The Block Party
by Jessica Heiser
The block was divided. At one end, toward Frontnac Street, the neighbors gathered on their porches, swigging beer and playing poker. The old Jewish ladies huddled together on their steps, calling to the children who skated by. Even the most isolated of people, blank faces who kept their houses dark during Halloween, were out socializing with the crowd. Extended family and friends mingled, conversing about children and jobs with the neighbors as if they lived there themselves. Despite the waning sunlight, children scampered down the block in bathing suits, hoping that someone would open the hydrant again.
At the other end of the block, near Belden Ave, the crowd was having a very different party. The rhythm of the Beastie Boys pounded from the DJ’s stereos while a large group of uninvited college students pressed against each other, swaying with the music. Periodically, a few of the smaller kids would inch into the college students’ territory and be promptly chased away by a small group of males, spilling beer as they staggered towards them.
Maria sat on her front steps, aching to use the bathroom but not wanting to miss dinner. Her father stood by the grill, flipping burgers as he lit a fresh cigarette. Grease dripped from the patties, causing small flames to occasionally poke through the grill rack. She watched some of the older kids zigzag through the crowd with their inline skates and was tempted to run in the house and get her own, but Paul was with them, and she avoided contact with him as much as possible.
“Burgers are up!"
A crowd of neighbors swarmed the grill with paper plates. Paul staggered up the steps with his father, gripping the railing. His father sighed heavily.
“Why don’t you take those damn things off? You don’t need them to eat.”
Paul shrugged and skated onto the patio, pushing past a few neighbors. Maria groaned, wondering why her father bothered to invite them every year. She grabbed a plate and waited in line, listening to the complaints of those around her.
“I really don’t like them being here, around the children. Who invited them?”
“Who knows? I bet it was 6322’s skank of a daughter. I see older guys picking her up at night all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Maria winced when her father delivered the last cheeseburger to the overweight brat who lived two doors down. She thought about getting out of line to use the bathroom, but Paul’s awkward glances from across the patio kept her there. When her father plopped a plain patty on her plate, she grumbled.
“I can’t eat it like this. It’s plain.”
“Put some mustard or ketchup on it, sweetie,” Her father patted her hair and tried to move her along.
“I hate ketchup, you know that. And mustard is a hotdog only kind of thing.”
“You’re eleven years old. You’re a little too old to be whining about your dinner.”
“But Dad, I asked y—”
Yelling from the end of the block cut her off. Maria’s father squinted and peered into the sea of college students, who had now stopped dancing.
“Well, shit.” He said, taking a drag of his cigarette and headed towards the crowd. Maria looked down from the patio to see what all of the neighbors were rushing to. One of the little ones was sobbing, scraped and bloodied on the ground, pointing at one of the college boys. The adults tried to get her to speak, but her undecipherable words came out between gasps for air.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t mean. I’m sorry,” stammered the college boy.
“What th’ hell do you think you’re doin, pushing a kid like that?” yelled one of the neighbors.
Maria put her plate down on one of the steps, and glanced around. For the first time all day, the neighbors were leaving their end of the street, circling around the unruly group of college kids. Alone at last, she retreated into the house, running towards the powder room. She flipped the light on and sat down, scrunching toilet paper in her hand. The fan hummed loudly and she stared up at it, watching it cut through the air. When she turned to flush, she saw Paul staring back at her.
“Jesus!” she hissed and reached for the door.
“Ahh, whoops, sorry. Didn’t know you were in there.” He smirked, not making any attempt to move.
She pressed her body against the door angrily as he scampered away slowly, laughing. Maria buttoned her pants and flew out the door screaming, which was echoed by the crowd outside.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Paul, still in his skates, wobbled around in her living room. He was smaller than her, despite being a year older. “I told you, it was an accident.”
“Three times is not an accident, you freak!” she shouted, following him out the front door. The air outside was tense as the neighbors and college kids moved closer and closer to each other. Mr. Flynn, from the corner house, began to yell at Mrs. Saffron’s son, who had invited the raucous students.
“This is supposed to be a family friendly event. Not some excuse for you and your buddies to get wasted!”
“Hey, you better back the hell up, man!”
Maria turned to Paul, her anger rising.
“I asked you, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Paul glared at her and spat, smearing the saliva with his skate. The two looked at each other intently. He shrugged his shoulders and began to skate away. “Why are you so pissed off, anyway? Just because I saw your pu—”
She grabbed the back of his shirt and slammed him down, his head whacking against the cement. He looked up at her groggily. She stared down at him.
“Perverted asshole,” she smirked, stepping around him. He grabbed her ankle and she fell on her side, scraping her outstretched palms. She lunged forward, swatting at him with her small bunched up fists. The two wrestled for control, tumbling down the sloped lawn.
Further down the street, someone had fallen to the ground, holding his jaw. A young mother was shrieking at her husband.
“Tony, Tony, stop it!”
Paul’s inline skates sliced into Maria’s bare legs, and she cried out in pain. He placed a hand on the inside of her thigh, steadied himself, and punched her in the stomach. She clawed at his arms, digging her pink fingernails into his skin. A few of the little ones clamored close to see what was going on, torn between which fight to watch.
“Mike, get off of him! For Christ’s sake, the man can barely move!”
Paul’s skates cut across Maria’s exposed belly, his hands lingering too long on her chest. She threw an awkward punch and surprisingly hit Paul in the nose, which spurted immediately. He groaned weakly at the blow, the fluid trickling down his lips. She heard screams in the distance, muffled by the thudding of her own heart. The outside world grew quiet. She raised her fist again, but felt herself being torn away.
A crowd of adults had gathered by the pair, pulling them apart from each other. Maria’s father held her back as she attempted to lunge towards Paul. The boy was lifted up, his face stained red, breathing heavily. As he was being led away, Maria eyed up the damage she had done and was satisfied. The boy peered over his shoulder while walking to the car, an unnerving smile spread across his face, growing wider and wider.
She stared back at him in confusion. He continued to look at her and began to laugh, his embarrassed father chiding him while they walked. Maria’s father placed his hand on her shoulder, walking towards their home. The DJ was packing his supplies into a van while the neighbor who organized the event was slowly counting out his pay.
“I wonder what the hell is wrong with that boy,” her father muttered, watching Paul go into his house, “I mean, you kicked his ass, and he’s acting like he won.”’
Maria glanced at her father solemnly, and the two shared a long silence before she spoke.
“He did.”Last Updated: 4/12/12