In the sunny suburb of Greenbury Park, there had never been much for the residents to complain about. Every year, the local council would organise and pay for a whole host of street parties, where people would sit at long tables in the street, with all the roads having been closed, and would eat barbecued food and chat and drink beer. They were merry times for kids, and probably bitter ones for adults, but Carter recalled one such event for its fascinating brutality. He had been seven or eight, he wasn’t sure which, and had been sitting with another boy of his age, who he was pretty sure had been called Edgar.
This being the early eighties, everybody in Greenbury Park somehow managed to be hip and up-to-date in their fashions and behaviour and colloquialisms, while at the same time retaining an air of security and anxiety. There was constantly news of bad losses in the Nam, and of tension with the Soviets and all kinds of new things out there for Americans to be afraid of. It was something that had stuck out like a sore thumb to Carter, even when he thought back in later life. The parents of local kids had all tried to force smiles and drink the punch and laugh at one another’s jokes, but would secretly glare at their respective spouse when no-one was looking, and glance continuously at their kids, all the while yearning for someone to suggest, or some excuse to arise, for them to head on home for the evening. The only people who genuinely enjoyed these events then tended to be a few of the kids and the elderly, who relished in the opportunity to rant about so-called better times, where people were blown apart in Normandy and stabbed in the Pacific. Carter could have taken them or left them, but he always remembered that poignant afternoon in ’81, or whatever it had been.
While he had had no problem making friends with the local boys, he had not yet linked up with Arms, who lived the block over. In fact, he had known the larger boy by sight, and had been somewhat intimidated; something he had never admitted to Arms when they later became best buddies at High School. Edgar had lived closer; at the end of Carter’s block, with his Dad and Granddad. He never talked much about his mom, and Carter assumed she had run off with a doctor or whatever it was absent mothers did. He and Edgar had got on well enough, with the boys often sharing lifts home from school, and meeting up sometimes to play catch in the park, or chuck quarters into the arcade machines at the Mall, although Edgar was quickly banned from this particular activity by his Granddad.
Neither had been that happy with their lot at the street party. The weather had been overcast; still warm, but humid and sticky. There was a feeling that at any moment it would rain, and in a way that would have been a relief, but somehow it held off till later. Also, the genius manning the barbecue, or, this being a street full of affluent middle-class men, geniuses, hadn’t paid the food enough attention, and many sausages were as a result burned to a crisp on the outside and pink and runny in the centre. Edgar had been pale, as if he were about to be sick.
That was when the dog, a little yapping terrier from across the street, had approached them, all the time sniffing the ground, its tail upright and rigid. It had had a stupid name, Noodles or something, and Carter remembered it making a racket in evenings where the stupid old woman who owned it let it run free in the yard and on the block, scaring cats and other pets and making them yelp too. The thing had been a pain in everyone’s lives, although no-one had the heart to tell dear Mrs. Harris as much.
The dog had strolled straight up to where Carter and Edgar were seated at the table, having finished with their food, and jumped up, knocking over a plastic cup. Carter, who had been daydreaming, looked around, and when he saw what it was, went back to his thoughts, but was startled as Edgar cried out. Noodles had abandoned the table and turned on him, scrabbling at the boy with his paws, yelping close in his ear. As far as Carter had seen, Edgar had done nothing to provoke the animal, but it had clearly been agitated by something. There was a glint in the dog’s eye that hadn’t been there before. It began to snarl, and gnash its little teeth, hackles raised. Instinctively, Carter swung his legs around and kicked the terrier away, just as Edgar screamed. The dog yelped again and took off like a rocket. Edgar’s dad rushed over and picked up his son from out of his chair. The boy had broken down in tears.
“Hey, Ed, son, what happened?” the man said, shaking his son up and down slightly, in the strange way that parents do to coax an answer out of upset children. The boy just kept crying, snot running out of his nostrils like lava.
“Mrs. Harris’s dog, Mr. Walden,” Carter had piped up. He had tried to point the animal out, but it had vanished. “It came over and started, like, attacking Edgar. That’s what happened. I had to kick it to get it off.”
“That what happened, son?” Walden asked his son, as if Carter wasn’t there, “was it the dog?”
“Yeah,” blubbered Edgar. He had pointed an accusing finger at Carter, who had been stunned to suddenly be indicated by the wailing boy. “He kicked it!”
“Did he, now?” Walden muttered, his eyes finally settling on Carter, the edges narrowed. Carter remembered his face colouring. What the hell was happening? He had only kicked it to stop it attacking Edgar. Had he not done the right thing? Or was it something more? Was the little, snotty piece of shit covering his cowardice with a bit of old-fashioned animal pity? All this raced through Carter’s head in that instant, and continued to in later life, when he looked back. He never quite worked out what Edgar had meant by his accusing finger.
