[…] The late afternoon had come and the sun made long yellow slants through the window. If she took two hours over dressing for the party, it was time to begin now. When she through about putting on the fine clothes, she couldn’t just sit around and wait.Very slowly, she went into the bathroom and shuffed off her old shorts and shirt and turned on the water. She scrubbed the rough parts of her heels, and her knees, and especially her elbows. She made the bath take a long time. She ran naked into the middle room and began to dress.

Silk teddies she put on, and silk stockings. She even wore one of Etta’s brassieres, just for the heck of it. Then very carefully, she put on the dress and stepped into the pumps. This was the first time she had ever worn an evening dress. She stood for a long time before the mirror. She was so tall that the dress came up two or three inches above her ankles and the shoes were so short they hurt her. She stood in front of the mirror a long time and finally decided: she either looked like a sap or else she looked very beautiful – one or the other. Six different ways she tried out her hair. The cowlicks were a little trouble, so she wet her bangs and made three spitcurls. Last of all, she stuck the rhinestones in her hair and put on plenty of lipstick and paint. When she finished she lifted up her chin and half closed her eyes like a movie star. Slowly she turned her face from one side to the other. It was beautiful, she looked just beautiful. She didn’t feel like herself at all, she was somebody different from Mick Kelly entirely. Two hours had to pass before the party would begin and she was ashamed for any of the family to see her dressed so far ahead of time. She went into the bathroom again and locked the door. She couldn’t mess up her dress by sitting down, so she stood in the middle of the floor. The close walls around her seemed to press in all the excitement. She felt so different from the old Mick Kelly that she knew this would be better from anything in her whole life, this party.

Yippee, the punch! The cutest dress! Say, you saw that one about the Triangle 46 by… Let me by, move outta my way!

The front door slammed every second as the people swarmed into the house. Sharp voices and soft voices sounded together until there was just one roaring noise. Girls stood in bunches in their long, fine evening dresses and the boys roamed around in clean duck pants or ROTC uniforms or new dark fall suits. There was so much commotion, that Mick couldn’t notice any separate face or person. She stood by the hat rack and stared around at the party as a whole.

Everybody get a prom card and start signing up!

At first the room was too loud for anyone to hear and pay attention. The boys were so thick around the punch bowl that the table and the vines didn’t show at all, only her Dad’s face rose up above the boys heads as he smiled and dished up the punch into the little paper cups. On the seat of the hat rack beside her were a jar a candy and two handkerchiefs. A couple of girls thought it was her birthday, and she had thanked then and unwrapped the presents without telling them she wouldn’t be 14 for eight more months. Every person was as clean and fresh and dressed up as she was. They smelled good. The boys had their hair plastered down wet and slick. The girls, with their different colored long dresses stood together, and they were like a bright hunk of flowers. The start was marvelous! The beginning of this party was ok.

I’m part Scottish and Irish and French and I got German blood!

She hollered about the prom cards one more time before she went into the dining room. Soon they began to pile in from the hall. Every person took a prom card and they lined up in bunches against the walls of the room. This was the real start now. It came all of a sudden in a very queer way – this quietness. The boys stood together on one side of the room and the girls were across from them. For some reason, every person quit making noise at once. The boys held theirs cards and looked at the girls and the room was very still. None of the boys started asking for proms like they were supposed to. The awful quietness got worse and she had not been to enough parties to know what she should do. Then the boys started punching each other and talking. The girls giggled. But even if they didn’t look at the boys you could tell they only had their minds on whether they were going to be popular or not. The awful quietness was gone now, but there was something jittery about the room. After a while, a boy went up to a girl named Dolores Brown. As soon as he had signed her up, the other boys began to rush Dolores at once. When her whole card was full they started on another girl named Mary. After that, everything suddenly stopped again. One or two extra girls got a couple of proms and because she was giving the party, three boys came up to her. That was all. The people just hung around in the dining room in the hall. The boys mostly flopped around the punch bowl and tried to show off at each other, the girls bunched together and did a lot of laughing to pretend they were having a good time. The boys thought about the girls and the girls thought about the boys but all that came of it was a queer feeling in the room.

