At the Block Party
As we stand together grilling meat in your front yard, talking animatedly about last year’s Super Bowl, you calling me “champ” because you can’t remember my name and me calling you Garth because I can never forget yours, I am wondering about your attic.
Halfway down the block, Pamela is helping Audrey’s children skewer organic marshmallows while casting lingering looks at Adam (Audrey’s husband, currently on trash duty). Pamela lives alone in the mint green house with midnight blue shutters, one in from the corner, and hosts weekly invitation-only seances. I am contemplating her attic too. I envision covered heirloom furniture and pastel miniature tea sets.
My wife doles out her contribution, fried plantains, at a long table groaning with donations. She is adjacent to Audrey, who is supplying quinoa with button mushrooms and Swiss chard and looking fretfully at Mr. Everett’s unmown lawn. I am imagining Audrey and Adam’s attic, which in my mind’s eye is spacious, uncluttered, and painted Devonshire Cream. I suspect that it is air-conditioned.
Mr. Everett, recently widowed and clad in his summer uniform (long-sleeved white shirt, argyle sweater vest, blue Bermuda shorts, white socks, and brown sandals), lurks near the adult beverages table. His attic is undoubtedly hot and musty, overrun with tchotchkes and World War II memorabilia, and rife with scuttling sounds.
A cloud abruptly cancels the sun, and everyone–even the toddlers determinedly splashing in the sprinklers’ lukewarm offerings–pauses to look up. Within a few moments, light resumes and we let out our collective breath. My wife catches my eye, her gaze troubled. It may be because she has run out of plantains. Or, more likely, she is also thinking about attics. She is probably asking herself this: When this unnamed and insidious war is over, and the victors meticulously search for “other”–house by house under cover of night and color of law–who will hide us in theirs?
At the Ballet
We are halfway through the holiday program. A motley crew of five-year-olds is gamely attempting a violin and recorder rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Not surprisingly, it sounds decidedly un. My left seat mate, who is Mother Hubbard come to life, leans in and confides in a low voice, “That’s my grandson Donnie on the end, with the violin. You can’t miss him, not with that carrot top.” Mother Hubbard is correct. Donnie is unmissable. “Isn’t he terrible?” she croons, a fond smile gracing her weathered face. “No ear for music whatsoever. And so loud,” she continues, just as a slash of Donnie’s bow unleashes an unearthly and unauthorized wail. “The terrible ones are always the loudest, have you noticed that? But he’s adorable just the same,” Mother Hubbard concludes softly. I concur, and am sincere in my concurrence. Donnie may be incapable of producing anything resembling music, but he is ridiculously cute. Mother Hubbard pats my hand in gratitude and tells me her name is Maeve. My mind immediately rejects this moniker, having already grown accustomed to Mother Hubbard.
It is clearly my turn to share, and I’m all for social niceties. Social niceties prevent–or at least thwart–unsavory practices. Like cannibalism. I whisper to my neighbor, “My munchkin is up next. She’s doing the ballet segment. I’ll be blunt–she has more than one left foot, and I’m not sure two is the final tally. But she loves dancing, and hey, everything is beautiful at the ballet, right? I promised her I’d record every second of it.” Mother Hubbard hums in appreciation of my nod to Broadway, and assures me that my child will be “darling.”
Donnie and company having finally taken their bows with unabashed relief, nine tiny ballerinas populate the stage. My daughter, who is smack dab in the middle, wriggles with excitement as she assumes her position. I press record on my smartphone. We (mothers, grandmothers, and a smattering of hipsterish-looking dads) grin indulgently as they twirl and prance, occasionally colliding with one another, but usually just near-missing, and it is beautiful.
And then a voice directly behind me, clear as crystal and loud as a fighter jet, says, “Why would they put a black girl in the center? It ruins the whole look. And she can’t even dance.”
A singular sensation courses through my veins, and I am only dimly aware of the fact that Mother Hubbard is saying, this time in a carrying voice, “The terrible ones are always the loudest, have you noticed that?” I close my eyes tightly as I try to process the full body rush. After a few moments, I open them slowly, and place my device–which is still purposefully recording–in Mother Hubbard’s outstretched hand. And then I turn around.