by S. Carolyn
Amanda Phillips peers from behind her drawn curtain to see if anything is happening on her street. There isn’t much--just her younger neighbor with the perfect body, perfect hair, and perfect make-up out for her morning jog. She let the curtain drop thinking, “Just you wait until you’re 60.” She pours herself a cup of coffee. Her husband, Doug Phillips, shuffles into the kitchen. “Good morning. Ready for breakfast?” she asks.
“Sounds good, but first I’ll have my coffee.”
Doug walks down the driveway to pick up the morning paper. “Good morning, Jack.” Jack was out walking the mongrel dog that his oldest boy had rescued from the SPCA. Jack grumbled a response and went on walking. He did not want to walk the dog, particularly in this morning’s drizzle. It wasn’t he who had rescued the dog. He envied Doug Phillips in his robe and slippers.
Doug goes back into his house, finds the Sports section, and takes a sip of his coffee. Amanda begins to make breakfast. “Did you hear that the Holme’s son is moving back home?” asks Amanda.
Doug grunts and continues reading his paper. He knows that Amanda doesn’t really need an answer.
“It seems that he and his wife can’t agree on when they should start a family. I talked to Theresa and she is devastated.”
“I’m glad our kids are getting along. I wouldn’t want them home. Doug, do you think Gladys and Ralph have any problems? They don’t have children yet.”
“Let’s not borrow trouble, Amanda.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Here are your eggs. Do you want catsup?”
“No, I’m fine.” Doug settles into his paper as he eats his breakfast.
Amanda walks to the window and peers from behind the curtains again. She sees a stranger walking to the door of the house across the street. He is let in. He doesn’t look like a service worker or plumber or electrician, as he is driving a sedan and there are no markings on the car. She wonders why someone would be visiting so early in the morning. She doesn’t remember seeing this person or car before. She pours herself another cup of coffee but slips back to the window. The car is still there. She watches until he leaves. “Doug, do you know if the Browns are having any work done?”
“Well, who do you think could be visiting at this early hour?”
“I have no idea.” With many years of practice, Doug knows how to answer her questions without being distracted from his paper.
Amanda cleans up the breakfast things and goes upstairs to take her shower. As she passes the landing window, she notices the stranger has returned with four other people. They don’t go to the door, but walk around the neighbor’s house. She thinks she sees some kind of shiny metal in one person’s hands. Then she sees something shiny in another person’s hands. She can’t make out what it is. She calls excitedly to Doug. “Get the binoculars. Something strange is going on across the street.”
Doug does not want to be disturbed from his paper. “I’m sure it’s nothing, Amanda. I don’t know where the binoculars are.”
Amanda does and finds them quickly. When she returns to the window, the car is still there, but the people are out of sight. She waits, watching for any sign. Nothing. Then the strangers return, get in the car, and drive off. Amanda is still unable to determine what is in their hands.
She runs downstairs and tells Doug what she has seen. “Do you have any idea what it might be?”
Doug responds lethargically, “Maybe it’s the FBI in pursuit of a fugitive. Maybe Mr. Brown has buried a body in the back yard. I always thought he was a little suspect, numbering his garbage cans and putting them out in order the night before collection.” After so many years, he has gotten used to Amanda’s need for excitement and drama. Doug smiles at his own little joke and goes back to his paper.
Amanda becomes increasingly agitated. “What is happening across the street?” She knows that Doug is teasing her. It is so irritating. He never pays attention to what is going on in the neighborhood. She is a good neighbor, staying on top of things. Wasn’t it she who caught the teenage boys stealing the neighbor’s garden boots? Everyone called her a hero when she saw Mrs. Nichols fall and break her hip. If it weren’t for her help, Mrs. Nichols might have gotten pneumonia. She decides to go up stairs and take a shower. She’ll return that cup of sugar that she borrowed from Mrs. Brown.
After her shower, Amanda gets dressed, combs her hair, and smears on some lipstick. She looks out of the window as she descends the stairs and sees a mini-van unloading all kinds of people. They are truly a strange looking lot. Some have khaki hats and some are wearing camouflage clothes. Some even have umbrellas up for the slight drizzle, tilting them back as they look up. Many are straining their necks upward, some stumbling in the potholes in the Brown’s driveway. Amanda grabs her binoculars and takes a look. Just as she recognizes that the shiny things are binoculars, someone raises them to their eyes.
It’s too much for Amanda. She runs to the kitchen, grabs a cup, spills sugar in her haste, but manages to fill it. Doug is still reading his paper. “I’m going across the street to return this sugar. You know, there is a whole van full of people over there.”
“Is there?”, Doug replies. “Well, say hello to Mrs. Brown for me, and be careful. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.” He smiles and returns to his paper, pleased that he will have a few minutes peace.
Amanda starts to go out, and then returns for an umbrella. She doesn’t really need one, but doesn’t want the sugar to get wet. She rings the Brown’s doorbell. There‘s no answer. She rings again. There’s still no answer. She hesitantly, but with
determination, walks around the side of the house. There in the Brown’s backyard are the strangers, necks craned up, and peering through their binoculars. She sees Mrs. Brown at the far edge of the lawn. She walks toward her. “Hello, Sylvia. I was just returning that cup of sugar that I borrowed. I’m sorry if I interrupted you.”
“Of course not,” laughed Sylvia. They had been neighbors for a long time and she knew Amanda well. She took the sugar, but did not explain the presence of the strangers. She liked Amanda, but found her to be just a bit of a busybody. She enjoyed seeing her steeped in curiosity.
Then there was a hoo, and another, hoo. Amanda looked up. “What was that?”, she asked.
One of the strangers replied, “There’s a great horned owl family up in that birch tree.”
“A great horned owl family?”
“Yes. They are very rare. Would you like to have a look?” The stranger offers his binoculars to Amanda. Amanda takes a look. She doesn’t really understand, but this must be important with so many coming out in the rain to see them.
Sylvia watches. “Where did you learn to use binoculars, Amanda? I find it difficult. Some of these bird watchers have loaned me their glasses, but I really can’t see the owls.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Amanda. “I’d better get back to Doug. He doesn’t like to be left alone at breakfast.” Amanda walked quickly back across the street.
Doug looks up from his paper. “Well, what was the excitement, Amanda?”
“There is a great horned owl’s nest in the Brown’s birch tree.”
“An owl’s nest? Hmm.”
“Well, Doug, they are very rare.”
“Well, I think I’ll call Theresa and see if she needs any help.” Doug doesn’t even bother to nod.
“Hello, Theresa, how are you doing? Did you know that there is a great horned owl’s nest in the Brown’s yard.”
“Yes, and they are very rare. There is a van-load of bird watchers over there right now looking at them. Oh yes, they are very rare and I saw them. How’s your son doing? Is he home now? I don’t know what I would do if our Ralphie came home.”
Doug turns to the Financial Section.
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