The Neighbor Children Knocked
Martha Clarkson


Her name was Harmony and her mother's name was Harmony so we called them Little Harm and Big Harm to keep it all straight. Her brother's name was just Johnny and they'd knock on the back door. Little Harm was eight with cat-eye glasses, dark bangs, and a Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist doll I thought really talked. She used the word gasser if she was having fun. Her brother was six with a half-inch crew cut and I was four.


Johnny and his sister would hold hands on the back stoop and ask if I could play. In the retelling my mother would laugh at this. "Who would want to play with a four-year-old? They just want your toys." She always let them in.


When my mother had to leave for PTA and my father worked, I'd go over to their house after dessert and sometimes they'd still be eating. Big Harm used the Yellow Pages to boost Johnny up at the dinner table. The children could not leave the table until they cleaned their plates. Big Harm once found a collection of peas in the Yellow Pages under Plumbing.


Johnny and Little Harm sometimes ate lunch at our house. We had tuna fish sandwiches with the crust cut off. After lunch my mother would fill tall Tupperware glasses with an inch of honey and hand us long iced tea spoons. We'd walk around the back yard taking dips and licks. Later we'd run through the sprinkler in our underwear.


Little Harm started taking piano lessons so Johnny came over by himself. When my mother opened the door I'd say, "Oh, it's Johnny-the-boy," because there was another Johnny in the neighborhood, a cocker spaniel. Our old white house had a narrow stair leading to a partial basement, where we used to play. On hot days, we liked the cold concrete on our bare feet.


Like any good basement, it was dark and spooky, made more so when the washer suddenly clicked into spin cycle. Our mothers sat out on the patio smoking. Johnny and I loitered in the shadows of the octopus furnace, our underpants down. One time there were footsteps on the stairs.