They were arguing
again. Hips cocked, faces red, hands flying into the cacophony of
smart Russian from the father and the smatter of English curses that
Irene threw back.
These fights had started back
when Irene still looked him in the kneecap, back when neither of them
spoke a word of English, back when I’d had to guess at what they
were fighting about using only their gestures, the flashes of movement
that trickled through the slats of the fence, as clues.
Sometime in the interim,
Irene had learned some rebellion in addition to her English.
She cut her hair, then bought
a pair of motorcycle boots, then started drinking Gatorade powder mixed
straight into vodka, a trick that she had probably learned from her
mother. Her father accused her of being too American while the
kids at school whistled and whispered at the crazy foreign chick,
started asking her if she was a spy or a member of the mafia. Or
She drove this ridiculous old
Cadillac, which she’d painted orange because she thought it
complimented the restored-gold vinyl of the interior. Her father
hated that car; no doubt he worried what kinds of boys and drugs his
daughter might put into it, never realizing that his daughter was a
more unique kind of trouble than that.
I could not see what was in
the car, though I craned my neck as far as it would go.
Occasionally, between bouts of yelling, I imagined I heard the shadow
of some sort of garbled protest erupt from the Cadillac, but never
I finally resigned myself to
the idea that whatever lay at the root of the argument was destined to
remain a mystery. Then, it crossed my mind that perhaps I should
stop spying on my neighbors. Which was an interesting thought,
because I’d never before considered watching their arguments
spying, even if I never had the nerve to poke my head over the top of
There was something
admirable, though never enviable, in the way those two always fought
out on public property, while most of the people in this part of town
stayed in their own yards and pretended to mind their own business.
Finally, the yelling stopped. The father balled his fists,
marched over to the Cadillac, and threw the door open into the middle
of the road. Irene stopped yelling too, then they both
disappeared into a storm of primary colors as a flock of exotic birds
took flight from within the Cadillac.
As the swirl of feathers
flapped off, Irene slumped over the roof of the car, shaking her head
into folded arms. “They were to sell, you idiot.
You’ve let half a fortune free.”
Her father shook his own
head, his eyes studying hers. Whatever words he spoke next, I
hope they meant ‘I’m sorry.’ But I doubt they
did. More likely, it was something like, ‘you could never
have sold them.’
Then, there was nothing more
to say, and so we stood uniformly slack-jawed and wondered at how that
flock of parrots looked so right against the backdrop of the Cincinnati