Our neighbor is a meticulous collector. Each day, when Sam and I go out, we find a new collection set up on the sidewalk outside the house.
Sometimes it is an arrangement of nuts, seeds, berries, mushrooms, small pebbles, and bits of concrete. On other days it boasts an array of leaves, weeds, and hastily picked flowers recognizable from yards across the street. Our favorite collections are the mishmashes, like the peg dolls caked in mud with little acorn hats, or the potting soil and chalk pieces arranged like a stone circle, or the rainbow of dryer lint, or the neat rows of broken army men laid delicately inside peanut shells.
We’re not sure they’re for us, but I like to think they are. These assemblages — human connection.
The little collector can’t be more than five years old, but he’s been doing this for years now — creating little compilations on the sidewalk — ever since we’ve all been marooned to the run-down neighborhood outside the city. We used to watch him snag treasures from the seat of his stroller. Sam always smiled when he got a fistful of spiteful Mrs. Palmer’s primroses. When creating his sidewalk sculptures, he would share stories of each artifact. He liked talking to Sam best, shouting through the screen door, but would settle for squirrels, insects, and sparrows when needed.
Despite sharing the duplex with his family, we no longer see the little collector at work. He no longer sits in a stroller or shouts through the screen door. Sam hasn’t been able to catch him when taking out the trash or letting the dog out. But we know he’s there. His art persists — shattered shells, candy wrappers folded into frogs, tawny twigs, pinecones and pine needles, braided grasses and flowers. He’s there, our little collector, letting us know he cares.