Guy—tall, blond, friendly—knocks on our front door. He carries a clipboard and a glossy brochure. The kids, he says, are getting around phone-line-based security systems like yours. Guy waves his ballpoint in the general direction of a sign, “Protected by Guardian,” half-buried in ivy.
Half buried in ivy signals that I have little concern for security. A Guardian sign obscured by gardening suggests that I am casual, not cautious. Our house is not alarmed, it’s true. The sensors on the sills are disappearing as we replace the old windows with new. I don’t call Guardian to have the sensors re-installed. I cannot remember the code to activate the alarm. It is scribbled, I think, on a wrinkled paper deep inside a junk drawer.
Guy’s car, parked out front, is a drab compact. He works in a family business. This is a small post-industrial city in recession, not a city with loads of jobs for guys his age. It is a city of family businesses. Locksmiths, exterminators, roofers, windows-and-doors.
“Guy” = word I use to refer to boyfriends I had in college.
I have answered the door in the middle of my life. Dropped the toddler off at preschool, switched the clothes dryer to “tumble,” drunk a half-cup of espresso, unscattered the rain boots. Through living room window yesterday saw my son stand up on porch swing, saw him fall, face to concrete, cracked jaw (he did not fall).
Note to self: phone tree people to cut back invasive vine coming over the fence from next door.
Guy opens his security brochure to a centerfold of sliced wires.
The kids, he says, touching his pen-tip to the private insides of my house, have figured out a way around your security system. The innocent way he says “kids” makes me think of toddlers with hedge clippers. Naughty pruners. Little wire-strippers. Guy’s voice is easy as a porch swing, a spring afternoon. He could be talking about when his girl spills bubble liquid and then it rains and he-the-Papa slips and turns his ankle, haha. Guy is old enough to have kids? I look into his face. I can’t tell.
The kids . Click click. Just words. Two words, a couple of snapped stems, a rock skipped twice. A scissor-snip. The kids, is this code. I can’t tell if it is. The kids has no underline. Kids: are everywhere.
Is there an implication. The kids. Young men, (perhaps) black. Probably. Young black guys. Black kids? Boys. Probably. Is this the code. To activate alarm.
Guy stands there clicking his pen.
In my mind, a boy enters our house by the side door. I see my son fall, again, off the porch swing.
I live several blocks from Homewood, one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city. Two more boys appear in my mind. Twelve-year-olds. I see my son fall, again. Jaw-crack. Face to concrete (he does not fall). I live around the corner from a mostly black middle school.
Do I say to the guy: you mean black kids. Is this the line to say.
Next door, a sprinkler switches on, brushing the tips of our cherry.
I am a homeowner with a half-buried Guardian sign. I am a white homeowner. A white woman come to the door in a certain kind of 10 a.m. I have a pile of rain boots that were shopped for by a white mother. I am holding a homeowner-mother, late-white-morning-early-21st-century-family-espresso. I have, with my white casualness, or incaution, or is it white trust, opened wide the door to a guy who looks like my old college boyfriend. His job is to drive around in a drab compact and find houses such as mine. He has ID’d me.
We are standing under my porch roof, whose whitening spreads upward into the limbs of my tallest tree, then hangs there, dangling, empty, in a breeze that moves the hairs on my arms. Whiteness flows outward through my yard, into the street, pooling deeper in this corner of our city.
Will I sign a piece of paper to get around this tender bit of mischief on the part of the kids?
Will something drop to the ground safely, still breathing, if I say, Do you mean black kids. Will something fall, cheek to concrete. Will something break if I say, you mean black kids? What holds me back? An invisible contract between us. A piece of fishing line drawn tight against my gut. It feels like a violence, to be held back like this, to be kept-from-saying, but also, to break the code. To make him break it.
The dryer signals meekly from the basement. Guy stands there waiting, tapping his clipboard, looking so openly into my face.