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 perhaps both.

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 anything identifiable.

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 the fence.

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 skyline.

Jordan Calmes is an adventure-seeker, scientist, Wyomingite and ninja/pixie. She is currently working at a physics institute in northern Italy, but hopes to return home in time for ski season.

I wrote this piece while I was attending a lecture on particle physics that was a couple of leagues over my head.  The news article I wrote about the conference didn’t turn out nearly as vivid or detailed as Irene’s story. 



Copyright 2009