Two Views of Florida
Rita Ciresi is our 2017 Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook contest winner
for her collection of micro-stories Second Wife,
published in cooperation with Burrow Press
and available for purchase here.
I. The first time I hear the thudding overhead—so loud the windowpanes vibrate—I think someone’s rooting around upstairs. Then I remember we’ve just moved to Florida, our house is one-story, and we don’t have an attic.
A squirrel must be trapped in the upper wall, or gutter, or one of those weird parts of the house I didn’t even know existed until the home inspector walked us through the property, speaking in what to me was a foreign language: check throat, cricket, fascia, scuttle, scuncheon.
Since moving to the Sunshine State, I’ve gotten myself into a heap of trouble calling 9-1-1: after I spotted a long, slithery snake in our backyard (“This is Florida, ma’am,” the dispatcher told me, “and they live here too.”) and when I spotted black smoke belching in the distance (“This is Florida, ma’am, and that’s called a controlled burn.”)
What would the dispatcher tell me this time: This is Florida, ma’am, where burglars are common as alligators or This is Florida, ma’am, and you better get used to raccoons burrowing in your soffit?
The thudding continues, finally becoming so insistent I could swear Santa and his reindeer are on the roof four months too early. I slip on my sandals and walk into the blazing sunlight.
On the ridge of our roof sit half a dozen black birds. Buzzards or vultures? They weren’t included on the home inspection tour, so I’m not sure what to call them, except grim and ugly. Each has a hooked nose. Beady eyes. And a glossy feathered body that must weigh forty pounds.
Why are they on our roof and not our neighbors’? Don’t they know I’m superstitious enough to take them as a warning sign? But of what—a lightning storm? a sinkhole? hurricane? death?
Shoo, I say. Like they’re cats or rats. Shoo.
When that doesn’t work, I wing one of the pebbles lining the pathway onto the roof. The noise startles one bird into hopping onto our neighbors’ roof.
Five rocks later, and the rest have moved over.
I go back inside, satisfied I’ve chased those birds off. But this is Florida, ma’am. It doesn’t take long to find out that just like hail and lightning, sinkholes and hurricanes, the buzzards will keep coming back.
II. Every Sunday morning we hear them coming. First the neighborhood dogs herald their arrival with a volley of angry barking. Then comes a hiss of flames and a pneumatic rush, as if God were pumping a huge set of bellows overhead.
The fleet of hot air balloons flies over our suburban Florida development at sunrise, their bulging fabric envelopes gaudy against the muted swath of pink and blue sky. The first is Easter-egg purple and forsythia yellow. The second, a neon-orange tomato. The next is an emerald green worthy of Dorothy Gale’s fabled ride from Oz back to Kansas. The last is studded with red, white, and blue stars and stripes.
Our dogs are gun dogs—bred not to startle at the crack of a rifle—so while our neighbors’ poodles and Chihuahuas and dachshunds yap at the balloons, our golden retrievers keep on sleeping. But I always step outside and look up. Sometimes the balloons fly low enough so I can see miniature people standing in their baskets. Once a bride in a white dress and a groom in a tux toasted me with a glass of champagne.
In just a few moments, the balloons will descend to the empty field behind our house. The baskets will bump to the grass and the fabric slowly deflate into colorful puddles. Yet for these precious few moments, every Sunday morning, they glide overhead. And I too soar.