neighbors.

January 24, 2023

James makes soup. It looks anemic, but I do not say so. I submerge spoonfuls of olive oil-soaked parsley. I squeeze in more lemon juice and watch flaky salt melt into the golden marbled surface of the broth. I cannot eat another Saltine cracker. I have dumped the last gulps of blue Gatorade down the drain. Our children use their fingers to fish for chickpeas and carrots and flick away ribbons of pappardelle. Not appreciating the luxury that is a broth-soaked noodle in January after a virus, they eat popsicles for dinner.

There’s something in the living room wall using the broken pieces of lath as a marble run. At midnight, the plastered over chimney is an arcade with a pinball machine. I’m convinced the uninvited guests are spilling onto the floor, dancing on the painted canvas covering I laid over sticky vinyl tiles. I roll James out of bed to investigate.

The rampart has not been breached. The revelers remain at bay.

//

Last summer, like most summers, Chimney Swifts hatched in the kitchen chimney at my parents’ house. On one July morning, the first swell of tiny throated calls comes from above the damper and then again, every day, for weeks. The swells are nearly loud enough to drown out the sounds of the human children who clamor for grandmother-delivered breakfast, offered in tiny bowls. Oatmeal, blueberries, peaches with the soft spots cut out. Every bleary eyed morning wish, served in miniature helpings—on a table tucked next to the hearth, in a nest of twigs clinging to brick.

This year, we left for our camping trip while the hatchlings were still calling for their breakfasts. We mounted a nest of our own—polyester taffeta stretched taut between flexible poles. On misty Adirondack mornings we woke to the calls of Hermit Thrushes and Cedar Waxwings and Red-eyed Vireos. Chipmunks scampered on our picnic table and darted under our feet. We laughed and said, “How cute!” We went on hikes. The kids ran ahead to search for mossy hidey-holes and caves for dipping into. Places to keep secrets. At my parents’ house, the Chimney Swifts fledged.

//

For the first time in days everyone is feeling well and the apartment is quiet. Except for the muted bass notes of Brian Lehrer thrumming through the floorboards. Except for the sanitation worker laying on his horn. Except for the dull roar of the BQE, the shrill bark of the backyard dog, the tinkling sound of plaster falling from lath. Except for the call of the Blue Jay outside the window. Except for the Tufted Titmouse, the Northern Cardinal, the White-Throated Sparrow.

I rewarm days-old soup, noodles plumped to dumplings.

I shall love my neighbor as myself.

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11 Comments

  • Reply Susan January 24, 2023 at 1:50 pm

    You write beautifully…

    9
  • Reply Judith January 24, 2023 at 3:04 pm

    And here I thought the “neighbors” were the kind who bring you soup. Ha! Such a luscious meditation and a reminder to focus on the joy. So glad that everyone is better.

    3
  • Reply Connie January 24, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    You really do write beautifully!
    Greetings from my flat in Berlin, where it is also quiet, except for the neighbour with the chronic cough one floor below and the Italian restaurant downstairs…

    5
  • Reply Susie January 24, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    Greetings from a place where I often hear an owl at night, but more often my neighbor’s dog before dawn…

    2
  • Reply Jen January 24, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    Your writings like this are my favorite of your posts 🙂

    12
  • Reply Doe January 25, 2023 at 10:25 am

    Lovely, must say.

    2
  • Reply Frances January 25, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Beautiful writing. With so much resonance for someone who lived on waterfront on a tiny island for decades but now lives (above and below and beside condo neighbours) smack dab in the concrete of a busy city neighbourhood, all too near a main ambulance route. There are compensations, but sometimes I have to write them out and stick them on the fridge! Feel better soon.

    2
  • Reply Anna January 25, 2023 at 2:00 pm

    Beautiful writing, Erin. Hope you get to enjoy another summer excursion away from the bustling city!

    1
  • Reply Lesley January 26, 2023 at 11:15 am

    Your words reminding me so much of the incredible “Late Migrations,” which I’m halfway through. Keep it up!

    1
  • Reply Angyla Braine January 28, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    Beautiful writing ☺️

    1
  • Reply L February 3, 2023 at 7:01 pm

    Beautiful way to deal with neighborhood noise. As a renter I feel your pain deeply. . I try to meditate on the birds drowned out by a testosterone driven spoiled teen doctors boy reving his 3 motorcycles over and over rattling my windows and my hours of choking on his gas fumes.. I shall be gracious to the neighbors who BBQ meat nightly outside my windows filling my vegan apartment with the smell of slaughtering burned animal meat as I lose my appetite nightly gagging . Ignoring the racing tesla nuts on our streets and racing bikes at 3 am. I ignore the rats in walls at night because rents here are at a housing crisis level and 1200 plus are homeless. and fall asleep dreaming of my own home and peace I will never have . Such is the life of renters.

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