Night School, North Hill, Akron, August 1966

By Kimberly Willardson

She made us go to bed while it was still light out, when there was life yet
in the wide street below our pent-up apartment and we could hear Mr. and Mrs.
Soleni argue about money as they sponge-washed their new Pontiac and the
Donatelli twins smacked a tennis ball against their ramshackle garage door:
thwack-bip, thwack-bip, thwack-bip, thwack-bip, and even Mr. Frostie's tinkly
bell still charmed children luckier than us out onto the hot pavement. They held
sweaty dimes to exchange for chocolate chip ice cream and raspberry snow cones.
The unfairness of it all lodged in our throats like clumps of worms as we tossed like
three minnows wrapped in clean cotton pajamas while the sun's last rays taunted
us from the sides and slats of a single venetian blind that had seen better days.

And so, our delight when — one deep, sweltering night — she whispered us awake
with an invitation to hush, hurry, to stay in pajamas but get our sneakers on and
step out into the pitch that had washed our neighborhood in shadows; to walk
between the wink of fireflies, coding messages we could not decipher, navigating
narrow cindered alleys between the fenced backyards of the Soleni's, the Rubino's,
the Bonanno's, the Franco's, the Donatelli's, and then the fences of those we never
knew. The blacktop parking lot of St. Martha's Church intimidated and expanded its
boundaries in the land past dark, where the hum and throb of distant traffic crescendoed
into the chirrs of well-groomed hotrods and the hiccups and growls of stray motorcycles
unzipping the sky and we learned fast that night is a velvet beast of a thing whose purr

made our hearts tick faster, like the pulse of heat still beating in the pavement under
our feet. The measured lamplights along Tallmadge Road, reflecting against lit glass
of late shops and the hundreds of flickering headlights, became the carnival of Paris,
the circus of London, torches at the Parthenon and we were gods floating breathless
in clouds of car exhaust and diesel fuel, interspersed with the aromas of baking garlic
bread, black coffee, and red geraniums planted in wine barrels sawed in half. The peck-
smack of billiard balls chimed from the wide open doors of the Sons of Italy Lodge and
men laughed low, slowly exhaled plumes of smoke, and in three different picture windows
twirled flying saucers of pizza dough above floured hands. The men all smiled, the last
one waved us in, but Mom rushed us past his door and into DeViti's Family Store

where we lined up for lemon ice. Nothing ever tasted as clean, sweet, and cold as that citrus
frost dripping from the short wooden paddles we scraped across it. And she looked suddenly
younger, but sad, smaller, when she fluffed up my hair and said, "Wasn't much older than you
when Jimmy, Jack, Patsy, and I ordered ten pizzas from Emidio's. Sat right outside their window,
sipping Cherry-Cokes and watching them sweat over ten pizzas. Never did pick them up, or pay.
We were so bad." She whispered to no one, "I miss us." I knew then the gift confession could be,
as we paused on the cold marble steps of St. Martha's, on our way home, on our way home. But
only now do I recognize the melancholy catalyst for such a confidence: the loneliness of young
mothers whose husbands work two jobs and go to night school; the persistence of old neighborhood
ghosts; and the seductive memories that simmer between midsummer sunset and steamy sunrise.
This entry was posted in Poetry. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

About Kimberly Willardson

Kimberly Willardson lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, where she’s working on her first novel and finishing a collection of short stories. The title story of that collection, “Winter Memories of the Summer Bear,” was recently awarded the 2008 Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize, and will appear in the upcoming Spring/Summer 2008 Del Sol Press anthology. Her work has also appeared in American Short Fiction, Ohioana Quarterly, and Rosebud, among other publications.

5 Comments

  1. DeaH
    Posted December 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    The balance of the magic of night for children with the lost feeling of adulthood was perfect.

  2. mj white
    Posted December 2008 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Lovely poem! Magical imagery and language.

  3. Tron
    Posted December 2008 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Wow. Very rich and visceral. A simple evenings tale revealed in many layers reflecting memories, feelings, and the best kind of nostalgia.

  4. Mikki Mason
    Posted December 2008 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    As a fellow Akronite I could almost feel myself there in this evocative poem!

  5. Michelle Baldini
    Posted January 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    –Willardson’s poem encourages the reader to delight in a childhood memory, sneaking away with Mom, out on one hot summer’s night “with an invitation to hush, hurry, to stay in pajamas…” and slip through the “velvet beast” of night to savor lemon ice and times past. Her fresh, sophisticated technique gave me goose bumps as I rushed through the midnight air in search of adventure and understanding.

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