He sits solemnly across from her on the floor as she plays dress-up with her dolls, laying them out in a row, apportioning the outfits, smiling and talking to them, to him, to nobody in particular. He struggles to hide his lack of comprehension. He is eight years old, and imagines that he will be in love with her forever: not the slow grinding forever of school but the forever of summer vacation, which smells like pine trees and is always so full of promise.
Weeza weeza weeza weeza weeza. The black-and-white warbler’s song is as colorless as its name. If you listen long enough, you begin to think that it might be all the news you really need, a monotonous summary scrolling across the bottom of the screen, chanted under the breath, whistled through the teeth. It persists not so much beneath the other, more colorful calls but through them, until all songs seem mere improvisations on these two basic syllables, black and white.
To reach the ballot box, you have to cross through the line of people waiting to vote. You’ve followed the instructions and tucked the punched card back in its folder. The woman behind the box takes your ballot from you, folds and tears off the stub, and hands both back to you, one in each hand. “Keep this,” she says, “and put this in the box.” A little awkwardly then you drop your ballot through the slot, as if for a raffle. “Pick me!” you find yourself wishing as you walk away, tucking the stub carefully into the same coat pocket where you always slip the stubs from tickets to concerts, movies, ball games. Outside the polling station – a small Methodist church – the people lined up with handouts show no further interest in you. In the yard across the street, three men sit in lawn chairs drinking beer and watching the parade of voters. You’re close enough to read the brand name on the beer cans: Miller Lite. Unlike in the TV ad, the men don’t seem to harbor any strong disagreements about whether it tastes great, or is merely less filling.
Five minutes after the feral black-and-white cat trotted down the driveway, the gray squirrel still wants to talk about it. “You could always be wrong,” I mutter to no one in particular. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon. Under an overcast sky, the scent of lilac. Male and female cardinals forage quietly in the elm tree while wood thrush and rose-breasted grosbeak carry on about sex and usufruct. The sudden yank-yank of a nuthatch sounds like a stray memory from last November, when the grayness seemed as if it would go on forever.