An old man lives at the end of your suburban cul-de-sac, in a good, sturdy house with four curtained windows and a standard little trellis for climbing roses. You don't know much about him, only that he retired and moved here a few weeks ago, and he has a good, generic name, Mr. Wilson. You aren't sure if that's his first name or his last name, but it's not as if you plan on getting to know him on either basis, aside from Wednesdays when he strolls past your house as you water your immaculately-trimmed lawn, and courtesy requires you to greet him. “Hello, Mr. Wilson. Lovely weather we’re having today, isn’t it?” you nod pleasantly at him one morning and return to watching the water spurt from your hose and arc across your lawn. Today is watering day. All of the other neighbors are also beginning to turn on their sprinklers or inspect their red geraniums. Mr. Wilson stops and waves. This is what you dislike about him. It makes you vaguely uncomfortable for him to attempt to engage like this. Really, he should be watering his lawn at this time, not taking a walk. The man is a model citizen in every other way with his perfect old age, pale, wrinkled skin; why he must ruin it by breaching other people’s boundaries is beyond you. He calls out to you, “Perfectly fine weather! I’ve been thinking about planting a shade tree in my front lawn. This is a nice climate for sitting outside, reading, maybe.” He grins, and you notice a gap in his front teeth. “Of course,” you say. “Just make sure to get it approved by the City first.” “Oh, thanks for the reminder. I forgot; this area has so many rules. Not like where I used to live. Good day to you.” As he walks off, whistling, you check your watch. 8AM. Thirty more minutes to eat some breakfast before you head off for work, as you have every weekday for the past twenty-four years. The day is productive and fulfilling. Coming home from the office in your white car at 5:30PM, you notice Mr. Wilson in his front yard, talking to a few workers who are holding a healthy young dogwood tree. You shake your head. So noisy for this time of day, and not even a holiday. And what a garish color for a tree, anyway. Pink—not a proper color at all. The first crows fly over the neighborhood that evening. The next Wednesday, as you and your next-door neighbors are watering your lawns, Mr. Wilson walks by again. “Hello,” you say. “Hey. So you see, I got City approval for my tree. Remember I told you last week?” You nod. “You wouldn’t believe how many hoops I had to jump through! It seemed like they were trying to convince me not to plant. The guy I talked to, he even tried to show me a different kind of tree.” “That’s the City. That’s how it always is.” “Don’t you agree that it’s a beautiful tree? The flowers brighten up the atmosphere better than any old green maple.” “Yes. It’s beautiful.” “Some crows have taken to roosting in the branches at night, too. Do they bother you? It does get a bit noisy. I can try chasing them away.” It’s a warning, you want to say. But you keep your mouth shut about it. Things are as they should be. Best to let it run its course, let him figure it out on his own if he can, before they make the final decision. “It doesn’t bother me at all.” “Good, good. They’re not very pretty, but they’re very smart birds. Why, I swear I saw one staring right into my window at me, as I was having dinner. It’s like they’re watching me. They must be hungry.” He laughs, but you see his eye twitch. He must have some idea of it, now. “Just an old man’s ramblings, sorry. I’ll let you get on.” As he strolls away, your neighbor stares after him from her side of the white picket fence. “Strange man, isn’t he?” she says. “Yesterday he was telling me about a friend of his with a seaside retirement. How he wishes he could be there and go fishing. And watch the sunset. You can’t do that over here.” Longing, in this neighborhood, is an unnecessary evil. You narrow your eyes at her, and she corrects herself, “Yes, ridiculous. Why should we care?” “He talks too much.” She nods and walks off to her white car. “Jean, Robert, time for school.” The children are playing methodically on the porch steps, smiling at each other, but they walk to their mother as soon as they hear her. It’s time for you to go to work, now, too. You have a productive and fulfilling day. A week later, a crow pecks at your lawn. Mr. Wilson comes by. He waves a hello at you, then takes a look at the crow. Does he see the glint of red light in its shining plastic eyes? Still he decides to ignore the bird. “How are you?” he asks. He coughs. The picture of neighborly politeness, you resist the urge to back away. “Very well. And you?” “I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, lately. Those crows keep tapping on my window at night and I can’t sleep. Doesn’t help that it’s starting to get cooler. Even my dogwood is starting to lose its leaves.” “That’s how fall always is.” “Yeah, I know. But I think I’ll sit outside today, anyway, enjoy the last of the sunny days. Nice talking to you.” “Take care.” The crow flies off with a harsh cry and rustle of wings as he leaves. You pick up a dropped feather on your otherwise pristine lawn and drop it into the trash bin, then head inside to wash your hands with antibacterial soap and prepare for another productive and fulfilling day. Mr. Wilson does not get to enjoy most of the last of the sunny days. After the third day of reading and resting outside, he doesn’t come out again. His daughter comes by the next day, enters the house, and calls the police. She talks and cries too loudly, too. It’s a good thing she doesn’t live in this neighborhood. At least the resident social deviant will be carted out soon and she will be gone, too. The following Wednesday, reading the City newspaper, you find the notice of Mr. Wilson’s funeral, for “those whose lives had been touched.” It would be courtesy to attend, so you mark it on your calendar and head off to a productive work day. The funeral is not to your liking. There is too much laughter and talking about time spent with the deceased, who you have learned is actually Mr. Denver Tallahassee Wilson, not a good, generic name at all. But you scrounge up a tear, for tradition’s sake. On the freshly turned earth of a nearby grave, a crow walks, pecking for worms and tamping down misplaced dirt with its feet. You live in a good, safe, cul-de-sac, where people carry out their productive and fulfilling lives separately and in peace. The house at the end of the cul-de-sac is on sale. The crows have stopped roosting in the bare branches of the dogwood tree. You expect it has been killed by now. If it proves to be more resilient, the City will have it bulldozed. Everything is as it should be.
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