I leave my bike at home, afraid of the puddles that the previous night’s storms have left, and of biking home in a torrent later. A thunderstorm bounces between the James and York rivers all afternoon, rumbling off the roof of the building, rain falling like hail and, alternately, flower petals. They give us pizza for lunch as a reward for having such a productive April. I learn what robings are and take my time replacing the lace ruffle on a shirt.
The rain has left the pathway soggy, so I cross the road going home and pick at one of the horses. They are tormented by the humidity and the flies and appreciate my ability to scratch their withers. A pile of loose hair grows under my fingers, now I smell like horses. The nearest one gives a sharp stomp to dislodge a particularly disobliging fly and a spot of mud lands on my shirt. I move away, picking at it without focusing on anything, and when I look up I see George Washington riding down the street, solo. He does not say anything to me, and I wonder if he is starting to notice this strange woman who appears every Friday at five, in her blue coat. I sling my messenger bag over my shoulder and think about Portsmouth.
The Fife and Drum Corp are standing easy, drums on the ground, fifes in fife-holsters, they are chatting in the twenty-first century. Only the drum major is attentive, an eye on her watch, and as I pass them I hear her give the word for order. They fall in with a precious which will elict jealousy when they go abroad next month, I am sure. Now they are walking down the street behind me, the drums pounding, the fifes high and shrill. People are walking towards them, walking past me, their eyes on them, and I people watch like I’m wearing sunglasses. Little children, not sure what’s going on stop and put their fingers in their mouths. Small black girls march in time, and I think, “Yes, this is America, this is your history too. It’s not pretty, and it’s not neat, but it’s ours together.”
We arrive at the green. I have graciously given way and allowed the drum major to lead her corps on to the field. They acquit themselves admirably. The riflemen seem so young to me, but then again—perhaps their age is more accurate than anything else I’ve seen today. A tourist asks me if I have a son in the fife and drums. Good God, I think, do I look as old as that? George Washington appears again. I spot his horse’s legs behind a tree, waiting just offstage before he trots onto the green to address the assembly. His microphone switches on and off at random. I am the only one wearing jeans who cheers when he mentions crushing the British at Yorktown and marvel all over again at the miracle of America.
Then cannons. One fires with a window shaking boom, the other two less heartily. Children cry and jump around.
I go back to my house to read. Reading, reading, reading, constantly, the words are swimming in front of my eyes and I surface with a shock to realize that nearly three hours have passed and now I’m hungry again. Dinner then. I pass high schoolers in prom finery as I walk to the coffee shop and oh look, a band has shown up to give us a bit of a treat. The cutest member sits down next to the woman with the four-month old baby. Somehow I find myself next to a ninety year old woman who asks me if I go to William and Mary. I say no and ask her the same thing. She laughs. I eat a roast pepper portobello mushroom wrap, drink cranberry juice.
Oh, how I wish you were here.