|Jul/Aug 2004 fiction|
Today two things happened. A man in a big car hit the little boy from down the street, and he was lying in blood while everyone watched, the man in the car watching too, only the man was almost white and the boy was hot and sweaty on the black street. The little boy's sister, who usually doesn't say much, was crying and screaming, so I know she can talk when she wants to. I wonder why she doesn't want to.
And He took His clothes somewhere. I didn't see them leave because I was at the school and when I got home, He was home already and She was home already and my sister, too, and they said He'd be taking His clothes to a new house not far away but across the bridge, so if I wanted to go there, I'd have to ask Mrs. Girsham and she'd take me whenever I wanted. I said I would, but soon I'll be big enough to go alone. Then I went to find Andy.
Andy lives across the street. His house is the same except its paint is yellow and ours is some color that's not white but nothing else either. They have more people there, but they don't get a bigger house. Just a yellow one.
I see Andy every day after school. He's two years older and gets homework, so we can't play until he's finished. At Andy's school the kids wear blue ties and blue coats with white shirts underneath and they pray every day to help them learn. Andy has a brother and a sister. They both have orange hair, which She says comes from their Irish blood, but Andy's hair is brown like mine, so we must not have Irish blood.
They have the same bathroom tiles and the same lights on the ceiling, too, and everything in their house has faces waiting, just like in our house.
Andy was sitting outside on his porch with an apple.
Guess what, I said, my dad's getting a new house across the bridge. I can go there whenever I want, I said.
Andy said so what's so great about that. I thought about it, and he was right. Then we decided to play with his new GI Joe. The door slammed behind him, and I couldn't see past the dark screen. He came back with Joe and a cupcake in pink paper. Mrs. O'Connor makes cupcakes, but She never does, and Mrs. Girsham never does, either. I think they must be something Irish.
We go to the tree or the fort usually. I like the fort, but Andy likes the tree better. The fort is dark and cool and camel crickets live there and spiders, and on sunny days you can't see in from the outside. It can be very dangerous or safe and quiet, depending on how you feel.
But we played at the tree today, and that's when the accident happened. It was a Delta 88, like my grandfather's, but blue, not tan.
Your parents are doctors, Andy said, go get them, so I ran to the house. She was crying when I got there so I thought She must have already known about the boy, but when I told Her, She jumped up and grabbed the black bag from the bench in the hall where my gloves and hats go. Lila came along, she was crying too, and I felt like crying even though I don't like the boy very much because he never plays with us and his sister is strange, stranger than Andy's or mine. Her name is Karen, and when we got back she had already cried so much that some of her hair was sticking to her cheeks, and it reminded me of the strings on bananas, and I wanted to smile.
It was scary to look at her but more scary to look at Edward lying there on the street.
When I saw that Andy and I were the only people who weren't crying, I wanted to laugh even more.
Soon the whole neighborhood was there, Andy's mother, the Downeys and the Salvatores. They are the only Italian people I know, but Dominic is not my friend. He isn't friends with Andy either, but they sometimes play together. His sister Maria is nice to me sometimes.
She's much older and likes to play with older boys. I saw her in the fort one day showing her underwear to three older boys who live up the street. Dominic called me a liar and tried to punch me when I told him her private area has hair, but I was telling the truth.
The ambulance was lights and sirens, white and clean. Andy and I wanted to ride in it, but they wouldn't let us.
He came while the two men in white were loading Edward into the back of the truck. His face seemed loose and saggy and His eyes were red. We all watched the ambulance drive away. When it was gone I went with Andy back to the tree.
He was gone again when I came in for dinner.
When things happen, nobody is hungry or wants to talk.
After dinner Andy's mother came over. Her name is Toni. She and Toni sat on the porch in the green metal rockers, creaking back and forth when the crickets became loud and the fireflies had gone to bed, but they didn't talk much. What they did say wasn't about Edward or the accident, though, because I heard Her say the word divorce. My teacher has divorce, and it means her husband has his own house.
At school I had a fight, and I made it in my underpants. There is a boy called Paul. He has black hair and eye glasses and looks as old as Andy, but I know he's only five like me because there is a chart on the wall showing everybody's birthday. Kimberly is the youngest. She has the bluest eyes I know. I like her sometimes.
Paul wears a piece of plastic in his ear, and when he talks, it sounds like he is chewing on something that's too heavy for his tongue. He said Kimberly was my wife, that we would live together in the old car in the playground and make lots of babies. I told him maybe we would get married because I like Kimberly but that we wouldn't live together, just like He doesn't live with us. Paul said a man and a woman couldn't be married unless they lived together. Paul said that if He had his own house, it meant He wanted to make another family. I called him a liar and screamed it into his plastic ear thing until he started hitting me in the nose. Mrs. Jackson grabbed us and sent us to corners, and after I had finished crying, she let me help make peanut butter. I wanted to ask her if Paul was right, but I didn't.
That's when I made it in my underpants.
I know Paul is wrong even if he doesn't.
