The East Side
- The Alley
The Alley was two different worlds. In the daytime kids chased each other back and forth. Tori loved cutting through the alleys in the neighborhood, getting away from bigger kids who chased her and her friends home from Triangle’s Candy Store, wanting to take their candy. In the daytime, grimy kids slid through the Alley on pieces of cardboard, traded baseball cards, shot marbles and played Take a Giant Step and Hide and Seek. Sometimes a kid would beat up another kid, give him a bloody nose, take his comic books. But that was the most violence the Daytime Alley ever saw. In daylight, the Alley was a miniature street, almost, a throughway used by kids that adults never seemed to notice.
In the nighttime the Alley changed. Tori first discovered this when she couldn’t sleep one night. Her bed was right next to the window, she pulled aside the curtain, pressed her face against the glass. A man was pissing against the side of the building next door. A three-decker, just like theirs. But right on the other side of that building was Paolo’s Apizza, a bar and pizza parlor. She was shocked at first to see a grown man pissing, he must have been drunk, had too much beer. But night after night Tori saw many strange things in the Alley.
It was almost like TV. The Alley was dark, but between the street lights and the big neon sign for Paolo’s she could see. Sometimes there was moonlight which lent an eerie black and white movie feel. She’d watch the people and make up stories about them. Men and women having drunken arguments, then making up and making out, groaning and pulling at each other’s clothes. She saw teenagers smoke dope and drink beer, boys grab their girlfriends and kiss them, pressing their bodies against the brick wall. She saw a tall man wearing a hat pull a gun on a shorter man, stick the gun to the shorter man’s head. The shorter man meekly handed over his wallet. She wondered, Who would be dumb enough to go in the Alley at night with a stranger? She saw a man stab another man, leave him bleeding, blood pouring out like in the movies and Tori thought He’s going to die. I’m going to see someone die. But then the second man got up, and limped away.
Once she saw her own father, Poppy, walk in the Alley and talk to another man. Poppy smoked a cigarette and the other man smoked a cigar. Poppy passed the man a piece of paper, or maybe an envelope. Once she saw a bleached blonde lady, who reminded her of Sally from the Dick Van Dyke Show, come into the Alley with a skinny man wearing glasses. The lady was pretty but kind of drunk, the man gave her money. She stuffed wads of bills into her bra and got down on her knees in front of the man. The skinny man moaned and groaned. It was over pretty quick. Oh. Tori thought. That’s what sex is. Sometimes the Sally lady would come back, with different men. Tori wanted to tell her she should be with Buddy on the Dick Van Dyke show. Nicky would always say, “Buddy needs to leave Pickles and move in with Sally. They’re great together.” Tori considered the Alley People to be Her People, like the plastic people she made out of Legos, come to life.
These were silent movies, since she kept the window closed. She wanted to open the window, feel the air and hear their voices, but was afraid they’d hear her breathing. She was afraid especially of Poppy. Grown men were afraid of him too. Poppy was like the Alley, Tori thought. In the Daytime he was Poppy, sometimes he could be funny and joked around. At Night Time he was Carlo, serious and mysterious and dangerous. Poppy laughed sometimes, not often, but Carlo never did.
Tori never told anyone about the Night Time Alley. The Alley People didn’t seem like they could see her. Maybe she was invisible. Once she saw the Sally lady in the daytime in the Laundromat across the street. The Sally lady folded her clothes. Tori, who was with her mom, looked away, embarrassed. She knew too much about this lady. Clare snapped at Tori. “Quit daydreaming and grab a basket. We’re going home to hang these up on the clothesline. I’m not spending money on dryers.” They waited to cross busy East Main. At a break in traffic, they ran across the street, carrying heavy baskets piled high with wet laundry. The Alley People were her people, but they were people of the night. It didn’t seem right to see one in the daytime.
Nicky didn’t seem to notice her window watching. His bed was closer to the bedroom door. There was nothing in their room but two beds and two dressers. He only lived on the front porch for a week, then moved back into their room when it rained. He was either at Harding High or working at Food Fair or at one of his friend’s houses. He was always saying stuff like, “I just eat and sleep here, I no longer live here,” or “Two more years and I’m out of here.” Tori hated the thought of Nicky leaving, leaving her alone listening to her parent’s fighting. She never kept a secret from her big brother before. But she knew Nicky wouldn’t approve of her watching people in the Alley. Still she wondered. How could people be so different at night? How could a place be a whole different world at night?
© Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli
Photo Credit: “East Main Street Package Store,” by Sara Jacobelli