Yesterday I ironed a clean shirt for Neighbor D. She saw me wearing it recently and said “Ooh, nice shirt. Can I have it?” She was joking, but I washed and ironed and wrapped it with a note on her porch. Soon after that she called me over, delighted and dismayed. “I was kidding! You don’t have to do this!” But then she had an idea: with my encouragement, she’ll keep the shirt on condition that I take a gift in return. She ran indoors and brought out a very long sleek knitted black turtleneck dress that she wasn’t wearing; it’s the basic black classy number that ladies are supposed to have on hand for unexpected award ceremonies and the like. “It comes with cat hair,” she apologized. I asked whether if I assemble the hair, that would create a whole new cat? “No, but that little feral calico living over in those bushes? She needs a good home, and I intend to catch her for you.”
Then Mr. Wing flagged me down and presented me with a new hand crank food mill strainer for my future adventures with windfall fruit. Next Mrs. Wing insisted that Mr. Wing deliver to my door a hot plate of Chinese noodles with special sauce, scrambled eggs, grated cucumber, and some of her candylike homegrown cherry tomatoes. Both of them offered abject apologies that the tomatoes detracted from the pure Beijing-style authenticity of this dish. I had to promise not to expect or add tomatoes when visiting Beijing.
Then I slopped around, pitting and blanching the skin from three quarts of windfall Italian prune plums. Thanks to the food mill, this finally yielded a batch of sweet rose-gold puree. So I ladled out a jarful for the Wings, and popped the jar into the fridge in an empty oatmeal container for easier delivery.
Today between drenching downpours and before sunset we had a sunny break, with a fresh wind and towering rain clouds chasing brilliant blue patches across the sky.
That was a good time to leave the plum sauce at the Wings’ door. Then I planted some flowering kale and some rooting scallions, and picked a few young leaves of collards, kale, and purslane, and also some scented geranium for the icon altar. A tiny gold potato turned up in the dirt (it’s in the soup pot now). The storm knocked down a zucchini blossom, and a couple of late windfall yellow apples on the street.
That made today’s memorial picture for Neighbor G.
For many years Neighbor G. presided over the smokers’ bench out on the street. He wore knitted hats and looked very thin and seemed to store up energy by soaking in the sun on even the hottest days. He and his cigarette and his little talk radio and earpiece braved all weather at all hours. He stuck with that bench, reflecting moment to moment upon the meaning of the cosmos and saying philosophical or witty things to any person or dog passing by.
Judging by his pithy observations about organized religion, his path was as much Buddhist as anything. It seemed not sensitive at all to put the St. Nicholas icon or other Christian pieces in his memorial picture. But somehow it seemed okay to set out these leaves and fruit instead.
The neighbors report that G’s stay in the hospital was short and peaceful. When he was admitted, two young women neighbors went to his apartment and made some accommodations and purchases for his comfort, in hopes that he would come back home. Meanwhile a whole group of the men took turns driving over to the hospital to take turns at his bedside. One of our dear maintenance engineers, who doesn’t even work here any more, kept vigil like everybody else.
The memorial service will be held Sunday, behind the smokers’ bench. A neighbor from G’s building gave me the news in the garden.
My first thought seemed inappropriate, but I said it anyway: “For a service, he would probably prefer something highly irreverent.”
Luckily the neighbor took this in stride. “He’ll want us all in drag.”
Huh. Well, there’s that sleek black dress…