I saw my mother standing in the front yard, talking with a neighbor.
My mother never stood in the front yard. And I had never seen her talking to a neighbor.
We lived in a small house behind several large evergreen trees. From the street, you could barely see the house. From inside the house, you could barely see the street.
I had never seen this neighbor before. She seemed old enough to be the grandmother of one of the neighborhood kids. Her hair looked dyed black, or perhaps it was a wig.
As I approached, the woman was saying, “They left a week ago,” and she gestured toward the yellow house across the street, “left in the dead of night.”
* * *
The yellow house across the street had been the subject of my attention for quite some time. Where the other houses in the neighborhood seemed to have children and bicycles and go-karts and motorcycles and lawn furniture spilling out of them, the yellow house stood there, still. I had once or twice seen a man in a white shirt and once or twice seen a little girl, a couple of years younger than me. But the overriding impression was stillness, never knowing when the house was occupied and when it was empty.
I thought of our two houses as a matched set.
I imagined that the neighbors thought both houses were oddly quiet, maybe a little mysterious.
But to me, the two houses weren’t quiet as much as they seemed to be waiting—waiting for something that would end the quiet forever, waiting for some kind of explosion. I often studied the yellow house, wondering if its explosion would happen before ours. If it did, I thought I might learn from it. I thought perhaps it would help me prepare for our house’s explosion.
* * *
The neighbor lady repeated, “In the dead of night.” She paused, and her enunciation became more studied. “The man,” she said, “was being pursued.”
The neighbor didn’t have many details, but it didn’t matter. The explosion had happened, and I could see it all.
Late in the evening, the father told the mother and the little girl that they had to leave within the hour. Their car filled rapidly with their possessions. The girl was allowed only to take things she could hold in her lap. Her chest seemed ready to tear open from mourning the things she couldn’t take and from fear over where they were going, but she saw the expression on her father’s face and said nothing. Her father told her to stay in the house until he gave her the signal. When he did, she moved quickly to the car. He followed her and seemed to shut the house and car doors carefully, as though not wanting anyone to hear.
My mother replied to the neighbor, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
The neighbor said, “Of course you didn’t know. You just hide behind your trees. You don’t know what’s happening right across the street from you.”
The neighbor seemed as though she had been wanting to say that for a long time. I appreciated her forthrightness.
That night, I thought more about the way the explosion had happened for the people in the yellow house across the street. I imagined the family looking for another house, continuing to run from whoever was pursuing the father. At some point the father would be caught. Maybe he would be beaten up or even killed. Maybe he would be put in prison. I thought about the little girl. I realized that she would not endure a single, cathartic explosion, but one explosion after another, with no promise of an ending.
When our explosions came, they went on for years. They probably weren’t that different from other people’s explosions. And I’m sure the other houses on the block had them too.
But at least I was prepared.