“Two Kinds of Neighborhoods” by Neil Cooney

Mr. Sierakowski and Mr. Edwards are fighting in the street. Mr. Edwards is winning. From the window I see blood dripping out of Mr. Sierakowski’s nose, and other blood on his face I don’t know where from. Mr. Edwards is older and a little fat, so it’s surprising to see him doing so well. I don’t know if the other people watching (I can see a few) are surprised by this or are too surprised by the fighting to be surprised by anything else.

I don’t think there has ever been a fight in our neighborhood. (They are struggling; there are not, after all, many punches; a lot of feinting and grabbing arms and dodging blows that aren’t even coming, as if each man feels the other’s hands to be wrapped in something more dangerous than skin.) I suppose there are two kinds of neighborhoods: those in which fights are common and those in which they are not. Our neighborhood is the second kind.

Except––it’s funny how categories work (old Mr. Edwards finally takes a good one on the chin and falls back, landing on his butt) because you could also say, There are two kinds of neighborhoods: those in which, when there is a fight, people try to stop it, and those in which, when there is a fight, people stand and watch. It seems our neighborhood is again the second kind.

Or (Mr. Sierakowski is on him now, paying him back for the blood; he’s forgetting himself; he still has his youth and Mr. Edwards is in his fifties), there are two kinds of neighborhoods: those in which, when there is a fight, someone calls the police, and those in which, when there is a fight, no one calls the police. Someone has called the police. Does calling the police count as trying to stop the fight? I suppose there are two kinds of neighborhoods.

Maybe because he has heard the sirens, or maybe because he sees what he has done to Mr. Edwards, who has stopped trying to defend himself or move at all, Mr. Sierakowski rolls off and lies next to him on the ground. And the police are here: three cars.

Three cars, six cops. They all get out, but only two approach the two fighters. They look tired, the officers, the way kindergarten teachers are tired, with that same resignation, that same impatience with innocence.

One cop walks over to Ms. Smithson, who has been saying something heated to them since they began piling out of the cars. Ms. Smithson lives between the two men. She is in her early thirties, I’d guess. I think she is a realtor. I’m not sure what she has to do with the fighting, but she is very upset. Through the window I can’t hear what she is saying, just a hum through the glass. I open it.

“I don’t know!” she is saying, as the cop, who is asking her questions, keeps talking. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”

The officer places a hand on her arm and speaks to her quietly. Her face crumples with what looks like disgust, and she pulls her arm away from him. I feel frightened when she does that. I’m afraid he will take it as an accusation, that he is touching her in a way that it is not good to touch someone, and he will become angry because he was only trying to calm her down. But you can’t blame her for not wanting to be touched by a stranger with a gun. The officer looks at her for a moment, deciding something, and then he turns back and approaches his partner, who is looking over the two men, both still lying in the street.

“Don’t touch me!” Ms. Smithson yells at the officer, who has already walked away. “Do not touch me!”

He turns back. I can hear him now. He says, “I’m sorry, my mistake. But I need you to stay calm.”

“‘Stay calm’?” she says. “You can’t put your hands on me and then tell me to stay calm!”

The officer says nothing. He helps Mr. Sierakowski to his feet. Mr. Sierakowski is probably glad to have some blood on his face now, given the way Mr. Edwards looks. Mr. Edwards lies in the road like a man sleeping in, his limbs splayed almost luxuriantly.

“How well do you know these men?” the officer’s partner asks, gesturing for the other officers to come help. He nods in her direction, meaning he is going to take care of her. Sooner than seems possible, I can hear ambulance sirens.

But Ms. Smithson doesn’t answer. She sits down on the lawn—it’s quite a motion, there’s yoga in it somehow, her legs already crossed when her butt touches the ground—and she begins to weep. Loudly and with abandon. The partner approaches her.

“Ma’am?” he says, loud enough for anyone to hear. “Can I sit with you?”

She nods, sobbing. “He can’t do that,” she says. “He can’t just do that.”

Then something happens. The partner sits next to her on the lawn, and she starts to talk. He takes a small notebook out of his coat pocket. She is crying something terrible, and I can see that she is telling him everything.

Neil Cooney is an MFA candidate at Syracuse University. He has worked as a communications consultant and an English teacher and has lived in Providence, RI; Nashville, TN; and Daejeon, Republic of Korea.


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