The big orange moving truck in Phoenix St was attracting attention from all around. It hadn’t been there at 5:32 am when Joe “The Duck” Kaczka had stepped outside, unfolded his flag and smartly hoisted it to the top of the flagpole cemented into his front lawn, as he did each morning, that was for sure.
A well-thumbed Farmer’s Almanac was a permanent fixture on Duck’s side table by his armchair. Every Sunday evening he took some time to to memorize the sunrise and sunset times for the coming week to ensure he was ready to honor his flag and his country at the right times every day. He took some satisfaction in the fact that his was the only one of three flagpoles in the neighborhood that was always raised precisely at sunrise and lowered at sunset excepting, of course, when we was a way from home for four days each November, at the start of hunting season.
Duck pulled a cotton handkerchief from his pocket and blotted his beaded forehead. It’d be good to be out on a crisp fall morning, about now. The heat and humidity had made an early appearance yesterday and they said on Channel 12 that it wasn’t likely to break until Friday. And everyone knew Channel 12 was always right. It did bother him, though that, on hunting days, when he was gone before dawn, he came home in the afternoon light to a bare flagpole, but it wouldn’t do to raise it in the dark. If Margie and he had been able to have children, he might have had grandkids by now. There would have been some fine boys among them; boys who, when they were still too young to come hunting would have apprenticed by coming over on hunting mornings and raising Pop Pop’s flag for him.
Of course, he could always install a floodlight like Bob Zemitsky on Elizabeth Street, and leave his flag up around the clock. Duck’s stomach knotted at the thought. Lazy, that’s what it was. Without his flag-raising ceremony he might sleep until as late as 7, never leave the house all day and spend his evenings going from local news straight through to the History channel without once getting out of his chair to salute, lower, fold and stow the flag. And that would lead to sloppiness, a lack of discipline and, before you knew it, he’d be a 400lb pasty white whale with edema in both legs, only ever sighted behind the screen door, watching the world go by. He’d be found dead in his armchair, two weeks after succumbing to a host of diseases his parents had never lived long enough to worry about, and only then because Sully the mailman noticed his junk mail piling up in his mailbox and called in Officer Jacks to break down the door with…Duck stopped. Did the Forgetown force even possess a battering ram? They’d probably have to call out to Collegetown for one. They’d all stand around on his front porch in their uniforms, boys he’d known when he’d coached the wrestling club, peering in his front window and calling his name, talking about how sad it all was.
No. No floodlight for his flag.
Duck folded and re-pocketed his handkerchief. He stooped with a grunt, one hand on his left thigh, to puck an enemy seedling from the white marble-chipped no-man’s land that held between the flagpole’s base and his lush green lawn. Duck levered himself upright and pulled his shoulders back, parade ground perfect. The good Lord wants us humble, but that’s not the same as giving up on your standards.
As he straightened up, rubbing the tiny green sprout between his fingers, Duck at last allowed himself to turn towards Number 4 with its buzz of activity and new faces. A young family. ‘He’ looked Irish which, though it might have seemed problematic for his parents’ generation, was better than the many alternatives that presented themselves these days. The wife had an exotic look, like a 1950 screen siren — Sophia Loren, someone like that. There might be some Italian in there, perhaps. But chances are they wouldn’t be joining him at St Stephen’s. They’d probably be St. Therese types. Pity. If they were church-goers at all. Duck had surprised himself with the thought, but you never did know these days.
‘She’ appeared, hauling a boy of about nine or ten around the corner of the house that was nearest to Duck’s yard. Duck well remembered the feeling of a mother’s grip on his upper arm. He grinned a little in solidarity with the young boy and began to walk stiffly towards them.
“Hi neighbors!” he called out, not so loud as to startle them, but loud enough to show confidence. It was important to proceed with confidence, with deer, with a shotgun or with people. That was one of Duck’s Rules and it had always served him well so far.
Duck thrust out a strong right hand, causing the woman to let go of the boy and recompose her face from ‘angry mom’ to ‘friendly neighbor’.