Ma says it's a good thing we can't see too far down the road, 'cause we'd never take the journey. I found this true--and my journey was filled to the brim with trouble. It all started the day Jacob walked headfirst into a lamppost on my block.
"Judy's doing a dance on second base!" Harold yelled from the pitcher's mound. Second base was an imaginary square next to Mr. Johnson's front tire, and the pitcher's mound was a sewer cap. I knew it was stupid to play stickball in bare feet. It was a blistering afternoon in July, and my toes felt like sausages on a hot griddle.
"Time-out," I called to my friends. "I need shoes." I ran inside, grabbed my Keds, and plopped down on the stoop to tie my laces. Harold's Doberman pinscher, Bruiser, had been watching our game, and during this time-out he lifted his leg and christened second base.
Harold looked at me and laughed; then he scratched Bruiser behind the ear and said, "Good boy."
Great, I thought. Now I'd have to breathe hot asphalt mixed with dog pee while we finished our game. I closed my eyes for a minute and thought about the Catskill Mountains. In just a few weeks I'd be running barefoot in the cool grass and breathing in wild honeysuckle.
"Come on, Judy. We ain't got all day," Harold said. His hands were on his hips, and his jaws chomped hard on a piece of gum.
"All right, all right." I think the only reason I put up with Harold was that he let us use his Spalding ball. It was 1944, and the war was still on. Rubber was scarce and Spaldings were hard to come by.
I hopped off the porch, and that's when I saw Jacob Jacobsen walking toward us, his face turned down and his hands in his pockets. I thought it was strange for him to be coming up our street. We all knew Jacob; he was Norwegian, like us, and we saw him at school and at church. But in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, your block was your territory--outsiders were not really welcome. If you hung out with other kids, it was on common ground like Eighth Avenue, the schoolyard, or Sunset Park.
He continued along, avoiding our stares. Annette got up to bat, and after she slammed a home run, Jacob bashed his head right into the lamppost.
We stopped our game and watched as he doubled over and let out a huge moan. I took a few steps in his direction while everyone else laughed. Jacob looked up and fixed his eyes on me. He opened his mouth to say something, but then he turned and bolted down the street.
I looked at my friends. "Gee, that's really nice," I said. "Jacob smashes his head, and you guys laugh."
"Come on, Judy, we couldn't help it," Olaf said.
Harold spit into the street. "What was he doing coming up here anyway?"
Olaf reenacted the scene. "Uh . . . which way did he go, George, which way did he go?" Then he boinked his head into an invisible pole.
"Maybe he was drunk like his old man," Harold said, pretending to put a liquor bottle to his lips.
My face burned and a lump swelled in my throat. "Shut up, Harold!" I said. "Annette, let's get out of here. I've got ten cents--I'll buy you an ice cream." I grabbed her arm and yanked her down the street. Two nickels clinked together in my pocket. I had retrieved them from the gutter that morning with a wad of old bubble gum pressed onto the end of my stickball bat. "I'm sick and tired of those boys," I said.
"Well, I don't see what the big deal was," Annette said. "It was kind of funny."
I looked at her and sighed. Annette and I had been best friends for most of our thirteen years, but there was something different about us--deep down where you couldn't see. Once, when I had spent an entire morning in Ma's little garden, sketching some lily of the valley, I picked a cluster and showed it to Annette. She said, "Yeah? So? Little dinky flowers. Come on, Judy, let's go to the schoolyard and play handball or something." I didn't bother to show her my sketch.
I thought about Jacob as we walked to the candy store. When Jacob and I were little, our mothers would meet at the ice cream parlor; they'd buy us malteds and then talk over coffee. Afterward, we would run along Eighth Avenue, jumping over cellar doors, while the two of them shopped in the Norwegian stores.
When we got older, we drifted apart. We each had our own set of friends and we didn't mix much. I knew about his father because Ma would whisper things to Pa and say what a shame it all was.
But a few months before, I'd discovered the truth about my own family. It had happened when Pa was away on his tugboat and I was snooping around in Ma's closet. Seeing Jacob made me think about this, and I didn't like it one bit. I'd been trying so hard to forget.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn by April Lurie. Copyright © 2002 by April Lurie. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.