Five Points, Vol. 9 No. 3Spring 2006
From Alice Hoffman, “[Teenagers] haven’t shut down the way we do as adults, and so I’m more willing to go to the deepest places when I write for them.”
The Neighborhood Watch
The week the boy was kidnapped, our parents stapled fliers to all the telephone poles on our block. Have you seen this boy? the fliers said, and there was his grainy picture, reprinted from The Waltham Tribune. There was his name, Jimmy Simmons. He was eleven, the same age I was, with the same dark hair and a constellation of freckles. Below the picture, my father had carefully drawn a set of eyes, the pupils dark so wherever you stood, they seemed to follow you. WE ARE WATCHING YOU, the signs said.
Mr. Harley, the locksmith, was putting deadbolts on everyone’s doors, free of charge, working his way down the block. Mr. Corcoran, who owned a toy store, handed out silver whistles on blue chains to all of us kids. “Any car or person comes near you,” he said, “you blow this like a hurricane.”
We blew all the whistles until it sounded like a scream and then Mr. Corcoran clapped his hands to his ears. “I’d like to keep my hearing if you don’t mind,” he said.
“Ellen, if you ever need to, you bite,” my mother said to me. “Kick where it counts.”
The boy had been kidnapped in Belmont, one town and five minutes over from where we lived, a town where I had my swimming lessons every Thursday, where my mother took me shopping at Filene’s and bought her vegetables at Davincent Farms. “We could have seen him without even knowing it,” my mother said. “We could have brushed right past him.”
It was the 1950s and things like this didn’t happen. Not in Belmont, not in Waltham, and certainly not in Maplewood, the new development where we lived, with rows of Cape Cod houses in driveways and leafy backyards, an enclave where everyone knew everyone else, where every summer there were barbeques, the fathers in plaid shorts, our mothers in starchy cotton dresses, and we all got to stay up late and drink Shirley Temples in paper cups.