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.