Last night, Nicholas went to Chapman School in the northwest where, at this time of year, thousands of swifts nest in a huge chimney and where, during the seven o'clock hour, they gather and swarm in the sky before swirling and funneling down into the chimney for the night.
Two humans went too. One was the woman with the lap. One was a man who spoke like poetry. The three of them sat on a slope in the grass surrounded by all sorts of other people, lots of kids, some dogs. Nicholas thought about running around and through and over all those people, but the woman with the lap held him on her lap and bribed him to stay with much petting and talking in that odd voice she uses when she talks to Nicholas.
The man who spoke like poetry looked up and said there were hundreds of parentheses turning in the sky.
A mom came up with a little red-haired boy. She said, "We just want to say we love your dog."
The woman with the lap was happy and asked the little boy if he'd like to meet Nicholas, but the little boy made a tiny smile and stepped back. The mom said the little boy wasn't ready to meet Nicholas but that, though he was afraid of dogs, Nicholas was the first dog he'd ever said he liked.
More and more swifts churned overhead, though Nicholas didn't watch them because he couldn't smell them from that far away. On one side of the hill, the sea of people and blankets was parted, and children with flattened boxes rode like magic carpets down the slope. A man walked through the crowds handing out leaflets about Vaux swifts and showing off two little glass boxes. One had a dead swift inside, the other a dead swallow. A small group of boys followed the man with their eyes big on the boxes of dead birds.
Look, said the woman with the lap, it's like a big question mark in the sky.
Up over everything, a huge black curl that straightened out at the bottom as the birds tunneled down into the chimney.
A thousand parentheses come together to make a question mark, said the man who spoke like poetry.
Woman at a Mirror, by Gerard ter Borch, circa 1652
21 hours ago