An Evening of Promise

It was a little bit mixed sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded: middle-sized gracefully fretted wood houses built in the late nineties and early nineteen hundreds, with small front and side and more spacious back yards, and trees in the yards, and porches….Supper was at six and was over by half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted at the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out….And yet it is habitual to summer nights, and is of the great order of noises, like the noises of the sea and of the blood her precocious grandchild, which your realize you are hearing only when you catch yourself listening.   —James Agee in Knoxville: Summer 1915

Yesterday’s rains have driven the humidity away. After a day of clear blue skies, the coolness of the evening beckons me from the house. I won’t last forever, this weather whispers in the wind. After supper, spontaneously, I respond to the quiet invitation.

From the overhead wire along our street a sparrow pipes his courtship song. The dog strains at her leash, plowing her miniature muzzle through the cool grass. The evening sun bathes her white fur orange. For one brief moment she stands like a small fierce lioness on the savannah, sampling the air.

A bluejay screams from his perch in the oak that stands at the upper corner of the graveyard. The lavender asters have been felled by the workmen’s mowers. All the grass is now neatly trimmed at the base of the headstones.

We walk our traditional loop down the hill to the end of the cul-de-sac and back. The dog pauses periodically to sample each invisible odor with her nose. Off to the left the trunks of the maples glow in the sunlight as the wind rustles the leaves on their high branches.

Back at the top of the hill deep within a forsythia bush a catbird rehearses a scenario of bars she will never succeed in blending into a final symphony. Still she persists in her attempts to perfect each string of notes unrelated to the last.

The lawns on our street have been clipped, as close to manicures as any New England yard will ever get. As we ascend the driveway, I notice the yellow primroses have bowed their heads for vespers.

All is in readiness. Five days more, with the ripening of the strawberries, the granddaughter will arrive.


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