Tonight, the steamy air mixes with street noise, passing cars, and the laughter of children, and rises to the top floor of the house where my wife and I live.
During dinner, Tricia and I sit beneath a ceiling fan that spins a thin stream of air across the kitchen. Neither of us is very hungry, and the open porch signals an invitation. Skipping dessert, we soak our dishes in the sink and go out, the screen door snapping shut behind us.
Though the distance from inside to outside is scarcely 10 steps, it represents a passage from one world to another: the heat of the kitchen replaced by the cooler air of the porch.
Outside, we settle into the familiar wicker chairs. Geraniums, salvias, and petunias in hanging pots and wooden planters scent the air around us. Beyond the flowers, a tangle of ivy and wisteria curtains all three sides of the porch. The netted foliage seems to distance us from the neighboring houses.
Earlier, I listened to a woman who sang as she gathered her laundry. And from a window below us the staccato voice of the radio announcer shouted out each ball and strike of the Red Sox game. Now, in early darkness, these sounds fade and become remote.
For a while, Tricia and I play a game. We take turns pointing to the sparkling lights that embroider the edge of the horizon. These lights, so tiny from this vantage point, come from buildings a hundred times the size of ours. When the breeze begins to quicken, rippling the leaves at the edge of the porch, the lights seem to tremble and become diffuse: a constellation slightly out of focus.
With my eyes closed, I think back to the summers of my youth. In the Mid-western house where I grew up, a favorite place had been the front porch. It was a long open structure that I often pretended was the deck of a ship. It was there that I spent many afternoons playing, reading, or counting cars.
From the top step I scrutinized the street, and my eyes followed each car that rounded the curve and drove past our house. Some afternoons, I counted hundreds of cars before I spotted the one I was watching for: my dad's yellow '57 Chevy. And in my child's thought, it always seemed like years before his car rounded the corner and maneuvered up the driveway. This, after all, was what I had waited for: my father's smile as he stepped out; the strength of his hands as he lifted my small shoulders level with his, then lowered me gently on the step. A moment later my mother would appear at the door, and the three of us would sit talking, savoring this brief time.
My parents, who will never see this house, would understand its appeal. My father, who was a photographer for 40 years, would appreciate the city views, while my mother would ask about the flowers that fill the planters.
My father would ask about the Red Sox; my mother would inquire about my teaching position. And finally we would fall silent, wholly content with each other's company and the summer's quiet offerings - a sea breeze that pushes back the heat, a Chopin sonata loosed from a distant window, the quiet wonder of a porch in summer.