Only when the sun had just crested the rooftops was it visible. There, in the backyard, under the Rose of Sharon, seen through the kitchen door. Just put the coffee on, pulled the bathrobe tight, squinted into the early light to make something out. It was staring back at him.
Colder now than it ought to be. Maybe that happened every year at this time. Remembered years past leaving Virginia in shirtsleeves and arriving back to Western Pennsylvania freezing rain. The rest of the seasons always seemed closer in sync, but the quick transition to fall made it feel like a different world.
Still looking out the window. The neighbor hates that tree. Every lovely spring flower produced aggressive new sprouts where it dropped anchor, many of them on her side of the fence. The neighbor has to beat them back when she weed-whacks around her tiny above-ground pool. One more thing to be mad at him about. Felt guilty–but not guilty enough to take out the tree.
The coffee maker gurgled and let out its last great gasp. Felt sorry for those people who couldn’t get up early, or forced to stay up late. Morning light, crisp air, near perfect silence. People rise earlier the older they get, he’d been told. Hoped to one day wake easily at dawn, to have the full sunrise experience every day, without effort.
The windshield of a green Honda held an angry note with neat Catholic school penmanship: I’d like to park in front of my own house. Park where you live! This familiar drama played itself out regularly. Strangers left their vehicles out front when they hit the bars down the hill or stayed over at the apartment building next door.
Retrieving the newspaper on a weekend morning, it was not uncommon to find random jetsam from the previous night’s revelry: a stray beer can, hamburger foil, an unfamiliar automobile. One time he’d found a ceramic coffee mug with the emblem of a rehab clinic in Carlisle. It was never a big deal. The neighbor thought she owned the twenty-four feet of city street in front of her house. She should have put in a parking place instead of that pool.
The first day to see his breath. Streets uninhabited, save for a pair of early-risers sitting on benches in the sun, hands crossed on the top of a walking cane. A near-empty city bus rumbled through, headed out of town. Fast food bags, cigarette butts, and early felled leaves eddying with wind gusts in the inset storefront entranceways.
Trees at the lower gate to the cemetery make a natural tunnel that glows golden orange as the morning sun pours through changing leaves. Here, before the sounds of the city come to life, before families visit loved-ones, and before the joggers and cyclists challenge themselves up and down its steep terrain, was his most sacred place.
Clusters of deer bound up and over the hills, through the weathered graves, pausing in unison to look curiously at the human disturbing their quiet time. Each member of the small group posed in concert like a dramatic point in a modern dance, cautiously allowing him to approach as close as twenty feet before some inaudible signal triggers the group to spring off into the wood.
A dumpster filled with most unusual contents. Piles of fake flowers, wreaths, filthy teddy bears, plastic placards, laminated photographs. Lifting the container’s lid, there was a two-foot concrete angel with one of its wings broken off. Hoisted the statuette from the bin, cradled the heavy piece like a load of firewood, walked the half mile back to the house.
Home again, the sun higher now with the morning fog burned off, under the Rose of Sharon. Pulled weeds, rerouted a set of raspberry tendrils always reaching for more distant soil to colonize. Placed the statue along the fence where the creature had spotted him earlier. Maybe the angel could still keep evil away, even short a wing.