You hoist the flag and the osprey screams. You are not pulling out her tail feathers or teasing her babies, those enormous vaudevillian chicks with scrawny necks, but you might as well be. The osprey is annoyed because every day you hoist and lower that flag.
Unwarranted patriotism remarks our guest, a young me with wonderful mascaraed eyelids tipped in pink.
She doesn’t know you as well as I fear, but she is correct. You do not salute.
It screams again, sinks to the sand and snatches her beau’s jacket, lifts it off the beach with double wingbeats—the desperation of a mother to forage—and flies across the isthmus to her nest at the top of a forty-foot telephone pole.
The beau screams back. The coat holds his cell phone, that object the beau has clung to all afternoon, footnoting every statement and selfie-authenticating every other wave.
We scout the poison ivy-plagued isthmus that surrounds the nest. Neighbors appear with rakes and broomsticks too short. There is talk that The Conservancy has a camera and we’d be arrested if we disturb the birds. As middle-aged as we and the neighbors are, it is foolish to even contemplate climbing, though the beau, being youthful, takes it under consideration. The bird is still struggling with the jacket, one arm dangling from the nest like the remains of a sacrificial victim.
It’s not that funny, he says.
She is bent double with laughter, her bikini top under various transparent bits of cloth slipping just enough. Then she straightens and does what no other bird-brain has thought of: telephones his phone.
There—in the thinly-bushed.
I offer conciliatory oysters you’ve dredged up and opened.
You raise the flag every day? she asks, lipstick awry, lips licking.
My father had a house across the water, a big one, that he kept after the divorce, you say. Over there. You point into the sheen.
He never saw his mother again until we were married, I interrupt. Thirty years later. After his own divorce, of course. Because it runs in families.
The girl says her father left her mother too, sounding Oh poor thing. The beau says his father never noticed him.
You point your knife at him, but you’re watching the girl. My grandfather looked after us, you say, and every morning my brother and I brought out the flag. It was in the fifties when people were still into their country. We learned to fold it, we carried it back inside—always taking turns. That’s me, over there—then.
You gesture across the water where you can’t see people, just more osprey poles and masts.
Overhead another osprey screams. It could be the same one. The girl takes the beau’s hand, not so much as if it’s handy but more that it’s free, and says she hopes the media picks up the story on her Facebook page.
Verizon would have collected big, he says, still frowning.
She’s shaking her head, which shakes her very evident breasts. I’m thinking how easily seduced you are, but I am wrong.
You still watch the horizon.