It was then she began to notice Harry Minowitz. He lived in the house next door and she’d known him all her life. Although he was two years older, she had grown faster than him and in the summertime they used to wrestle and fight out in the plight of grass out in the street. Harry was a Jew boy, but he didn’t so much look like one. His hair was light brown and straight. Tonight he was dressed very neat, and when he came in the door he had hung a grown man’s Panama hat with a feather in it on the hat rack. It wasn’t his clothes that made her notice him. There was something changed about his face, because he was without the one rimmed specks he usually wore. A red droppy stigh had come out on one of his eyes and he had to cock his head sideways like a bird in order to see. His long thin hands kept touching around his stigh as though it hurt him. When he asked for punch, he stuck the paper cup right under her Dad’s face. She could tell he needed his glasses very bad. He was nervous and kept bumping into people. He didn’t ask any girl to prom except her and that was because it was her party.

All the punch had been drunk. Her Dad was afraid she would be embarrassed, so he and her Momma had gone back to the kitchen to make lemonade. Some of the people were on the front porch and the sidewalk. She was glad to get out in the cool night air. After the hot, bright house she could smell the new autumn in the darkness. Then, she saw something she hadn’t expected. Along the edge of the sidewalk and in the dark street there was a bunch of neighborhood kids: Pete and Sucker Wells and Baby and Spare Ribs, the whole gang that started at below Bubba’s age and gone up to over 12. There were even kids she didn’t know at all, who had somehow smelled a party and come to hang around. And there were kids her age and older that she hadn’t invited either because they had done something mean to her or she had done something mean to them. They were all dirty and in plain shorts, or draggled tail knickers or old everyday dresses. They were just hanging around in the dark to watch the party. She thought of two feelings when she saw those kids: one was sad, and the other was a kind of warning.

I got this prom with you!

Harry Minowitz made out like he was reading on his card, but she could see nothing was written on it. Her dad had come on to the porch to blow the first whistle, that meant the beginning of the first prom.

Yeah, she said, let’s get goin’.

They started out to walk around the block. In the long dress she still felt very ritzy.

Look yonder at Mick Kelly! one of the kids in the dark hollered. Look at ‘er!

She just walked on like she hadn’t heard but it was that Spare Ribs and one day soon she would catch him. She and Harry walked fast along the dark sidewalk and when they came to the end of the street they turned down another block.

How old are you now Mick, 13?

Goin’on 14!

She knew what he was thinking. He used to worry her all the time. 5 feet 6 inches tall and 103 pounds and she was only 13. Every kid at the party was a runt beside her, except Harry who was only a couple of inches shorter. No boy wanted to prom with a girl so much taller than him, but maybe cigarettes would help stop the rest of her growth.

I grew 3 or 4 inches just in the past year, she said.

Once I saw a lady at the fair who was 8 and a half feet tall but you probably won’t grow that big.

Harry stopped beside a dark, thick myrtle bush. Nobody was in sight. He took something out of his pocket and started fooling with it, whatever it was. She leaned over to see. It was his pair of specks and he was wiping them with his handkerchief.

Pardon me, he said. Then he put on his glasses and she could hear him breathe deep.

You outta’ wear your specks all the time.

Yeah!

How come you go around without them?

The night was very quiet and dark. Harry held her elbow when they crossed the street.

There’s a certain young lady back at that party who thinks it’s sissy for a fella to wear glasses. This certain person… oh well. Maybe I am a…

He didn’t finish. Suddenly he tightened up and ran a few steps and sprang for a leaf about four feet above his head. She could just see the high leaf in the dark. He had a good spring to his jumping and he got it the first time. Then he put the leaf in his mouth and shadowboxed for a few punches in the dark. She caught up with him. As usual, a song was in her mind. She was humming to herself.

