The Observer and our lovely bride have been doing a lot of porch sitting on the wide veranda of The Observatory of late, watching life scroll by on leafy Maple Street. It’s a beautiful thing. We’ve got a ceiling fan out there that we keep spinning to blow the skeeters off, two pretty good sittin’ chairs, and a wobbly little table just big enough to hold an ashtray and two beers. Who could ask for anything more? If the streetlight on the corner across the way would go ahead and burn out (The Observer has been threating for years to creep into our sniper nest some night and take out the bulb with a pellet gun … which we would never do, of course, because it would be both against the law and WRONG!), our placid little corner of the world would be perfect, or as perfect as things get in summertime in Arkansas, which is pretty dang fine.
Some nights, the older fella in the neat gray house cater-cornered across the street brings his sheepdog out into the road to give him a brushing, the birds later coming to fight over the wads of shed hair for their nests. Some nights, a kid cruises past on his unmuffled scooter — BWAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! — usually with a helmetless friend teetering at the knife edge of death on the back, the pilot swinging around the corner of Maple and Seventh streets then gunning it — BWAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! — so that the racket continues until he makes the corner at Oak.
Some nights, the neighborhood cats, tired of yowling lovesick at our mail slot after the fickle Miss Minnie, stalk and prowl in the dusk, sometimes sitting, half sleeping, at the edge of the pavement across the way, other times off like a shot, on urgent feline business. The branches of the oaks out front of The Observatory dip low, almost touching the yard, leaving the porch dappled in shadow as the sun sinks behind the glass boxes of UAMS. We figure the hospital, stacked on top of itself, will eventually jump Pine and Cedar someday, swallowing up the west end of Stifft Station, maybe including our little house given enough time. We’ll be long gone from Maple Street by then, and probably long gone from the earth. Either way, that’s not an Our Problem. That’s a Somebody Else Problem. Our Problem is finding the bottle opener, and recalling our favorite memory involving a David Bowie song, and telling the unapologetically wild, white-spotted alley cat who comes to sniff experimentally at the steps: “Well, come on up if you’re coming. Don’t be shy.” He never takes us up on our offer, but the tuna cans we leave outside are always licked sparkling clean by morning, so we know he at least trusts us enough not to poison him. It’s a start.
Some nights, the kid next door gets into arguments with his girlfriend on the telephone. We assume it’s his girlfriend, because we’ve never known an argument of any other flavor but Young Love to start with sweet nothings, escalate to shouting, then return to sweet nothings over the course of 30 minutes. Spouse and I fear their love affair is doomed, and probably for the best.
Some nights, after drinking honeyed whiskey — so sticky and sweet it could almost be poured on pancakes — from a Fiestaware teacup, Spouse reaches out and takes her Old Man’s hand, and holds it there silently as the whirling ceiling fan blasts away the Junebugs, and in those moments we remember and appreciate why our chairs are placed so close that our knees bump sometimes. Is there anything better than holding your girl’s hand in the dark on a summer evening? Not likely.
Some nights, we talk about our day, the good and the bad, the troubles we’ve seen. She works holding the line against chaos down at the courthouse, and sees so much of the ugliness of the world. The Observer’s job also often takes us for a dip in the cesspool of humanity’s ugliness. So some nights, we talk about it. Some nights, we try to make sense. Some nights, we share the load so we can carry it together. But some nights, we are just content to sit in silence, and stare out at Maple Street. And even on those nights when we find that the jug of honeyed whiskey has run dry, that warm and comfortable quiet there between us turns out to be mighty fine.