The Boys on the Roof


The neighbors are on the roof again.  It's Friday afternoon and warm for the end of October, so I'm not surprised.  Pulling my Accord into the driveway, I watch out the window: Jimmy and the loud one they call Pooch are busy unfolding chairs.  Then Tucker, the lanky, shy one with eyelashes so pale they look dusted with snow flakes, passes up a boom box, bags of chips and pretzels, and multiple cases of beer.  They work efficiently, like members of an assembly line.

When my husband Craig and I moved into town after getting married last year, living in a neighborhood crammed with UC Davis undergrads wasn't at the top of our list.  But we both have graduate school loans to pay off and were sick of living in apartments.  This way we could afford a two-bedroom house with a patch of yellow grass round the back.  And since we've discovered I'm two-months pregnant—forgotten birth-control pills on a weekend trip to Napa—we have all the more reason to be frugal.

The possibility of terminating the pregnancy was discussed then dismissed, and now with the initial shock fading like a bruise, Craig has begun to get excited.  He's the one who picked up the phone and called our families, the one who brought home a copy of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: The Ultimate Guide to Conception, Birth and Everything In Between.  "We got the conception part right without any help.  What do we need that for?" I said.  Craig wouldn't speak to me for the rest of the night.

The boys next door are friendly and polite.  Sometimes it's just the three of them on top of their flat, stucco one-storey, and early in the summer, Craig even climbed up there and had a beer; other times their friends' cars form an endless line down our street, and Craig and I find ourselves wishing for cooler weather.  Tonight's party looks like it's going to be a big one.

At six, Craig returns from the small architecture firm where he works.  In the kitchen, while I toss spinach leaves with olive oil and vinegar and a little lemon juice, I hear him talking to the boys.

"Come have a beer," Pooch says.

"Bring Karen," says Jimmy.

"Some other time," Craig calls back.  "You kids have fun."

"Karen can no longer consume alcohol," I say as he comes through the door.  "Or caffeine, or shellfish for that matter."  I've banned Craig from using our coffee pot.  Once, I joked that the sound of percolating water was enough to make me want to change my mind and was rewarded with another evening of stony glares.

Craig's arms encircle a large cardboard box and he's grinning from ear to ear.  "White noise machine," he says.  "Twenty-four-ninety-nine at Target.  In case it stays warm for the rest of the month."

In spite of myself, I lean over and kiss him on the mouth.


After dinner, we decide to watch a movie recommended by a fellow teacher at the high school, an independent film about thirteen-year-olds using drugs and having sex.  As Craig fiddles with the DVD player, I peer out the window.  The roof of the house is packed with kids.  Their bodies press up against each other as they laugh and yell and gyrate to a thumping beat.

We turn up the volume to drown out the noise.  The film is dark and disturbing and sometimes I look away.  We watch in silence, and when it's over I say, "I want to lock all my students in a classroom and never let them out again."  I rest my hands on my belly; it seems to have grown in the past couple days.

"It's a movie," Craig says.  "They have to exaggerate so people will watch."

I want to tell him to stop being so goddamn flippant.  "You know what's scary?" I say.  "They were pretty good parents and their kid still got fucked up."

Suddenly, we hear the crash next door, followed by shouts and screams over the still-pounding music.  Outside, a boy tells us Pooch fell while urinating off the roof.  Kids form a wall around him, blocking my view.  Others stream down the ladder or cling to each other.  Beside me, two girls start to cry and a third throws up in the hedge by the door.

Craig pushes his way through the crowd and I catch a glimpse of Pooch on his back: eyes squeezed shut, mouth a cavernous, gasping hole.

"Call an ambulance," Craig yells.  "Someone call an ambulance."

I don't notice Tucker until he grabs my arm, his face shiny with tears.  "Should we call his mom?  I don't want to scare her.  He got really wasted.  He might have broken both his legs, maybe his back.  God I hope he's okay.  Oh God, oh God."

I reach up and pat his shoulder.  I know I should tell him his friend will be fine, but instead I say nothing.

By the time the EMT's leave with Pooch, the kids have dispersed and the line of cars shrinks steadily.  Craig piles Jimmy and Tucker into our Accord, neither of them fit to drive themselves to the hospital.

Back inside, I wait on the couch.  I picture Craig with the boys, telling them things to calm them down.  Unlike me, he always knows exactly what to say.  My belly rises and falls beneath my hands.  I think I feel a heartbeat, then realize it's only my own, reverberating like a persistent voice.  

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