What’s that you’re singing?

It’s a piece by a fella named Mozart.

Harry felt pretty good. He was sidestepping with his feet like a fast boxer.

That sounds like a sorta’ German name.

I reckon so.

Fascist? he asked.

What?

I said is that Mozart a fascist or nazi?

Mick thought a minute.

Nooo, they’re new and this fella’s been dead some time.

It’s a good thing. He began punching in the dark again. He wanted her to ask why. I say it’s a good thing, he said again.

Why?

Because I hate fascists! If I met one walking on the street I’d kill him!

She looked at Harry. The leaves against the streetlight made quick freckly shadows on his face. He was excited. How come? she asked.

Gosh, don’t you ever read the paper? You see, it’s this way…

They had come back around the block. A commotion was going on at her house. People were yelling and running on the sidewalk. A heavy sickness came in her belly.

There’s no time to explain unless we prom around the block again. I don’t mind telling you why I hate fascist. I’d like to tell you ‘bout it.

This was probably the first chance he got to spill these ideas out to somebody, but she didn’t have time to listen. She was busy looking at what she saw in front of her house.

Ok, I’ll see you later.

The prom was over now so she could look and put her mind on the mess she saw. What had happened while she was gone? When she left, the people were standing around in the fine clothes and it was a real party. Now after just five minutes the place looked more like a crazy house. While she was gone those kids had come out of the dark and wide into the party itself. The nerve they had! There was old Pete Wells banging out on the front door with a cup of punch in his hand. They bellowed and ran and mixed with the invited people in their old loose lace ragged knickers and everyday clothes. Baby Wilson messed around on the front porch and Baby wasn’t more than 4 years old! Anybody could see she outta be home in bed by now, same as Bubba! She walked down the steps one at a time holding the punch high up over her head. There was no reason for her to be here at all! Mr. Brannen was her uncle and she could get free candy and drinks at his place anytime she wanted to! As soon as she was on the sidewalk, Mick caught her by the arm.

You go right home Baby Wilson! Go on now!

Mick looked around to see what else she could do to straighten things out again like they outta be. She went up to Sucker Wells. He stoop farther down the sidewalk where it was dark, holding his paper cup and looking at everybody in a dreamy way. Sucker was 7 years old and he had on shorts. His chest and feet were naked. He wasn’t causing any of the commotion but she was mad as hell at what had happened! She grabbed Sucker by the shoulders and began to shake him. At first he held his jaws tight but after a minute his teeth began to rattle.

You go home Sucker Wells! You quit hanging around where you’re not invited!

When she let him go, Sucker tucked his tail and walked slowly down the street. But he didn’t go all the way home. After he got to the corned she saw him sit down on the curb and watch the party where he thought she couldn’t see him. For a minute she felt good for shaking the spit out of Sucker, and then right afterward she had a bad worry feeling in her and she started to let him come back. The big kids were the ones who messed up everything. Real brats they were, and with the worst nerve she had ever seen. Drinking up the refreshments and ruining the real party into all this commotion. They slammed through the front door and hollered and bumped into each other. She went up to Pete Wells because he was the worst of all. He wore his football helmet and butted into people. Pete was every bit of 14 yet he was still stuck in the 7th grade. She went up to him, but he was too big to shake like Sucker. When she told him to go home, he shimmied and made a nose dive at her.

I’ve been in six different states: Florida, Alabama…

… made out of silver cloth with a sash!

The party was all messed up, everybody was talking at once. The invited people from vocational were mixed with the neighborhood gang. The boys and the girls still stood in separate bunches though, and nobody promed. In the house the lemonade was just about gone. There was only a little puddle of water with floating lemon peels at the bottom of the bowl. Her Dad always acted too nice with kids. He had served out the punch to anybody who stuck up a cup at him. Portia was serving the sandwiches when she went into the dining room. In five minutes they were all gone. She only got one, a jelly kind with pink sops come through the bread. Portia stayed in the dining room to watch the party.

