In the direct vicinity of Franklin, an inside tour of every house had been procured at one time or the other. Perhaps a ball had been thrown in someone's back yard, or the cat was in heat, moaning under a brand new deck, owner resting above with grill blazing away. Everyone knew everyone, and nobody's mother cared about where you went when your feet jumped off the front steps.
We spent most of our time in the front yard. That's where all the action was. One hot July day, three of us neighborhood girls were practicing a song, with hand movements and all. Our skinny, tanned legs stood above the side ditch on the gravel road, yellow sun blazing at our tangled strands, strappy sandals thrown off wiggling toes.
"Okay! Your arms ain't right! You have to swing it around like this when we sing, 'In the naaame of love.'"
I was in the middle, pretending to be Diana Ross. It was easy. Even with pale skin and straight up and down body, I found myself comfortably masquerading as some sort of rock or movie star. Anything but me.
Joe Weitz came running up the street. His breath wheezed in and out from red, puffed cheeks. "Your brother . . . he's . . . in a fight! Down the block!"
My brother? No, not mine. Marshall didn't fight. Sure, he hit us girls once in a while, but he'd never get in a fight with another boy. I followed slow as my friends ran up the hill and down Jackson Street. The gravel cut into my bare soles. I was used to it. When I turned the hill, I saw a jumbled connection of two bodies, rolling, tugging, ripping in the ditch. One with dark brown hair and freckled arms.
"He's gonna kill 'em!" A girl wailed, hair flying around as she turned to meet my stare.
"Mike. He said he was going to kill your brother!"
Protection flared inside of me. No one was going to kill my brother. I'd kill them first.
All the kids cheered. Marshall had managed to flip Mike down underneath his legs and was producing a good set of swings. I felt sick. Who would tell mother? How would we explain the huge welt already apparent on Marshall's upper left cheek? Oh god, I saw blood now, as Mike made a surprise flip and moved Marshall down again under his torso.
I hated fighting. Hated yelling. There'd been enough of it in my own house to cure me for life. I still winced at the memory of father punching Mom's tooth out, after holding her upside down by the ankles. Then there was the day Mom finally lost it and grabbed a broken glass from the sink—the very one thrown from Dad's hands, fate was cruel—and threatened to slash him to pieces if he didn't get out of our house for good. It worked. He left, and now we were free.
And, of course, now we were fighting in ditches.
I grabbed Lisa and Beth's hands and told them to line up next to me. "Sing," I commanded, to their confused and unwilling stares. "Sing the song, dammit!"
We started. Our voices were meek, rivaled against the shouts and grunts of grade school disquietude. "Stop! In the name of love. . .. before you break my heart." A couple of kids turned to look at us. "Stop! In the name of love . . . before you break my heart."
Swing your hips, shoot that hand out. "Think it o-o-o-ver."
Elbows jammed into ribs. Slowly, everyone began to turn around to watch. Snickering ensued. The boys stopped rolling in the ditch. They were lying there, panting in disbelief. I could see it in Marshall's eyes, he was mad at me. I'd get it later.
"Before you break my heart . . ." My voice trailed off into nothing.
The happening was spent, time to go home. Kids dispersed to their individual dwellings, all split-level 1970's suburbia. They had nice televisions, stay at home moms, dads that played baseball in the backyard. We had cracked black and white PBS. But it was home.
I followed Marshall, with only a whisper, "I'm sorry."
He ignored me, apparently thinking beyond our current situation to the next, "I hate iodine."
The words were solvent. Mom was waiting at the door—had already heard. She stood with a hint of pride mixed in among fear and relief, and in her hands was a bottle of the stinging red syrup.
Another summer day gone on Franklin Street. The next one waited; silent.