Sweaty, red-cheeked neighborhood boys tightly gripped their hockey sticks, as they ran up and down the middle of the street with abandon, chasing after the puck. Between two goalie nets, set a short distance apart, the boys smacked and scraped their sticks’ faces against the asphalt. Every ten minutes or so, one of them would yell out, “Car!” signaling for the goalies to drag their nets off to the side, and for the rest to scatter. All the boys stood at the curb, and patiently waited for the car to pass, so they could resume their game. Though familiar, these sounds were welcome stimulation from an otherwise stale summer’s Sunday afternoon on this quiet residential street lined with Victorian row houses in downtown Toronto.
From my spot on the cool concrete steps of my apartment duplex, I watched the action unfold with envy. My mother’s warnings, spoken in Portuguese, echoed at the back of my mind: Nunca brinques na rua—Never play on the street. The slow-descending sun hovered over the horizon long enough to envelop a group of girls as they raced down the street on roller skates—all blonde with skinny legs—whiz by the two teams.
A shaggy-haired boy leaned against his upright hockey stick and stared after the tallest girl in the group, who led her friends. As if feeling the weight of his stare, she glanced behind her left shoulder, and smiled at him. The boy combed his disheveled bangs out of his eyes with his fingers and returned her smile. One of the goalies patted him on the back.
In the five years I had lived here, I’d heard enough whisperings to know that most of the neighbors referred to me as the-girl-whose-mother-had-called-the-police-on-her-father. I imagined their parents warned them: Don’t play, talk or even look at her. If this was true, their children had been perfectly obedient.
“Is that your bike back there?” a short, blue-eyed boy, eating a blue freezie, asked as he walked towards me, stepping on the dry patches of grass that made up my front lawn.
Two lanky boys, one with a pointy nose, the other with large freckles all over his face, walked behind him, forming a triangle, a human yield sign.
The bike had been there as long as I could remember. I imagined it had been left leaning against the fence in our backyard by a former tenant. I fantasized about one day pedaling it down the street, my brown hair flowing freely behind me, but knew my mother would never allow it. The only concession she’d made in letting me roam was to let me roller skate down our apartment’s narrow corridor, which was protected with a carpet that bunched whenever I’d roll along it quickly. Still, I held out hope.
The boy sucking on the freezie must have noticed the bike from the sidewalk, and perhaps wondered why it never left the yard. “Mind if we borrow some pieces? We promise to give them back,” he said. His Smurf-stained lips morphed into a smile: blue teeth and blue gums exposed.
“If you promise to re—”
He and his two friends sprinted towards the back. I stood up and looked behind me half-expecting to find my mother standing on the verandah with her arms crossed in disapproval, but it was empty, and the paper-thin front door was shut: I followed the three boys.
I stood at the entrance to the backyard and watched.
“Grab this,” the pointy-nosed boy said.
“Take that,” the boy with the blue-stained mouth said.
“Just take the whole thing,” the freckled boy said.
I don’t think they even noticed me.
I wanted to tell them that I knew they lied, but my heart raced and my mouth was dry: I couldn’t find the courage.
They devoured the bike. Helpless, the bike fell to the ground. The three boys continued stripping off its remaining pieces, until it was bare.
Cradling various parts, all three boys pushed past me as they left. What remained lay scattered on the concrete: the metal frame and yellow straw basket, its plastic daisy torn off and facing up as if in memoriam.
I must have seen those neighborhood boys again, but don’t remember. In my mind, they’ve grown up to become those men who build their daughters’ tricycles, then buy them shiny ten-speeds, all the while lovingly warning them to lock their bikes in the garage each night, safely hidden away from thieves.
Marilyn Duarte is currently an MFA Candidate in creative writing at the University of Tampa. Her work has appeared in The Tishman Review, Barren Magazine, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and elsewhere. Originally from Toronto, she now divides her time between Canada and Portugal. She can be found online at marilynduartewriter.com and on Twitter at @MareDuarte28.