You are mowing the lawn when the birds in the trees begin critiquing
your technique. If thatís straight then my mother was a jay, two crows
say. The mockingbird does not mock, merely insults. Cheap, it says, too
cheap to buy a riding mower. A groundhog traverses the sloping lawn with
a movement that suggests a nude slinky descending a staircase. A nude slinky?
But arenít all slinkies nude? As you second-guess your own cognition, a
finch lands in the swath of grass just ahead of your pushmower and stares
you down. You attempt to master your embarrassment, but, finally, you yield,
to the finch and its authority, and shift the mower and its cylinder of
teeth to the next axis over from the one you were on. Iíll take the finch
in a pinch, the crows say to each other and laugh. You vow, not for the
last time, to stop buying birdseed, and to stop caring so much about the
News That Stays Newsí News
Every day the newspaper deliveryman throws the daily through the window.
Youíre not sure why he goes to all the trouble to tie a brick to the paper,
but you suspect it might have something to do with the aerodynamics involved
in the task. Your front lawn, a exemplar of greenery, generates a good
deal of oxygen; per science, that makes the atmosphere of the front yard
very thick indeed. If the newspaper deliveryman were to toss an unweighted
paper towards your door, it would probably bounce right back in his face.
Or burn up in an arc of flame before reaching its destination. All the
news thatís fit to break and enter comes tumbling through the bay window
each day, and for that small blessing you are grateful. Youíve never spoken
to the deliveryman, though youíve seen him at the grocery store, counting
out grapes in the produce aisle like a pharmacist counting out pills, dropping
them singly into a plastic bag. Maybe heís an amateur viticulturalist,
you speculate to your wife.
Always An Augur, Never A Haruspex
This is a little-known fact about the butcher that you uncovered one
day on your way to buy milk. You saw him, standing in his yard in a half-open
bathrobe, where he was spreading nets along the ground, engaged in what
you took to be the pressing preoccupations of lunacy. He traps magpies,
but not for sport. More, he tells you, for augury. The magpies are attracted
to rubies he lays out in the yard, rubies that he inherited from his mother,
who had acquired them during her time in India, and had had them set in
rings. A magpie is basically a very smart whore, the butcher tells you.
Even the males? Yes, especially the males. They want to adorn their nests
with every small, flashy thing. Magpies, if they were to possess the technology,
would work exclusively with chrome. You ask the butcher how he learned
the skill of augury. Just as I learned the skill of butchery, he says.
You watch as the man next door takes a sip of his martini. Still in
his suit, heís watching the sunset from his deck. A pearl-handled revolver
sits in his other hand. His evil dog Alfred is watching you watch his master.
The dog walks back and forth in the yard, along a parade route of its own
choosing, and keeps its eyes on you as much as possible. One hypothesis
is that the man is getting ready to play russian roulette, the two participants
being himself and his dog. If you had to bet, you would bet on the dog.
If they were playing the card game of russian bank instead, the odds would
be in the manís favor, with his higher reasoning skills, but in a game
of survival like this, thereís no question, the dog will do whatever it
takes. This may, in fact, be part of the dogís plan. He might have been
planning this for months, and have weighted the revolver precisely to his
own calibrations. The man seems too calm for a moment like this. Does he
know heís forfeiting his life to his own pet? You want to call out to him
and warn him. He should not have taken in a strange dog, no matter how
pitiful it looked, no matter how strong the urge for clemency was. An hour
later you hear a shot, followed by an imperious bark.