In the Neighborhood

By Adam Moorad

The sirens screamed out from somewhere faraway and the noise grew louder as it moved closer, each wail more thunderous than the one before it and the all the neighborhood kids started jumping around in excitement and frenzy as the sirens neared and the volume rose. Boys and girls scurried across their lawns and rode their bicycles through the street, skipping up and down the pavement, waiting for the action to appear, crawling around feverishly like a pack of angry fire ants patrolling for a dying beetle to swarm and devour. Then the mothers and fathers came tearing out from behind their front doors, screaming and yelling, looking for their sons and daughters, commanding all the children to get out of the road and back up on the grass, telling them to stay put or be walloped. Once all the kids were accounted for, the mothers and fathers stood at attention, not immune to the intrigue which befell their children, and the whole neighborhood waited with anticipation for the barging caw of the sirens to arrive, this neighborhood a stranger to sirens.

When the fire truck appeared at the top of the hill, it announced itself with an earsplitting shrill and the wall of noise fell down on every man, woman, and child. All could feel the sound waves cascade through the air, sending vibrations through the chest and skull, bringing with it a frightened euphoria that gesticulated deep within the bones. The fire truck flew down the hill and all the other automobiles pulled over onto the curb and let the engine pass. Two squad cars followed the truck, gliding stealthily down the hill, one behind the other. As they passed the row of homes on either side of the street, all the kids ran down to the road and stopped short of the curb, heeding their parentís warnings and making sure to keep their feet firmly planted on the grass. The kids squealed with exhilaration and ran with the squad cars along the lip of the lawn smiling and waving to the officers with uncontrollable arousal. The officers paid them no attention as they passed and the mothers and fathers were quick to rebuke their children and ordered them back up the lawn, hootiní and holleriní, saying what did I tell ya.

The fire truck came to an abrupt halt at the end of the block and three men disembarked in a flurry carrying bags and satchels then hurried across the road to the Thompson house. One man rapped on the door before letting himself in and the other two followed him inside. The squad cars pulled up and parked beside the Thompsonís mailbox and the officers sat for a few moments before leisurely climbing out of their vehicles. A female officer stood up and stretched her arms before walking up to the house slowly while the male officer rose, and leaned casually against the hood of his car as he radioed in his location.

From their yards, the neighbors stood quietly absorbed in all the commotion, watching and waiting to see what would happen, trying to figure out what had already occurred. Murmurs of conversation began to pipe-up among the neighbors gossiping in a conspiratorial tone: mothers anxiously with other mothers, fathers grumpily to other fathers, children giddily to other children.

After a while, one of the fathers walked across the street and approached the lone officer making small talk into his radio. The officer leaned forward and acknowledged the man who began questioning him. The officer responded without making any eye contact but none of the neighbors could hear what was being said between the two. Another father told his wife to shut-it and stay put then walked over to where the officer stood and the officer acknowledged him but without eye contact. A van full of Hispanic lawn boys rumbled up the street, slowing as it passed the squad car and stopped for a second before the officer waved it along and the van sped-up carrying a trailer full of mowers, rakes, and shovels and grinded up the road.

All the mothers were growing restless now, deprived of information, chirping back and forth, not knowing what had happened but convinced that whatever had happened was awful and such a terrible shame while glaring intrusively at the Thompson house. They shook their heads and touched one anotherís arms gently, consoling each another but unsure why. The block grew quiet and everyone stood hushed in the void left by the fallout of the sirens. All the kids began to lose interest in the fire truck and grew more concerned with what their parents appeared concerned with. They batted one another and played abbreviated games of tag, knocking or being knocked over depending on their size, before refocusing their attention on the officer quietly briefing the two men from the neighborhood.

A woman came around the corner of the block walking a fluffy golden retriever. She stopped when she came to where the officer stood with the two men by the squad car. The officer greeted her politely and smiled kindly into her eyes, looking to assure her that everything was under control and that there was no cause for alarm. The dog sniffed the officerís boots then turned and began to push its backside into the officerís shins. The officer stepped back and the woman gave the dogís leash a great heave and the animal jerked back off its front legs, then looked up at its owner grinning dumbly wagging its tail.

By now the entire neighborhood had congregated on the lawn directly across the street from the Thompson house and watched curiously, waiting for something to happen. Then the female officer appeared at the front door and moved slowly across the lawn and called the other officer over. They talked quietly at a safe distance from the group of onlookers, nodding back and forth to one another as they talked and stirred in the grass. After a few minutes, the female officer turned and walked back inside and the remaining male officer returned to where he was stationed before in front of the two men and the woman. He shook his head and reassured them that everything was in order, that there was nothing to be concerned about, and everything was under control.

Then in the distance came another siren, soft at first but grew with the same strength as the others before it, gaining in degree and dimension as it approached. The neighborhood kids began to jump again and giggled with pleasure and expectation. As the sound grew louder the mothers and the fathers began to howl at their children, demanding them to move away from the road, warning them how dangerous it is, and how sorry theyíll be if they do otherwise. The officer asked both men and the woman to please step away and the three joined the rest of the neighborhood on the opposite side of the street.

When an ambulance appeared at the top of the hill, it soared down the roadís slope with the momentum of a rhinoceros and all the kids squealed and skipped with excitement, hopping this way and that as its siren filled the air with fresh screams. The parents scolded their children and told them to behave and to be silent, though all the while filled with the same enthusiasm. As the ambulance slowed it pulled into the Thompsonís driveway and stopped, sounding its horn and the noise throbbed in the air and shook the lungs and brains of every neighbor and the feeling sent chills up their spines and all trembled with same prickly exhilaration.

