A lone, vaguely Eastern string wails via the radio while shoppers browse for Celtic mood rings and leprechan key chains. Outside a hysterical child cries MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY for three minutes, exactly the amount of time it takes for a four-year-old to walk from the Spar to the Tea Junction. The rooks chatter among themselves, louder and louder, as if to rival the endless flow of lorries, tractors, and rental cars. One sleek black bird begs; its parent shrugs, flies off. . . .
Our new house has red trimmed windows and a great ash tree with low-swinging branches. Children can hide comfortably in the hedgerow, under the vast dining table, among the spiders in our dark cupboards; this place, we think, is conducive to daydreaming. . . .
The resident robin perches atop the laundry line, surveys the newly cut grass. Beyond the stone wall await bramble, stinging nettles, tiny purple flowers, hills, the calling cuckoo.
The 85-year-old gnome-like man with the white-stippled feather in his hat winks at me. "Retired only five years ago." Made weapons of mass destruction.
He smokes dried valerian and he once worked atop a hill that surveyed Berkeley. (I realize later that he is referring to the Lawrence Laboratory.) He calls his cloudy-eyed wife "Ma" and asks her if she needs to go potty. He has a redhead sister named Rosebud and a daughter named Rosemary. He has traveled everywhere: Japan, China, Taiwan, wherever business took him.
He "cracks" jokes because he is the slightly younger brother of Bob Hope, Carol Channing, and co.'s generation. He remembers the day the Bomb dropped; he waits for the drum rolls, the canned laughter, what rewards for living this long. I have a hunch he'll surpass the centenary of his birthdate; his conscience is somehow clean and spare.