What We Found
By the fifth 100-degree day in a row, I was desperate to get out to air and trees and cicadas. And so, when the sky clouded over after dinner, I told my youngest to put on his shoes — we were going for a walk. “Okay,” he said, “but I want to go somewhere we’ve never been before.” He was hoping, I think, for an actual New Place, somewhere exotic and beautiful, somewhere with mountains and temperatures in the mid-60s and maybe Cheetos.
“Well,” I said, “I guess we can turn right at the end of the street instead of left like we usually do.” And being an unusually amenable five-year-old, my son agreed.
Outside the air was still thick and wet as a damp towel, but the clouds kept us covered and we began our explorations, my son picking up feathers and acorns and seed pods and cicada shells as we made our way to the New Street I’d promised. And as we turned onto it, I heard a buzzing sound. It paused for a moment, then started up again, faintly. Bees, I thought, and scanned the treetops for the swarming that would mean a nest. Other than a few cardinals, though, there was nothing.
We kept walking. The air was silent for a few more seconds, then broken again by the buzzing, closer now. A stop-and-start sound, and my brain landed on the next most reasonable explanation: someone was doing yardwork on this street, using a weedwhacker, or maybe a chainsaw.
Then the shrieking started. First the buzzing, louder now, then, immediately, a child’s shriek. Then a pause. Then the buzzing, then the shrieking again. The ominous causality dawned on me slowly, like when you’re watching what you think is a dark comedy and realize midway through that you’re in for straight horror. What was happening here? Who was making this kid scream? An angry parent menacing a child with a power tool? An older sibling, a babysitter, ready to teach a kid a lesson? What nightmare had my neighborhood morphed into?
But it made sense to me, too. It fit. Not given my neighborhood itself, which is generally quiet and friendly, full of waving neighbors and occasional rooster crowings. But given the world as we know it. Given this year, last year, the year before that, the shootings, the rage rallies, the day-to-day high alert, the half-mast flags, the minute-by-minute cruelties, the shocks that have ceased to be shocking, given this place and what it can hold — what else could it possibly be?
I scanned the street, the yards. Should I do something? Could I? What? My phone was in my hand, but what would I say? The buzzing got louder, got louder, the shrieking, too, and suddenly I saw a child running around the side of a house and my heart revved.
Then I saw what he was running from. Another child emerged from behind the house with a bright yellow trombone the color of a daffodil. As I watched, this child played a long, toneless blat at the first child, who shrieked again and ran. It was ridiculous. It was impossible. It was exactly what was happening. I stared for a minute, until a neighbor recognized us and walked over to say hi, and she and I talked about the heat and humidity while my son found some tiny powder-blue berries, a metallic green beetle. Behind us the kids shrieked and blat-ed at each other.
After a while, my son and I walked home in the heat and I helped him carry what he’d found. Some of it was dead, and some of it might have been poisonous, but the berries were so blue, the feather so soft, the seed pods so mysteriously smooth. Somehow, though our hands were overflowing, we managed to hold all of it.
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