The morning after I return from a writer's conference in Portland, I discover, nestled in the budding grass on our front lawn beside the Sunday paper, a white plastic swan. The bird wears a demure expression, as if it were floating peacefully on a lily pond near the River Seine. Instead, the bird in my yard is surrounded by a tiny white plastic picket fence. On its breast, the swan bears a sign:
This is the Housewarming Poultry. It makes its way from newly remodeled home to newly remodeled home, laying eggs with messages inside. Congratulations on finally getting back into the (new) place. Christmas, right?
I smile. This is the end of March. We'd been in a rental since early September and have moved back two days before my trip. On the opposite side of the yard stand two previous tokens from anonymous welcomers: a pair of pink plastic flamingos and a ceramic toad playing the cello.
Snuggled in the swan's hollow back lie a clutch of multi-colored plastic eggs. What secret insights and prophecies do they contain? I lift out a blue one and crack it open to read: The new mailbox just screams out: 'Manuscripts here!' A yellow one reads: When you hear the laughing next door, it's not the birds they're chuckling at.
Self-conscious now, I cock my head and listen. But the morning is cool and still, the tall oak trees in the park across the street barely breathing. Better to open the remaining eggs inside the house with the rest of the family, in the privacy of deep green walls and oak bookshelves in the new library, where laughter echoes only from the pages of familiar tales. Mary and the boys are sleeping, exhausted from the four days of unpacking that I shamefully skipped out on. My time has come, they've all informed me, beginning this very morning, the moment Rachael stirs in her crib. It's only fair and right, of course, and I am more than ready, armed now with the collected sardonic wisdom of a plastic bird.
But as I bend down to scoop out the remaining eggs, at least a dozen or so, something happens. For a moment my eyes fix on the graceful curve of the swan's neck, and an odd noise disturbs the park-side peace: a sizzling, buzzing sound, like an electrical short of some kind. I look around to discover its sourcethen realize this sound exists only kin my head. The only sound my ears actually hear is the languorous drone of a truck grinding its way along the far edge of the park. The only scent I smell is the fresh dew on the green lawn. My mouth waters, but there is no flavor of madeleine cake tea, nothing on my taste buds to inspire what is now happening inside my head. But as I stare at the plastic swan's neck and listen to the buzzing sound in my brain, I know all at once where my mind's eye is about to take me: across four decades to another swan. This one, a blue arc of humming neon, blazing against a dark sky. Immediately beneath the electric bird, etched in buzzing blue, two words: