her mother handles discipline, hygiene, manners, and education, and my department is comedy.
I miss her and at the same time I'm grateful that she finds pleasure elsewhere. Meanwhile, a tiny feathered father is yelling at me to stay away from his kids or else face death.
My love and I sit at a table in the shade of a tree and pick at our summer salads, gorgeous tomatoes and cucumbers, greens, chopped peppers and onions, anointed with oil and vinegar, and we carry on the conversation that is at the heart of any happy marriage. We met thirty years ago, a lunch date, and I was taken by the fact that she was funny and concise and never at a loss for words, which is still true.
I am an old man now and she somehow remains 35, same as then. I experience sudden gaps in memory, like walking along a sidewalk and suddenly a ditch appears, when I can't come up with the word for old-age confusion -- dentistry -- diminution -- sensual -- pretension -- and have to slip-slide around it, and she ignores this and leads the conversation onto solid ground.
I could go on living like this for a long long time, two people under a tree in a backyard, watched over by a ferocious bird, waiting for our child to call. When she does, often it is only for a minute: we hear girl talk in the background and laughter and then she says, "Can I call you back later?" and we say yes and she's gone.
Life is good. Of course disaster can strike at any time -- last week we had supper with a friend who described a visit to a park where she tripped on a curb and had to go to the ER and wound up spending two weeks in the hospital for reconstruction -- and I am aware of that though I choose not to discuss it over salads.
I am aware of a whole string of beloved relatives and friends who are gone because they were born too early to be able to enjoy the medical advances that would've enabled them to live longer.
I miss them and I try to live up to their example of fidelity and humor and kindness.
I'm glad we traveled to Portugal in June and I am looking forward to baseball in July and the return of our daughter in August, but this is the good life as I know it, a day of work followed by a conversation with my lover in the shade of the backyard, feasting on salad, and speaking quietly to a fellow father, assuring him that I intend no harm.
That's my goal right now. No harm.
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