I lean my head out the window and watch curiously as Henry’s mom, barefoot, chases him down the street. She is screaming at the top of her lungs while waving a neon orange Hot Wheels track. Henry, his blond hair bouncing with each step, glances over his shoulder. His wide grin belies any fear of his mom and her weapon.
“Henry! You stop right now, you little brat! If I catch you, so help me, you’ll know you’ve been caught! Do you hear me? Stop! Now!” Her cigarette-touched voice croaks out the last word as Henry leads the parade through a couple of driveways before doubling back to his own yard. Just as he approaches the front door of his house, he pretends to stumble over a rock, allowing his mom to set upon him with orange-blurred blows. He guffaws with each whack, as though the flopping race track rains love taps against his head and ears. They chase into the house and silence returns to the street. I wait a second or two and then give up; there will not be any more excitement from their side of the road.
Later, summer puts away her heat and shakes the cool out of the day as night approaches. I shoogle into my p.j.s and pull the light blanket off my pillow. I sigh as my head rustles against the scent of lemony clean sheets, and my eyes grow drowsy as my ears tune themselves into the night frogs’ choir. Their bee-rup bee-rup song signals my brain that all is well. Muscles put away their desire to tense and stretch, tense and stretch, as my body lets go of its daily plan. I drift into surrendered sleep.
Suddenly, angry shouts snap my brain to attention as adrenaline calls the troops to order along my unseen nerve highway. I sit up, barely breathing, heart pounding, as I listen for the source of the din. My ears scan the air waves until they pinpoint the recognizable sounds of the neighbors’ voices.
“Why do you always let him come home like this? Every ding-dang night he plows in here, drunk as a skunk, hollering and stumbling—stinkin’ up the house. I’m sick of it! You hear me? Sick of it!”
A crash of breaking glass accompanies the roiling angry words. I jump.
I peel the covers back slowly and crabwalk my way to the window, keeping low so my reconnaissance remains undetected. I peek over the sill, the gentle night breeze blowing filmy curtains against my face. I huff the fluff away and eye the neighbors’ kitchen window. It is lit with yellow light and the light flows out of the window to spill its weak color over the darkened drive that separates our houses. I shiver as I spy an ominous shadow looming large in the kitchen next door. The shadow lurches jerkily as other shadows join it, wrestling together with grunts and groans and slaps. Shrill cries and sad sobs accompany the dreary sight. My knees shake.
A woman begins to keen. “It’s the war, Philip! You know it is,” she wails. “That stinking jungle and those bombs—shaking him all night long--he weren’t like this before he went over there!”
“I don’t care anymore what his excuse is. It’s got to stop! You hear me? I can’t stand it no more! I can’t take it!” and a man’s gravelly voice launches into loud sobs.
Silence walks in and sits down at their table. I almost think I can hear the trio breathing. My heart beats in pity and sends out its own waves of sound. The thuds hurt, they are so hard against my chest. I feel prickles of tears crowd the edges of my eyes. Despair seeps out of their open window and snakes its way to where I’m hiding. It joins hands with my soul’s sorrow, settling a dark cloud, heavy and thick, over me. My body trembles under the weight.
“Jesus, You know their pain. You know what poor Alan has suffered in Viet Nam. Bring them comfort, Lord.” My ears cock and turn toward my parents’ bedroom. The whispered prayer is barely heard and my ears fine-tune to catch the meaning. “Love them, Jesus. Love them.”
The prayer stops. Hope and peace sprinkle their cures over my spirit. I sigh and lift my hand toward the neighbors’ kitchen. “Jesus, love them,” I echo as I fling imaginary grace against their window panes.
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