Block Party

Block Party

The earth turns, the sun moves westerly.

Tiger Reynolds walks out of his kitchen with two plates of short rib burger patties, seasoned and tenderized and sealed in Saran Wrap, and the scent of his morning’s labor trails him out the door, as do his sons Harry and Charlie who burst into the sunny expanse of the traffic-free street and join the other kids running around with sparklers in their hands, making figure-eights around the grills that have been wheeled out to the middle of the street for the block party. Leeza Shepard wirelessly commands the volume of the stereo sitting on the sill of her open living room window, and classic rock can be heard from one end of the street to the other, even by neighbors whose address excludes them from the block party, who from their backyards and second- and third-story windows watch but don’t watch. Amelia Braden holds out the baby monitor receiver in her hand and asks if the music can be turned down a little. Greta is sleeping. A lost cocker spaniel wags down the street and then runs away when Janey Marsden attempts to wrangle it. Cauliflower-shaped clouds drift into the blue sky, and just about every hand goes up, shielding worried faces and calling into question the near-religious conviction that it was not supposed to rain today. A man passes by orange cones at the end of the street and scales the fence bordering the Wrenwoods’ backyard and walks up the back steps, removes a key from underneath the mat, opens the back door and steps inside their house. Leeza changes the music to The Beatles, as if by summoning the name of the sun the weather will change, and it actually works; the sun breaks through the clouds and her neighbors cheer for her, the heroine of Czarnecki Street. Sunbathers resume their positions, inner arms presented outward, the cuffs of their shorts rolled up. At the base of an elm tree, Evelyn Luddy and Emily Sullivan commiserate and unite their boredom and distaste for all this and it becomes a communal force, easier than worrying about graduating up to high school in the fall. Heather Wrenwood walks over to her house, her fists balled with something bulky. From an upstairs bedroom window, the man watches her stand at the spigot in the backyard and fill balloon after balloon with water while he removes family photographs from frames, fitting into his pockets baby pictures and school photographs. A police cruiser arrives at one end of the street, and neighbors like angels appear and pull away the orange cones, and the cruiser pulls to a stop near the picnic table columned with liters of soda, and he opens all four doors for the kids to crawl in and out of the car and at the insistence of Angela Cranney he makes himself a couple of hot dogs. Glorious billows of smoke rise from the grills as though gods have been appeased with this sacrifice. Terry Downs abdicates his barbecue post and jogs back into his house to get more chicken patties and bratwursts, the trot of a baseball manager ascending the pitcher’s mound. In a white oak tree behind the Luddys’ house, chipping sparrow eggs begin to hatch, and one of the chicks will not live. The breeze blows the American flags still displayed from the Fourth of July, and it blows wind chimes, and it blows curtains in windows, and nobody notices the man pass between houses, scaling a fence and landing in Janey Marsden’s backyard, where he enters through the unlocked kitchen door of her two-story colonial. Heather returns to the street with a nest of water balloons in her held-out shirt, and she pelts her friends and neighbors one at a time, eliciting peals of laughter and sending them running. Dave Sullivan kneels at the cruiser to watch his son Adrian crawling over the back seat, and then he looks up at Emily and asks if she wants to come see the police car, too. She rolls her eyes and motions for Evelyn to follow her and they wander toward the other end of the street and diffidently join Will Braden and Alex Cranney, who sit on skateboards and shake the hair out of their eyes, the essence of cool. Upstairs in Janey’s house, the man removes a single pearl earring from a jewelry tray and pockets it. Across the street, Paula King takes uneasy, heavy steps out of her house with a bowl of potato salad the size of a kitchen sink and apologizes for taking forever. Her husband Laurence follows with a sleeve of paper plates in one hand and a box of plastic cutlery in the other, and announces it’s the top of the seventh and Boston has men on first and third. Hoyt Merrill, eighty-one, cheers; the cop turns his siren on and off several times; Billy Cranney goes home to swap his displayed American flag for a Red Sox flag and he returns to his grill, one fist pumping in the air. Amelia Braden rises from her lawn chair and finds a less noisy part of the street and holds the baby monitor receiver close to her ear. She does not see the man climbing the fence and falling down into Leeza Shepard’s garden, falling so terrifically on the stone border that he almost doesn’t get up, but when he does, he limps toward her back steps and walks inside. Amelia plops down in her lawn chair with a gust of relief. Greta is still napping. As though offering a cup of sugar or a spare egg, Tiger Reynolds asks Amelia if she wants to borrow their nanny cam for the afternoon, it’ll just take a second to bring it over there, but her husband Chris says no thanks, they’re good. Behind Terry Downs’s tool shed, his cat paralyzes a mouse with one swipe of a paw, toys with its body for a few moments, then scoops it up with its mouth and runs off. Adrian Sullivan and Livvy Wrenwood and her brother Rex run to Terry Downs with sad little sticks in their hands, and he lights new sparklers using his grill. Will and Alex watch the block party through their bangs and Alex says that they should just leave and catch the next train into Boston, like, who would notice, look at them, they’re all so absorbed in their own shit. The man enters an upstairs bedroom, where the sole occupant is a blue and gold macaw in a cage the size of a hot tub, and he raises a window, and then he unlatches the cage door, and he watches the bird fly out the window. The cop lets the kids take turns with the bullhorn, and the Reynolds boys seize up with stage fright, opting to babble nonsense into the mouthpiece. Hoyt Merrill, his face mostly hidden by oversized sunglasses and sunscreen as thick as primer, applauds the kids’ effort. Midday bells ring from the tower of the Greek Orthodox church nearby. Carol Luddy ties a wide-brimmed beach hat under her chin, says in a dread-filled