Every Wednesday He comes for us. We go to the Hamburger Hamlet. He orders the Number 11, medium rare, and so do I, but Lila gets another one with a pink sauce called dressing. He tells us stories about funny things: a Jewish vampire and what the dog used to do as a puppy. Sometimes the stories are the same, but I don't mind too much.
On weekends He comes for us, and we take the car to the Hot Shoppes to eat breakfast, and then we go to the Zoo or do something for the afternoon.
Last Saturday He came early, and They yelled at each other for an hour. I don't really know how long it was because I went to my room and looked at my baseball cards. When it stopped, They couldn't find me because I was under the bed. You can hear shouting everywhere in our house. It must have gotten into the paint.
Lila doesn't hide under the bed with me. I think she goes to the attic or to the closet where we found the kittens. They were covered in stuff that looked like the sauce at the Hamburger Hamlet, all the babies covered in dressing. Only two became kittens. The rest died, so we put them in a shoebox and had a funeral beneath the lilac tree in the backyard. That was Lila's idea. She said that in the spring there would always be flowers on the grave.
Sean, who lives next door, helped us. Sean lives with Peter and looks just like him, but they are not brother and sister because I asked.
She said that sometimes when people live together they begin to look alike.
You don't look like Him, I said.
She started to cry. When She cries Her face turns red and Her skin darkens up to the color of bricks. That's the way I look when I'm crying, so maybe Sean is right.
This house is always wet with tears. Or trying to hold them back.
Mrs. Girsham puts her teeth in a glass above the sink. Sometimes they're yellow, and sometimes they're white. In her mouth they stand out when she smiles because the rest of her is so dark. I thought Mrs. Girsham would be mad when she found out what happened at school in my pants, but she pulled me into her and wouldn't let me get away until I finally didn't want to anymore and just stayed there, caught in the smell of laundry and coconut cream.
In the evenings Mr. Girsham comes for her in a taxi. Six o'clock every day. He never gets out of the car, but sometimes he calls me over, and we talk until Mrs. Girsham is ready. That means she has her bag and always some kind of hat. Mr. Girsham is the oldest person I know, even older than Mrs. Girsham. I've never seen where they live, but I know they live together. The Girshams.
Today at school Kimberly kissed me. She said we couldn't get married until we started first grade, but that we could kiss whenever we wanted. Jennifer is her best friend, and she laughed when she saw us kissing. That made me mad, so I went to look at the caterpillars that have built a tent in the playground. But on the way I made it in my pants again and had to find Mrs. Jackson instead. I don't know how many times it has happened, but since the accident with Edward, I've thrown away so many pairs of underpants that Mrs. Girsham had to buy more.
Hamburger Hamlet. Hot Shoppes. Hamburger Hot Shoppes. Soon is my birthday. I will have a party with Andy and Edward and Kimberly. Edward doesn't have the cast on his leg anymore, so we have been playing together after school. The doctors gave him two crutches to help him walk, and he lets me and Andy play with them while he sits on the steps and rubs his leg. All the parents decided to change the street. They said the reason Edward got hit by the car was because the road is too thin for two cars to go at once, so now we have signs that say One Way and Do Not Enter. When cars go the wrong way, we chase after them yelling. Some people don't know about Edward and how dangerous cars can be. Edward says he's missing part of his leg bone, that the doctors took it out at the hospital while he was asleep, and that now he's about an inch shorter on that side than before. I don't understand how you can miss something you never saw before the same way you can miss something you saw every day, but Edward says you can, so maybe it's true. His accident changed a lot of things around here.
He has a new friend. Her name is Donna. We met her at the Hot Shoppes and then we all went to see Fantasia again. Then it was raining, so we went to His house. Donna came with us. When Lila asked Donna if she knew Her, Donna turned a funny color red, and I thought she was going to start crying, but she said no and smiled at us. I thought I was going to do it in my pants, but it didn't happen.
It's a sad thing when you read your first book and that book is Emily's Moo, about a baby cow who doesn't know how to speak. I read it all by myself for Her and Lila, and they were happy, but when I read it for Him and told Him it was the second time, He started to cry a little. I think it's nice, but maybe when you're older it's a sad story. Then I read Fox in Socks with Him, and after He didn't cry, so the second one must be happier.
Something happened. We went to the bank near the bridge with Mrs. Girsham, and He was there. At first it wasn't Him, but then it was. They have the same floor at the bank like our bathroom, the one which changes from diamonds to squares if you let your eyes cross just right, only at the bank it's much bigger. When I looked up, I saw a man, and when I looked again, it was Him. I thought we would all go together. But we didn't. He gave me a hug, then Lila, and then He went away. Maybe He wasn't hungry, but I was. When I cried, Mrs. Girsham made me a hamburger. I told her medium rare and ran upstairs to change.
Other people shout too. Johnny's parents are very loud. I can hear them at night and during the day, too, but only Johnny's father because he gets angrier. Johnny's mother is small for a big person. She has black hair the color of the street and thin eyes, which she says everybody from Vietnam has. His father is much bigger and has light hair and doesn't come from Vietnam. She said he was there once and brought her back with him. Johnny is fat and looks like the difference between his mother and his father, but more like his mother, so maybe that's what they shout about.
