Volume 33, Number 4

Wouldn’t Send My Kids There

Gabriel Berger

I almost died walking up the hill from the train station. I had my headphones in, hip-hop at a low volume and was walking up a curving street. The woody properties lining the roads had stone walls reaching almost to the street. I barely had room to walk.

A car’s roaring drowned out my music, and I had just enough time to press myself against a wall. A Maserati roared past.

I stood there for a good ten seconds. “Jesus.”

Not long afterwards, I reached the road my cousin, Craig, had given me. A woman in designer sweatshirt and leggings was walking her dog. She looked at me. I waved and put my head down.

I reached what I thought was the house. It had this amazing view of the mountains to the west and the valley. The sun was hanging low, backlighting the huge house. There were towers, multiple porches, and balconies everywhere.

I texted Craig: “im here.” Not long after, the door opened.

“Max!” Craig was my age but a half foot taller. He leaned down a little and hugged me. “No tux?”

“Best I had.” My outfit was only a button up short-sleeved white shirt with black dress pants and a black tie.

“You brought your suit, right?” I tapped my backpack. “Damn, you should see the pool.”

I followed him inside. Everyone there was dressed with the same fashion sense as Craig: sleek and perfect. Like every male was wearing a tux. The women wore these short dresses, some were a little too tight for them, if you know what I mean. They were eating bite sized food from fancy plastic. Some beer-bellied men gathered around a table, one pouring some liquor into crystal glasses. The huge, in-ground pool in the back made my eyes get huge. At least twenty people were floating in there. Kids and teens were splashing, and the adults were bobbing on inflatable things with drinks.

“You said it’d be fancy, but I didn’t expect it to be this fancy,” I said to Craig.

“You think this is fancy?”

I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Max! Good to see you!”
I turned. “Hi, Aunt Margaret.” She was dressed in a short, looser dress, makeup coating her face. And did her hair get lighter?

“Glad you could make it,” she said. “If you need anything, ask Craig, or I’ll be over there.” She gestured to a gaggle of middle-aged women, laughing.

I stepped further into the living room and realized it was bigger than my whole house.

“Come on Max, you have to meet my friends,” Craig said.


While Craig and I lived close to each other (as in about 5 miles apart in two different towns), I’d never met his friends. He’d met some of mine when we’d walk around my hometown. Later Jamal asked me: “Hey, how’s your bougie cousin?”

We walked close to a group of teens in the corner. One of them held a flask in front of his chest, and when he saw me, he let his hand fall to the front of his thigh.

Craig put his hand on my back. “It’s cool guys; this is my cousin.”

“Hello y’all,” I said, smiling awkwardly and waving.

“Hey Noah.” Craig extended his hand to the flask.

“Sure.” Noah handed over the flask. Craig looked over his shoulder quickly, and took a quick swig.

He coughed a dry cough. “Ooo, that burns.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Rum,” said a girl. “Want some?”

“But there’re adults around.”

“And?” Craig asked. He handed it over to me. I sniffed it. It smelled strong. I took a tentative sip. My mouth became numb, and a stream of fire went down my throat.

“Too strong?” another guy asked.

“Yes,” I said between coughs.

“You’ll get used to it.”

The girl next to me gestured to the flask. I handed it over.

“Oh crud, I forgot to introduce you guys,” Craig said. He went around the circle, starting with Noah. “There’s Noah, Jolene, Emily, Aiden, and Alek.”

“Hello,” they all said.


“I like your outfit,” said Jolene, pointing to my shirt.

I looked down at it. “Yeah, Craig didn’t say anything about a tux.”

Craig cleared his throat. “I did say it was black tie.”

“But I’m wearing one!”

Aiden laughed. “That’s not what it means.”

“That means a tux?”


I heard Craig suck his teeth. Jolene tilted her head, eyebrow raised. Her friends laughed. “Come on guys, don’t make fun,” Craig said.

“Yeah Jolene,” Aiden said, half-jokingly.

“Where are you from?” Kayla asked.

I named my hometown. They nodded.

“Craig, we’re going into the pool soon.” Noah turned to me. “You brought a swimsuit?”

“Well, that I understood.”

“Oh Noah!” Noah turned to an approaching blonde teen, very tan and dressed fancily.

“Pam!” Noah said. He stood up and they kissed. I looked away. Who the heck names their kid Pam? This ain’t the forties.

“Who’s this?” Pam asked.

Craig went through the introduction ritual again. I put my hand out to fist-bump. Pam had started for a handshake, but then bumped.

“Ooo, you’re so cool.”

I furrowed my brows. “How come?”

“You fist-bump!”

“I only handshake with professional stuff. This ain’t professional.”

Craig cleared his throat. I looked over at him. “What?”


The others looked at us two, confused looks on their faces.

Pam started to complain about how the weather ruined her week at Montauk, though I noticed she was still pretty tan. The others joined in, complaining about weather ruining their vacations. I wanted to say how rain once ruined my week of camping, but I decided to keep quiet.

I felt the hand on my shoulder again. I noticed the flask didn’t disappear. “Max, can I introduce you to some of my friends? They’ve been asking about you.”

“They have?” That’s weird.

I followed Aunt Margaret to her gaggle. “This is my nephew, Max.”

“Hello,” I said, waving awkwardly, again.

“Hello,” they all said.

“Margaret, your nephew is so handsome!” said one woman, a drink in her hand, her face flushed.

“Oh, it’s his father’s genes. My sister was right to marry him.”

“Either way, what were we talking about?” another woman, with two-inch heels, said.

“Francisco’s, the restaurant.”

I knew the place. I’d been on a date there recently, walked there with my girl.

“Oh yes. As I was saying, that town has great restaurants, but you gotta roll up the windows whenever you enter.”

“That parking garage is atrocious. Smells. But some good shops.”

“On some of those streets I feel like I am going to get mugged or something.”

“And the school is beautiful. You know the one, the old building.”

“Wouldn’t send my kids there though.” The woman who said this laughed loudly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know.”

“It’s a chill school.”


“Well, yeah. It’s fine.”

“Really?” This woman sounded like she didn’t believe me.


“I want my kids to have a good experience, but those—”

“I’m going to get some food.”

As I walked away, I heard Aunt Margaret say: “He lives there, you know.”

“Oh no, and we said that in front of him?”

Craig saw me walk over to the food. My face must’ve betrayed my emotions. “Are you okay?”


“Are you sure?”


“You’re lying cos.”

“Okay, you wanna know what’s wrong? Your mother’s friends were crapping on my hometown.”

“Saying things like…?”

“Gotta roll up the windows when you go in. Wouldn’t send them to the schools though.”

“Oh. That’s not good.”

“Not good? That’s downright…” I didn’t finish what I wanted to say. I didn’t know how he’d react.

“Downright what?”


One of the beer-bellied men at a full rigged DJ booth pressed a button. Music began to blare over some invisible speakers. Dear god, it was “Sweet Caroline.” Everyone stopped talking and began to bray along. “Bum-bum-bum!”

“I’m sorry Craig, but, I think I’m going to leave.”

“You haven’t even gone in the pool yet!”

“I don’t care.”

“How are you going to get home? You live 20 minutes away.”

“I took the train, remember?”

I grabbed my bag and went over to my aunt. “I’m going to go,” I said, “I don’t feel well.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want a ride?”

“No, I have a two way ticket.”

“Bye.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek. The glances of the women looked like they pitied me as I waved.

The song followed me as I walked out the front door. I put in my headphones, pressing play to shut it out. Once I got on the train, I didn’t look back at the land of gated properties and gargantuan houses. I did text my girlfriend. “want to try something besides Francisco’s next time?”