tone that her cousin Lance, the one in Poughkeepsie, just found out he has melanoma. The man limps across Leeza’s lawn and climbs the fence and this time carefully lowers himself down to the Sullivans’ yard, favoring his uninjured knee, and he opens the back door and goes inside. Leeza Shepard changes the music to America by Simon & Garfunkel. No one speaks for the duration of the song, not even the younger children, who suddenly glom onto their parents as though mom and dad have received news of a death in the family. In the Sullivans’ house, the man walks into the master bedroom and places the pearl earring on the floor, just below the bed. Chris Braden swats a mosquito on his neck, then one on his leg. Terry Downs claps his hands, squashing gnats. One street over, a neighbor named Calvin Dunn receives a phone call informing him that his insurance will no longer continue to pay for his liver medication, and he will die in one week. The song ends. Tom Luddy uses his grill to light an M-80 and throws it into the air, and after it explodes, he raises his hands in mock surrender when the cop lowers his sunglasses and makes his fingers into the shape of a gun. Evelyn interrupts a story Alex is telling about a skate park in Malden and dares Will to kiss Emily, like right now, over there behind those rose bushes, and Emily’s cheeks bloom red. The man steps over the low, chain-link fence between the Sullivans’ house and the Bradens’ house, and the screen door is locked this time, but he breaks the mesh with his elbow and then opens the door from the inside. Janey Marsden finds a water balloon Heather had dropped and launches it toward Dave Sullivan, and it explodes on his groin while he shoves a pinchful of potato chips into his mouth. His wife hoots with laughter and walks over and high-fives her. Will Braden takes Emily Sullivan’s hand and guides her around the corner of Hoyt Merrill’s house and she leans against the ivy-wound lattice and they’re partially hidden by rose bushes, and with a twinkle in his eye Will leans in to kiss her. A woman holding the hand of a teary-eyed girl walks into the block party and apologizes for interrupting and asks if anyone has seen a blonde cocker spaniel running around, and everyone points in the same direction, quietly watching them leave. Angela Cranney says it’s so sad, isn’t it, and recounts a story about Alex losing his dog when he was, oh, about six. They never found more than Oscar’s broken leather collar. The cop swallows his food and claps the roof of the cruiser and says he guesses he’s going to go help find a dog now, and before he drives off, Heather Wrenwood tells him he’s a saint. Inside the Bradens’ house, the man quietly walks upstairs and finds the nursery and for a moment watches Greta sleeping, listens to the murmured coo of her breath, and then he turns off the monitor long enough to ask her if she knows who he is, if she remembers him, and then he turns the monitor on again before he walks out of the nursery. Amelia Braden bolts upright and shakes the monitor and holds it to her ear and calls out to Chris and says she thinks they should buy a new monitor, that this one cuts out from time to time, and he gives her a thumbs-up while he consults Terry Downs about the Patriots’ pre-season games. Carol Luddy cups her mouth and hollers to her daughter at the end of the street and asks if she wants her to make her a plate because she hasn’t eaten all day, and Evelyn just gives her mother a glare with which you could guide boats to shore, and then turns to Alex and asks him to go on and tell her more about that skate park. Paula King places an arm around Carol’s shoulder and squeezes it and says that fifteen-year-old girls basically starve themselves, everyone knows that, don’t take it personal. The man walks across the narrow driveway that separates the Braden and Cranney houses and he opens the side door to the Cranneys’ and then he’s inside. Will and Emily pull away from each other and walk off in the direction of a nearby beach, rocky and private. Twenty miles away, a young man named Domenic Egan strangles to death his girlfriend Bethany Poplar in the back row of a Boston cinema during a screening of a Helen Mirren costume drama, and escapes through the fire exit, disappearing into an alley behind a Chinese restaurant. Hoyt Merrill is overcome by a coughing fit and doubles over and produces something ungodly into a paisley handkerchief and then waves a hand and tells his neighbors to not get any ideas, that he still has twenty more years left in that house of his. In the Cranneys’ kitchen, the man limps toward the fridge and he opens it and removes a bottle of water and drinks it in one gulp and the water runs out faster than he can drink it and it dribbles down his chin, soaking his shirt. The Red Sox lose to Tampa on a wild pitch that sends a runner home and subtracts a little bit of verve from the block party. Terry Downs closes the lid on the last smoking grill and joins everyone else seated in lawn chairs. Chris Braden runs a palm over his belly and says he won’t be able to eat again until maybe Tuesday and watches his wife jog back to their house. Greta is waking up. Alex and Evelyn slip away, too, heading for the same beach as Emily and Will. Little Livvy Wrenwood finds her mother and collapses against her lap, and Heather strokes the girl’s hair. The man stares at the magnetic poetry on the Cranneys’ fridge door and then he deconstructs a famous poem and arranges some of the words to spell out forgive me you were so sweet. A former investment banker in Boston named Derek Carmichael is convicted of securities fraud in which retirees of the state’s transportation agency lost the bulk of their pensions and he is sentenced to nine months in a minimal security prison in western Massachusetts. Sheryl Sullivan says she read that morning that the winter ahead has been projected to be the coldest on record, that oil and gas companies fear that a lot of people’s homes won’t be able to stay properly heated, that it’s possible some people could actually die in their own homes. People like us. Think about that. Leeza says she thinks she read the same article. And everyone is quiet until Hoyt Merrill raises a bottle of beer and he says, To whatever we have left, let’s keep it all to ourselves. Everyone drinks to this.


About the Author

Trent England's work has been featured in Heavy Feather Review, ConjunctionsSmokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is also a playwright. Find him at

Photo, "my neighborhood," by Chris Dlugosz on Flickr. No changes made to photo.