Johnny has friends. Tito and Varone and Albert, who is as dark as a car tire. Albert is very tall, and when I'm on his shoulders I can touch the place in the tree where it becomes two. I put the cat there once. Tito and Varone aren't black but brown, and Johnny is lighter. Then me, then Andy. Lila is dark, too, but Varone said she steals her color from the sun. We sit on the steps and listen to the older boys sing songs and talk, and sometimes they say words we can't use but that She has said to Him before.
Edward is all better. He and Karen played chase in the alley today with Dominic and Tito and some other children from other blocks nearby. I stayed inside, but you can hear many things from my window, and you can see many things, too. From my window I found a new place to hide. It's on top of a garage across the alley where a big tree covers it like a tent. It will be a place where I can't see or hear anything.
Hamburger Hamlet. He is going home. At first I thought our home, but He is going to His home, to His parents. I did not know He had a home. It's in California, which is on the other side of the page, and it is best, He said, to fly there anytime you want. Lila cried into her food, but only with her eyes and not her whole face like she usually does. When she cries, I pretend my head is gone so that the shaking will stop. If you can keep the shaking in your throat, it won't ever reach your face. I asked Him if we would still eat hamburgers every Wednesday. He didn't hear me, but I'm sure we will. You can fly there anytime in just five hours, He said. If you can fly there anytime, I guess you can fly back, and Wednesday is anytime.
He said we have already been to California, only we were too young to remember. If He knows things about us that we don't know, maybe He can read my mind. Maybe everyone can. Maybe that's why He wants to move to California.
There are fifty-six elm trees on my side of the block. They are tall and feel like my heavy pants but with more cracks, and they look soft on top in the spring. Every family has one. I think you could climb from the Salvatores' tree all the way up to the church at the top of the block, the one Andy's parents won't go to because the people there don't like Romans, so they go to church in another building somewhere else. We go to our God in Maryland because I was born there.
She says the difference between our God and the O'Connor's God is that ours lives in a book and theirs lives on a cross. Once I went to Andy's church and there was a man handing out snacks, but they wouldn't let me eat any. I would like it if our God also came with snacks.
I was talking about trees. My street can be a forest. Everyone loves our trees. A Japanese man who looks like Johnny's mother has the most beautiful tree of all. It's called a maple tree, and the leaves are darker than a brick, darker than Her crying face. We have lilac trees and a kind of tree with spikes that snap off, and a tall tree with white bark called a beech tree. When the sun shines, it shines, too, but when it rains, the bark becomes dark and sad looking and sometimes I think it is feeling like me, dripping inside.
She took us to Mama Ayesha's for dinner last night even though it was raining. Mama is the oldest person in the world, She said, so if you want to be old, eat everything she feeds you. I guess she's older than Mr. Girsham or Mrs. Girsham, and whatever she ate must have been bad for her teeth. Mama has hair the color of beech tree bark but a face like an elm. The man behind the bar gave us cherries and olives from inside his box of drink food. The television was on, and everybody was watching quietly, and She watched while She ate, too, which isn't allowed, so something must have been important. There were pictures of soldiers like GI Joe on the television, but they looked like the man behind the bar, dark but not black, with mustaches like fur.
Then He came in with a friend. I thought they would sit with us, but they only said hello and sat in the other room, the one with the drawing of the gold dome on the wall.
There were only two chairs at the table, and He said the people would be upset if I brought another one over. So I stood instead. A waiter came with the books and saw me and saw Him and said what are two nice Jewish boys like you doing in a place like this tonight? Then the waiter laughed, and His friend laughed, but He wasn't laughing so much when He told me to go back to my table and finish my dinner.
When I got back, She asked me about his friend, was she nice or mean, but I said she looked scared. Lila asked Her why She doesn't have any friends. She said I have you two, who else do I need? Every woman needs a man, Lila said, even I will. She said now that your father is moving, should I find a friend? No, Lila said, you should move too.
It's a good idea if it only takes five hours to get there.
I was ready to go, but Lila wasn't. She had to help her with her clothes and books and toys because She said He won't have any of the things we'll need in California. I asked if He has new children there already, but She said unlikely, which means no, I think. So I went outside. It was hot everywhere, even on the steps where it is usually cooler, and underneath all my new clothes I was even hotter and kind of scratchy.
Andy and Edward saw me and wanted to play.
I can't, I'm going to California today, I said. On an airplane, I said.
When will you get there, they asked, and I when I said five hours, they looked like they didn't believe me. But I'm right, I think.
Edward wanted to know when I would come back.
August, I said. Andy counted on his fingers and said three months. You'll miss the whole summer.
My shoes were a little dirty.
But if it's only five hours like you say, you can fly back on weekends and go with us to Delaware.
I said sure. I said if I don't like it there, I can come back tomorrow, but I said that part to myself.
Then Lila came out in her soft red dress called velvet and her suitcase full of what He doesn't have in California, and She came out with mine, and it was time to go.
On the other side of the map there is an ocean, too. But when I look at that ocean, I will have to turn my back on this one. You can't look at both at the same time.
She said we're not leaving, only going, but those are just two words for being somewhere else.