By Theo McQuiggan
Content Creator (Fiction), The Continuist
"Game or no, be here tomorrow morning!” Uncle Moishe yells.
“Night, feter,” Harry and I reply in unison.
We happily walk down Spadina’s stained sidewalk, away from our uncle’s dingy textile warehouse. The Ward is finally quiet. That only ever happens at night, when the shutters are closed and no one else is on the street. The loudest sounds are Hebrew and Italian shouted behind ramshackle walls. Harry pulls out his beat-up matchbook and lights both our cigs with the same flame. We take deep drags, letting sour smoke consume our lungs. It’s a little sweeter than the smoke in the air.
“Freedom,” Harry sighs. “And a payday too.”
“Three dollars less than last week,” I reply through my scowl.
Harry bumps my shoulder. “Don’t get so bent about it, Joe. Money is money.”
“And we have less because no one wants to buy from kikes.”
“They goyim have never liked us, kuzyne. It’s worse now because of that khnyok in Germany, but things will get better again.”
“Okay.” I stare at my two measly fives. I hope Ma and I can live on this until that magical time.
Harry looks off to the stars while I keep my eyes forward. The west end isn’t too far from us, yet it’s like a whole different world. The buildings are brick and mortar with solid wooden porches painted in fantastic colours. Not one splinter or chip can be seen. They all look like they were made on purpose instead of thrown together bits from the Eaton factory scrap yard. From one look, anyone can tell the city likes the people here, that the bigwigs want them to be happy. I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be desired where you live.
In all the quiet darkness of this Goyim haven, a bakery’s windows glow up ahead. We have no bread, Ma said this morning and has every morning for weeks. My empty stomach is gnawing itself inside out too. I jog ahead of Harry and up the stone steps, only to get a flour-covered hand shoved in my face.
“We’re closed,” the man says in a very thick German accent.
I peer into the shop window. None of the gentile customers will meet my gaze. “Doesn’t seem like it to me.”
He narrows his pale blue eyes. “Closed for you, Juden.”
The single word burns me up instantly. I get ready to unleash all the insults I know in all three of my languages. But Harry’s fingers curl over my quaking fist.
“We’ll go,” he says. He tugs me down, and I reluctantly follow him. I can feel the baker’s gaze on my back as we walk away. Down the street, I kick a rusting Toronto Star box so hard it sounds like a gunshot. I hope it scares a couple of the goyim in that shop.
“He’s just a prostak,” Harry mumbles.
I take a drag. It doesn’t calm me down as much as I wish it did. “Ma and I saw the Swastika club boys on the beach again yesterday.”
Harry tuts, somehow perfectly mimicking his mother. “The city should’ve stopped them by now.”
“Seems neither Toronto or the Lord are taking our calls right now.”
We laugh quietly. Sometimes the only way to deal with horror is to laugh.
After a few more swanky goysche houses, we’re at the infamous Willowvale Park. Looking into its pit is something you usually do at your own risk. Our cousin Benny swore he saw a local spiv get smoked by Irish goons last month. Benny is always full of malarkey, but even I can believe him on that one.
“Boys!” Irv shouts. “You made it!”
Harry slides down Willowvale’s steep incline, mud, dead grass, and old butts flying up in his wake. He lands right in cousin Irving’s strong arms. “Shalom aleichem, Irv!”
“Aleichem shalom, Har. Can’t believe you’re even conscious after working for my dear old Pa all day.”
“We barely are,” I say. “Be glad you’re at school instead.”
“Damn right I am.” Irv slaps my back so hard I wheeze. “Don’t worry though, you’ll join me soon enough, kuzyne.”
“Hopefully.” I don’t tell Irv that our pantry is more dust than food now. I never will.
“C’mon, it’s the last inning.”
We follow him down the hill to his Italian friends. They greet Harry and I like we’re old friends, not Irv’s two runt cousins they’ve only just met. We sit on their multicoloured picnic blankets. The bright lamps on the field are absolutely blinding. You can barely see the park, let alone realize what a damn dump it is. But from what little I can see of the baseball diamond, our Harbord fellas are thoroughly smacking St. Peter’s behind. Our cheers are thunderous, but so is the gentiles’ booing.
The inning goes by in a blur of shouts and balls cracking against bats. Harbord keeps scoring points. Every home run feels like a victory for all of us, not just the team. I’ve never been so caught up in one simple game.
Our cousin Dave is last to the plate. He grips his bat very tight. We all hold our breath. The pitcher throws, Dave swings, and the ball soars in a beautiful arc towards the endless night sky. Our crowd of incredible filthy foreigners roars in triumph. I’m jumping up and down with every holler. For one moment, the euphoria outshines the darkness.
Three blond men are opposite us. One is holding a white sheet. The other two roll it out. And just like that, I’m faced with a giant swastika, the biggest I’ve seen. My fists quickly fall from the sky.
“Joe-” I push Harry off and march forward. I can see both Italian and other Jewish guys joining me in my peripheral, all looking as furious as I am. One of the blondes raises his arm high with his palm flat.
“Heil-” I sock him in the jaw so hard his tooth flies out.