Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Roller Skates


It was a glorious day for roller-skating. Denise, my slightly older cousin and I were gliding down South 11th Street, the narrow blacktopped corridor of our childhood. She, of course, had the form-fitted white boot version. I wobbled on the metal brace skates. None of that mattered. It had rained all morning and now, the sun was drying the pavements, The scratch of straw brooms on the concrete made a soothing familiar sound, as a few women in the neighborhood gathered wet leaves, pebbles and cigarette butts and put them in dustpans. The wheels of our skates turned and rumbled.
"Let's go to Bigler Street," Denise said, grabbing my hand.
I sped up and almost fell, but grabbed her and she held me up. Denise, athletic, even at nine and half, waited until I caught my breath. An automobile drove by and we pressed our bodies against the parked cars until it passed. Another one approached, a green Gremlin, and came to a stop.
"Excuse me," the man in the car said to us.
We skated over. I had to take hold of the rear view mirror to steady myself on the slope of the street.
"Do you know where Broad Street is?" The man's face was unfamiliar, pasty, red-rimmed eyes with glasses.
"Broad Street, yes," I said. Who didn't know where Broad Street was.
Denise began to tell him to turn right, but stopped short.
"Have you ever seen one of these before?" the man asked. There under the glare of a 60-watt flashlight was his penis. He was holding the spotlight right on it. My stomach flipped and then I flopped. Denise screamed.
Flaccid or erect, I cannot say. Big or tiny, I don't remember, but ugly, yes. Scary as a sea monster, hairy, fleshy, shocking.
The car sped away. The two of us sped the other way, arms flailing, and my wobbly legs, now weak, buckling. Denise was faster, but I kept up. We reached my house in less than a minute and then realized that we'd have to tell my father--- obsessively shy man who never saw an R rated movie in his life.
Denise and I managed to climb up the steps in our skates, holding onto the wrought iron railing.
My father was in the kitchen, frying eggplants, sipping a beer from a juice glass, his brown Ortlieb's bottle under the table.
Luckily my mother appeared from the backyard where she was hanging sheets.
Denise did the talking. "A man just showed us his bird, Aunt Katie."
Now we were laughing a little, inside the shade and coolness of my home. My father just listened, his blue eyes shifting, avoiding my gaze, clearing his throat, turning the eggplants, sipping.
When the police cruiser arrived to take a report, the neighborhood buzzed. Denise's mother came over. Mrs. Cannely happened to be passing and stopped in.
"What'd he look like?" the cop asked.
"He was sitting in his car," I said. Didn't the cop know that all I could remember was the ghastly white thing between his legs?
Eventually, the excitement died down. Dusk settled under the trees of Mollbore Terrace amid the yellow flicks of fireflies and cigarettes.
Denise and I took off our skates, and giggled nervously between tastes of DeLeo's ice cream, our fragile innocence slightly diminished. The world we lived in - neighbors, grandmas, aunts and uncles seemed less safe as night fell.
A few years later, I saw that man again recognized him instantly as he worked behind the counter of a drugstore on Broad Street. I was there to buy cough drops.
I gasped, my eyes widened.
As I steadied myself to complete my purchase, the floor felt slippery, my balance compromised, as if I had on new pair of roller skates.

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