Two medics rushed and pulled a stretcher out of the back of the ambulance and ran with it towards the house. Unlike the firemen and the officer, the medics ran up the driveway around to the side of the house where the garage was located. The neighbors found themselves drifting closer and closer to the Thompsonís lot in one, great horde and the lone officer ordered everyone to move back. Again the female officer appeared at the front door and walked across the lawn to where the other officer stood. The two shared a quick word before the she crossed the street and approached the yard where all the neighbors had gathered. She asked if a Mrs. Willis was outside and that if she was to come forward. Mrs. Willis did and she followed the officer back across the street to where the squad cars were parked. The neighbors watched enviously as both officers spoke to Mrs. Willis who stood listening blankly to what the police had to say. Then Mrs. Willis followed the female officer towards the house and the two women drifted up the lawn before disappearing inside.

The whole neighborhood was waiting for signs of life to appear from behind the dark windows of the house. Mothers with mothers and fathers with fathers, the kids buzzing around rambunctiously somersaulting, hand-standing, trying to mount the womanís golden retriever like a mustang. The children were scolded and told to go inside but none obeyed and none of the parents seemed bothered as they softly traded their theories about the Thompsons with one another. Dusk was settling but it was still clear and fireflies began to float up from the grass and sparkled across the neighborhood in the muggy twilight.

One of the medics appeared at the side of the house and hustled up the driveway to where the ambulance was parked. He jumped in the driverís seat and backed the vehicle down the driveway to where he had entered before. As the ambulance started-up and moved away, there was no siren and all the neighborhood kids were disappointed. When the vehicle stopped the medic hopped out and scooted back inside through the garage.

Time passed before there was any activity, but before the neighbors could lose interest, there was some motion at the mouth of the garage. The neighbors watched as the medics carry out the stretcher with the help of the firemen. On it laid a mound of plastic, but it was difficult for any of the neighbors to be sure what it exactly was, it being was too far to see clearly. The group slowly gravitated closer to the curb, inching forward with the hope of catching a better glimpse, but the officer out front waved them back and asked everyone to keep their distance so that the he and the rest could do their jobs. The medics loaded the stretcher into the back of the ambulance and closed the cabin door with a slam then stood talking with the firemen at the mouth of the garage as they waited.

The female officer emerged at the front door and was followed by Mrs. Willis who had an arm around Mrs. Thompson who drifted across the lawn vacantly and paled-faced. Mrs. Willis was talking to her but none of the neighbors could hear what she was saying and Mrs. Thompson showed no response. Her son, Sammy, followed his mother and Mrs. Willis though at a slower pace. The officer stopped and turned and waited for Sammy to catch up and when he did she walked with him towards the squad cars. As they neared the street, the officer on the road stepped forward and asked all the neighbors to step back, further back, even further than they already were and thanked them for their cooperation.

Mrs. Willis and Mrs. Thompson climbed into the back of one of the squad cars and the officer held the door and waited for Sammy to get in but the boy had stopped and was staring at the cluster of restless neighbors watching wide-eyed from the other side of the road. When the officer took his arm, Sammy shrugged it away and climbed in the back seat with his mother and Mrs. Willis under his own power. The neighbors began to chatter mutedly and one of the fathers said something about Mr. Thompson to some of the other fathers standing rigidly, meddling at the curb with their arms folded, watching the scene as the male officer gave a thumbs-up to the other officer and both walked over to their respective squad cars and plopped inside. The firemen sauntered up the driveway and slowly scaled the side of the truck, started up the engine with a thrust and pulled away. As it rode off, there were no sirens and all the neighborhood kids showed their displeasure by throwing dandelions and forget-me-nots at the road in the direction of the rolling truck. Their parents ignored them.

Moments went by and the neighbors looked on as the medics climbed inside the ambulance, everyone still entranced with the wonder of what was inside it. The ambulance pulled up the driveway and onto the road and its lights began flashing red and blue before the crisp chirp of the siren cut sharply through the thick air and the lights blazed brightly against the dark street, flashing across the faces of all the neighborhood kids dancing spastically and leaping around with delight and thrill as the sirenís metallic moan filled their stomachs and rattled their eardrums.

The ambulance moved up the road both squad cars followed, slowly at first before gaining momentum, and all the neighborhood kids flooded the street behind the vehicles and fill the void left behind in the road, sprinting on top of the pavement, chasing the shrilling echo of the alarm, waving joyfully to the officers and inhaling the exhaust in the spiraling light of the squad carís icy blue headlamps.

The sound of the siren shrank with the growing distance between it and the Thompson house and the block grew dark as the blinking strobes weakened then disappeared leaving the neighborhood dark apart from the dim lampposts burning softly in the boggy summer air. Before a silence could fall, all the mothers and father grabbed their children, roaring at each of them for disobeying for the hundredth time and instructed them to run inside and wash for dinner if they wanted to be fed. All the neighborhood kids obeyed and hurried indoors ahead of their parents. The street grew quiet and crickets sang from their concealed holes in the earth. All the mothers and fathers said goodbye to one another, wiped the wetness from foreheads, and spoke briefly about how unfortunate it all was and how sorry they were for the wife and the boy, how they enjoyed talking to one another and how they promised to talk later and that is was no real surprise that olíThompson had gassed himself.

(C)opyright 2008 Adam Moorad All Rights Reserved

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