the cat cut a tooth today
along the wilding wall
that creeps along the condominiums
that sit each twenty feet tall
The neighbors to the left are quiet. They look at each other and not outward to the neighborhood, the neighbors. The father is six foot, strong and obviously used to working with his hands. His face is genial and he is quick to smile when spotted, waves hello, flashing white teeth in a bronzed, Latino face. He has a solid look in the set of his features and in his eyes, a practical intelligence that says I can take care of whatever is in front of me. Maybe he is 46, 47. His wife is younger. She is short, pretty and slightly plump, with a distracted, slightly fearful air about her. Her hair is 80's poof, always done, her makeup always done, her outfits match even when casual: the dark blue Padres hat, the dark blue shirt. She is terrified of our dogs and when they bound out to pee on the perfect lawns, she runs with a small, girlish shriek that is clearly involuntary and embarrassing to her. On the weekends she is drunk with a clockwork regularity, and her drunken state is high familiarity, social ease; she drinks for the oldest reason in the books, to feel comfortable in her skin. When we walk by their back porch on a Friday or Saturday, fussing at the toddler for dawdling, dropping groceries, juggling bags and stray toys, they are barbecuing, and she leans comfortably over the railing, smiling in a big dimply tipsy, chatting up my husband.
Their children are older teenagers who they had with other people before they met. The oldest daughter has a daughter, a toddler the same age as ours. Their kids play with the same internalized focus that their mother and father do, eyes to each other, ears tuning out any shouts, shrieks, questions from neighbors that would catch someone else's attention. They stay in a precisely ten foot radius of grass outside of their condo. The wife comes out front and adjusts her hanging plants, back to the rest of us. The dogs bark and she goes back inside. The kids are happy- not friendly but they seem very happy- they scream at each other in play, have big easy smiles, large twinkly eyes, there is rarely a scuffle; I've never heard any of them crying.
In the evening there is no shouting, screaming, cursing or arguing. The lights are out when I come back from my run at 8:30. Some weekends the group of them head out to their cars, and something about the dress and posture says ' We are going to the movies. '
A few weeks ago, someone's grandfather was over for the drunken barbecue. He stood outside on the porch, alone, with his hand held at an odd angle over his heart, like a broken bird wing. He looked at the ground, and was bending over slightly, holding himself up with his other hand on the balcony railing. The folds of skin on his cheeks quivered. Sir, I asked as I passed by, are you OK? He looked up at me and smiled uncomfortably. For a beat, he didn't answer. Yes, he said, yes I am. I went into my house and, very concerned, checked on him again through the blinds. There he stood, face quivering, hand over his heart, clearly almost crying, his entire family behind the glass sliding door, eating and laughing and waiting for him to come back in.