“Something wrong, Ernie?” Eric Carter had appeared from behind a group of housewives. He too had looked to console Edgar, as Walden spoke in low tones.
“Dad…” Carter began, still red.
“David, what you go and do that for?” his dad asked, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I didn’t do nothing, dad! The dog was…”
“Noodles was probably only playing, son. If he scared you, its not his fault. I didn’t think you of all people would kick an animal. That’s not like you at all.”
“Because I didn’t,” Carter interjected, deciding to change his tact, the truth apparently having earned him no respect whatsoever.
“Sorry?” Walden turned again, “You just said before, you kicked the dog away. Damn near terrorised it, who knows where its gone, huh? Guess we’ll have to tell Mrs. Harris, and she ain’t the coolest customer. You upset my boy too. How could you, David?”
“That is so unfair,” Carter had said. It had felt cliché even to him, then, and so he hadn’t shouted it, “the dog was attacking him. Don’t you understand? It was gonna bite, I think. I saved him. No matter what you think.”
“What you say to me, boy?” Walden retorted, suddenly aggressive.
“Alright, Ernie, I’ll deal with this. You and Ed go get cleaned up, and me and David will go tell Mrs. Harris. And I’m sorry about all of this.” Eric had put a calming hand on Walden’s shoulder, and the man had gone off with his son, who was still sobbing. He and his dad had been about to tell old lady Harris, but then Noodles re-appeared, snuffling, having eaten a sausage off of somebodies plate. One man was laughing at it. The terrier had not been harmed in any way, although it had never been near Carter again that day out on the block. Eric had nodded, and taken him to one side.
“Looks like there was no harm done then, son, so we don’t need to tell Mrs. Harris what happened. I know you probably got startled, or whatever, and did what you thought you had to, and okay, perhaps Mr. Walden overreacted slightly. But you can’t kick animals unless they actually go for you, Dave. You got that? Don’t worry about it. I know you’re a good kid, and it won’t happen again. That’s why me and your mom are so happy to let you go off with your friends and do whatever. Because we know you’re responsible and sensible and will do the right thing, at the end of the day. So we’re cool, okay?” Carter had wanted to retort, to insist that the dog had attacked Edgar and that he had spared the boy a nasty injury, but his dad’s words had cooled his head, and he just nodded and let his dad ruffle his hair. Besides, what good would it do if he kept telling the truth, but Edgar lied. How could the other boy be so cruel?
But what really got to Carter was later on, when Carter had been sitting with his dad while Eric discussed work with the other fathers, and Edgar, face now cleansed of snot, had ambled over as if nothing had happened. He didn’t even blush, didn’t give any indication that the events of a few hours ago had taken place. He just walked straight up and touched Carter’s shoulder.
“Hey, Dave, I’m bored. Can we go play some video games?”
Carter knew that in that moment, as he looked into the boy’s stupid, unsuspecting eyes, that he had found his first enemy. And it was a guy who didn’t even know he was one. He was someone who, blissfully unaware of his apparent friends around him, went through life via the easiest roads, lying to benefit himself and no-one else, twisting the truth in the face of his dad to get other kids into trouble and leave them red-faced and feeling that horrible, senseless guilt in the gut. If Carter had been the sort to hang around with and be influenced by older kids, and had known the correct language, he would have called Edgar every name under the sun, until his ears caught fire, and then laid him out, right there and then, from where he was sitting. But somehow, something inside of him, that knew he had been lucky perhaps with the dog not being injured, and him not having to confess to old lady Harris, and that perhaps upheld some childhood innocence, interjected and quelled the boiling hatred.
“No thanks,” was all he said, and then he had turned away and listened to his dad as he talked. He didn’t look back until Edgar moved off, apparently unaware still of the hate he had spawned. Doubtless, he had never spoken to Edgar properly again, ever, not even when they ride-shared in the back of the car of one of their parents. Every time he saw the kid, he had felt the need to restrain himself in every way from tearing him limb from limb. The lie had been bad enough, but the worst thing to Carter was the way in which the boy was so unaware of what he had done. Yes, he would say in later life that he was a kid, and he was stupid, and that what he did was wrong, but those were the actions that shaped a person’s life, those the denials that created a lifetime of denial.
His surmise had not been far off. Edgar went on to a career in hairdressing, and later, Carter heard from his parents, got hopelessly drunk in a Detroit bar and was attacked by a gang. Ironically, the culprits were not imprisoned, because they were deemed to have too low intelligence to qualify for State Penitentiary. Edgar had never recovered from the attack, and became an agoraphobe, afraid to leave his apartment. Noodles had to be taken to the vet and put down after eating one of the sausages from the barbecue. Carter, meanwhile, went on to have his illustrious education and career, allowing him to look back on these slight childhood blips with a reminiscent smile covering the surge of anger.