There is a blue plastic WalMart bag caught in a branch of the maple tree in my daughter’s front yard. It has been there since April, four seasons ago. It’s amazingly high – far beyond the nest of squirrels and the honeycomb of holes the woodpecker has drilled. Way above the electric and cable lines stretched between poles.
The bag becomes a flag when the wind balloons it, a banner of capitalism and environmental disregard, puffing up as if full of purchases, whispering “Fill me. Fill me.”
“I’m keeping track,” my 7-year-old granddaughter says to her 3-year-old sister, because she is a bit obsessive about these kinds of things. “It’s been there for 19 days.”
On and on it hangs and waves, filling with air and then slowly deflating like those clear plastic balls of oxygenated air that nurses use to help someone breathe.
It flutters through spring into summer while the little girls run races in the yard, build fairy houses from pine cones, play hopscotch in the driveway. It keeps on flying when a wild rainstorm fills the yard with lake-sized puddles and, shrieking at the top of their lungs; everyone runs through with their clothes on. While wood is being stacked in preparation and the lawn is mowed again and again. It flutters while my daughter weeps and says enough to an empty marriage. While daddy packs his things in his car and drives away.
The little blue flag perseveres. It hangs on tightly while, after putting her girls to bed with a lullaby and a poem, my daughter sits on her front step and sobs into a pillow. The 3-year-old’s potty training is stalled as she wanders through her days that seem to have lost their direction. The 7-year old asks “Why?” and everyone struggles for an answer.
Summer ends. The leaves around the blue bag turn red, then orange, then brown. There is hopeful talk of the first day of school and Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. Arrangements are made. “Back and Forth” backpacks are bought for the twice weekly migration between parent and parent, between Water Street and Short Street, between the gray house and the brown house.
“I have two bedrooms now,” says the 7-year- old.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at mom’s. Wednesday nights, Thursday and Friday at dad’s. Alternate the weekends.
Everyone goes to the Christmas concert. We’re all adults here. The 3-year-old scrambles from lap to lap, trying to find where she fits best.
“I don’t want to go to daddy’s,’’ says the youngest to her mommy. “I don’t want to go to mommy’s,” she says to her daddy.
Days pass, the girls find a new rhythm and the questions slow and almost stop.
It is winter now, and the maple trees’ black branches are spread across a gray-not-quite-blue sky.
“I’m still counting,” says the 7-year-old, pointing to the blue WalMart bag in the tree. “It’s been there for 276 days.”
We look up together, and we choose to believe it will never let go, that its plastic will never become worn so thin and fragile that it will lose its grip.
None of us can imagine looking up at the boughs and saying “Oh. It’s gone.”