Call and Response


by Eliza Walton

There's the quick, clipped prattle of two tiny children, a girl and a boy, both with tight, blond curls, wearing pants or snow pants when it's cold, shorts when it isn't. And she is miniscule, too, chattering back at them. She never yells but screeches sometimes, with the two of them, tearing down the street on stubby legs--really all three could be dachshunds, or small terriers, tails trembling. When they amble, as now, I can hear winsome, questioning tones, short notes rise up and linger.

A little later we have a lolling trundle. Loping strides eat concrete in steady bites. This one talks less often, in low rumbles, to the adult. Tall! Birds could land on a shoulder.

I have never known them to appear simultaneously, my daily broadcasts, treble and bass.

I am the keeper of their rounds. When I hear none, I worry about sickness, or death. These are children. They will catch viruses and sometimes succumb to worse. I fret. And they? They might observe my rabbits, in the windows, chewing.

One day last week the short mother slipped on wet leaves, put out her hands and scraped them, too, right after her knees. I could hear her voice go guttural as she cried, blood running on pavement. I thought--I did--to go and help. I grabbed clean washcloths, began to wet them, but in the time it took for the tap water to warm, other voices arrived down below.

Part of being the watcher is this: I am a lens. So when I saw that car veer too late, on our slow street, registered the right front fender as it clipped the girl from below and pitched her in a screaming arc, higher than she'd ever flown before, even on a swing´┐Ż, well, I was the one who could tell the police precisely what happened. A bird's eye view.

(Some people want to be always a part of the action. I need to be apart from it.)

I dialed for help, stood near my bedroom window when the whirling red lights arrived, the patrol car and the rescue vehicles, in a confusion of human and instrumental noise.

She lay so still, so small, so neatly on the asphalt. I heard Caroline switching her grey nose behind me. If you think that's an exaggeration, you've never lived with quiet animals who hide in order to live.

I answered the knock on my door.

* * *

Mother used to shriek so, bed-bound downstairs, at the end. Her swollen feet resembled andirons, guarding an empty grate. She'd yell that last summer until sashes slammed in the houses either side of ours. I'd watch the curtains rustle in my bedroom windows, while her sporadic blasts rose from below, like heat.

* * *

I expected her to be rolled by, in future, in a wheelchair. If she lived at all, that is. I thought she'd be another casualty of someone's haste or cruelty. But they come along still, all three walking, hugging closer to the lawns along the sidewalk, still jabbering in spikes and queries.




BIO: Eliza C. Walton lives and writes in Maine. Her work can be read online at elimae and A cappella Zoo.