That summer, a black girl moves in next door and hangs purple curtains in her bedroom window. A couple years later Ally will think with wonder about those pale lilac curtains, after they've been replaced by (what she discovers through research at the public library to be) a large Jamaican flag.
That day in late June two black guys from a moving company with a neatly hand-painted truck unload the girl’s white bedroom furniture. The dresser, the pieces of her bedframe, the wardrobe are all inexpensive but clean and well cared-for. Girl furniture. At first, peeking down at the furniture from her own bedroom window as the men carry it in, joking, laughing, their muscled arms glistening with sweat, Ally thinks the girl must be younger than her- maybe 12, or even 11. A man who Ally supposes must be the girl’s father seems to be supervising the movers.
he says when they scrape the arm of the sofa on the door-frame, pulling loose a piece of the clear plastic tarp that’s been taped almost entirely around each piece of furniture. The black girl’s father- the new neighbor- he has to have a name- is wearing khaki pants with a brown leather belt, gold buckle, and a black t-shirt, tucked in. Black sneakers and a gold wristwatch. The overall effect is of a man who likes his clothes to match and be clean, maybe especially when he is moves, or for any kind of special day.
At first Ally doesn’t see any woman, either the black girl or her mother, the new neighbor’s wife. Then she catches a glimpse of his wife, sitting in the cab of the moving truck. The pretty, tired face is alternately bored and wary.
“Baby, get out of the truck”
says the man, putting his face outside and below the window she has rolled down so she’ll have some air to breathe in there.
“Come see the house”
Even from so far away and up, Ally can see the woman roll her eyes towards the roof of the cab , then, unexpectedly, she turns those expertly lined eyes up to Ally’s window and fixes Ally in her gaze, without changing her facial expression at all, as if Ally doesn’t merit her exercising her facial muscles. Ally has no idea if her existence has really been registered in that moment, or what the woman might think about this white girl looking at her from a third floor window while the black man (her husband? Her daughter’s father?) also looks at her from outside the little fortress of the moving truck’s cab and asks her with increasing urgency and desire to please to open the door, to step down, to come inside, take her shoes off, and live here, in this house on a street where, as far as she can tell, no other black people live.
The woman says no, the man gives up with a defeated shrug and goes back to supervising the movers. Finally, after the last item has been carried inside, while the man is peeling off twenty-dollar bills from a roll he had in his back pocket to tip the movers, the woman opens the door of the moving truck cab and steps down. All by herself she walks slowly, behind the little huddle of men, up the steps and into her new home.
That night Ally hears Mom say “Murphy got pushed down the stairs again”. Dad says something Ally can’t hear. Murphy, she knows, is in his room next to hers. Dad has said things before about “those fuckin’ black kids” who beat Murphy up, and how he should just go to Catholic school. Why not Don Bosco? Or why not South Shore Vocational, since he’s gonna wind up a plumber or an electrician anyway. Or if he doesn’t want to make good money he can stay at Dorchester high, the only white kid in the whole place, and work at McDonalds. Who am I to tell him what to do.
Ally lies on her bed and listens to her parent’s voices coming from the heating vent in the floor . Murphy is 16 and everybody’s got plans for him. As for his plan for himself, who knows? He’s got a Puerto Rican girlfriend, she knows that, because Ashley saw him with her at Ashmont Station. She might not be Puerto Rican. She’s probably Dominican. What if Murphy married a Dominican girl, and they had a half-Dominican baby. Would Dad be mad about the half-Dominican baby? All babies are cute. It’s not like it’s the baby’s fault that its mother is some pretty Dominican girl from Blue Hill Ave. whose brothers are drug dealers and who probably has a tattoo of a giant crucifix on her back and doesn’t own any underwear except thongs. Ally rolls over on her stomach. She stares at the spot on the wall under the windowsill, and then out the window at the lilac-colored curtains, faintly lit from behind, as if by a nightlight.. It’s the last thing she really, truly looks at before she falls asleep.