I having too good a time to leave, she said, I done sent word to Highboy and Willie to go on with the Saturday night without me, everybody’s so excited here I gotta’ wait and see the end of this party!

Excitement that was the word! She could feel it all though the room and on the porch and the sidewalk. She felt excited too. It wasn’t just her dress and the beautiful way her face looked when she passed by the hat rack mirror and saw the red paint on her cheeks and the rhinestone tiara in her hair. Maybe it was the decorations and all these vocational people and kids being jammed together.

Watch her out!

Ouch, cut it out! Act your age!

A bunch of girls were running down the street holding up their dresses with their hair flying out behind them. Some boys had cut off the long sharp spears of a Spanish bayonette bush and they were chasing the girls with them. Freshmen and vocational all dressed up for a real prom party and acting just like kids. It was half playlike and half not playlike at all. A boy came up to her with a sticker and then she started running too.

The idea of the party was over entirely now. This was just a regular playing out. But it was the wildest night she had ever seen. The kids had caused it. They were like a catching sickness and their coming to the party made all the other people forget about high school and being almost grown. It was just like before taking a bath in the afternoon when you might wallow around in the backyard to get plenty dirty just for the feel of it when you’re getting into the tub. Everybody was a wild kid playing out on Saturday night and she felt like the very wildest of all. She hollered and pushed and was the first to try any new stunt. She made so much noise and moved around so fast she couldn’t notice what anybody else was doing. Her breath wouldn’t come fast enough to let her do all the wild things she wanted to do.

The ditch down the street, the ditch, the ditch!

She started for it first. Down the block they had put in new pipes for the street and dug a swell, deep ditch. The flambeau around the edge were bright and red in the dark. She wouldn’t wait to climb down. She ran until she reached the little wavy flames and then she jumped. With her tennis shoes she would have landed like a cat, but the high pumps made her slip and her stomach hit this pipe. Her breath was stopped. She lay quiet with her eyes closed.

The party – for a long time she remembered how she thought it would be, how she imagined the new people at vocational and about the bunch she wanted to be with every day. She would feel different in the halls now, knowing that they were not something special but like any other kids. It was ok about the ruined party. But it was all over, it was the end. Mick climbed out of the ditch. Some kids were playing around with little pots of flames. The fire made a red glow and there were long, quick shadows. One boy had gone home and put on a dough face in advance for Halloween. Nothing was changed about the party, except her.

She walked home slowly. When she passed kids she didn’t speak, or look at them. The decoration in the hall was torn down and the house seemed very empty because everyone had gone outside.

In the bathroom she took off the blue evening dress. The hand was torn and she folded it so the raggedy place wouldn’t show. The rhinestone tiara was lost somewhere. Her old shorts and shirt were lying on the floor just where she had left them. She put them on. She was too big to wear shorts after this. No more after this night, not anymore.

Mick stood out on the front porch. Her face was very white without the paint. She cupped her hands before her mouth and took a deep breath.

Everybody go home! The door is shut! The party is over!

In the quiet, secret night she was by herself again. It was not late. Yellow squares of light showed in the windows of the houses along the streets. She walked slow with her hands in her pockets and her head to one side. For a long time she walked without noticing the direction. Then the houses were far apart from each other and there were yards with big trees in them and black shrubbery. She looked around and saw she was very near this house she had gone to so many times in the summer. Her feet had just taken her here without her knowing. When she came to the house, she waited to be sure that no person could see. Then she went through the side yard. The radio was on as usual. For a second she stood by the window and watched the people inside. The bald headed man and the old lady were playing cards at a table. Mick sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick seeders so that she was completely hidden. By herself. The radio was no good tonight. Somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads, one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn’t even a feeling or thought in her. One program came after another and all of them were punk. She didn’t especially care. She smoked and picked a little bunch of grass blades. […]

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