Occasionally, between age seven and twelve, I hung out with the lady in the little house next door. I don’t remember her name. There was something Joni Mitchell-like about her: delicate features and big teeth and long blonde hair and arty mystique. Sometimes alone and sometimes with my brother, I’d marvel at how our neighbor lived. With casual, shrugging nonchalance, she’d lead us through her living room, where she had an actual hammock inside. And the kitchen, where, if you tilted your chair back, you could see the whole ceiling, which she’d painted sky blue with clouds. It really was perfect and beautiful. Sometimes her boyfriend would be there. I knew him already. He was a neighborhood kid’s much older, fully grown brother. There was a tall, sleek, pensive dog named Sadie: a Weimaraner, I think, or a Doberman; I’d watch her through the chainlink fence, and she never paid me any mind. I could see the trees behind her house from my bedroom window. Her yard was all leaves and shadows. I once asked my father if we could get a hammock for inside, and paint a ceiling like the sky. He told me there was no point trying to be like her–the artist next door–she wasn’t the kind of person you emulated; she was trashy, and she was going nowhere in life. And she told me fathers weren’t supposed to yell the way mine yelled: at his wife, at his kids. But I wasn’t allowed to talk about that. Once, from my bed, I saw a pair of squirrels fighting way up high in her tangle of maples, and one fell all the way to the ground. I think it was OK. I hope it was OK. I never found it.