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Searching for an Ostentation

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My husband thinks I visit the peacocks too often.

“Maybe every other day,” he says when I ask what would be a reasonable amount of time spent looking at birds that live in someone else’s backyard. I agree this is doable, and yet the next morning when I clip our dog into his leash I find myself headed in their direction. 

A few months before COVID-19 transformed from a passing news item into the only news item, we moved. Our new house is near but — and this is an important “but” — not in the stately old neighborhood west of Downtown Las Vegas, which is defined by oak trees, sunken living rooms, and whispers of Howard Hughes.

On the day the city shut down, I woke to a flurry of emails with some variation of the same message: Disappointing news. We can’t continue working with you because ...

I am a freelance writer, and over the next week I lost most of my clients, which felt like getting repeatedly fired.My husband, along with approximately 206,000 other casino employees in Nevada, was also out of work. With nowhere else to go, we began exploring the surrounding neighborhoods. That was when I heard them. 

In his short story “Feathers,” Raymond Carver describes the cry of a peacock as “May-awe, may-awe!” As in, this may awe you. 

And it did awe me. The lonesome echo rose through the palms. My phone buzzed with another we can’t pay you email, and I decided that instead of writing for a living, my new job would be to find the peacocks. It took days of following their sound, but eventually I turned down the right street and there they were, among blooming pink flowers. I saw the soft charcoal of the peahens first, their slender necks brushed with cobalt that hinted at glamour. And then the peacocks, pacing in the fragile morning air, jewel-colored veils trailing in the dirt. As I walked deeper into the neighborhood, I discovered more secrets: an estate where Michael Jackson once lived, amber horses grazing just miles from the neon of Fremont Street. Manors with white columns that I would never call home. Polynesian-style A-frames that made me long for the darkness of a tiki bar, which now feels like an impossibility. 

But nothing is as beautiful as the peacocks. On some mornings as I watch them preening in the desert light, I feel heartsick for the things I’ve lost, the things I will lose. But then they fan out their feathers, and I am grateful again. I have a husband, a dog, a home near wonders like this. 

In the distance, the Strip is vacant, but there are peacocks in this backyard, a reminder of the magic Las Vegas is still capable of. Like the city they live in, they are miraculous, ridiculous, and, in spite of everything, alive. 

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