The summer day was a stifling sort of hot. The kind where you forget where you are for minutes at a time just waiting for the tiniest gust of wind to sweep over the sweat dripping down your face. It was a day lovers stayed away from each other just enough to prevent the others’ body heat from protruding their personal space, one where bullies were too dazed by the brilliance of the South Florida sun to sort out the weaklings from the ones who just look frail but pocketed a kitchen knife before walking out of the house this morning.
This was the sort of summer morning Dominique was familiar with. After her mother dropped the five year old off at her grandmothers tiny apartment, Dominique was greeted at the door by her Aunt Mary- a beautiful woman in her mid twenties-, and seated on the linoleum floor between the gray box fan, whose cover had long gone missing, and the orange vinyl plastic covered sofa. Tuned into the Tom&Jerry cartoon on the television screen, the little girl always sat contentedly with a juicy Garcia sausage and half a scoop of cheese grits in a makeshift bowl of tupperware, whose top had also long gone missing. The mornings were always busy as both her Aunt Mary and Grandmother got ready for work and the oldest grandchildren, ages 17 and 15, scarfed down two bowls of grits each, wrapping the sausages in slices of bread and picking up Dominique and kissing her on the cheek before they went on their days adventure.
“Be good NiNi” Shawn, 15 said as he gave her a final tickle on her belly before walking out behind his older sister.
Last to stir, as always, was Aunt Mary’s son, Michael. A boy of eleven, he had already started to grow a beard and his voice was deeper than even Shawn’s. He walked past Dominique as though she wasn’t there and shadowed his mother everywhere she went; kitchen, bedroom, bathrom, back to bedroom.
‘Ma, you comin’ home right after work? I need to get my shoes for school today. I ain’t finna look like no chump on Monday ma.”
“Oh boy leave me be. I got thangs to do later. You ain’t finna tell me what you need, you gone get yo’ shoes on my time”
At this the boys grimace turned into a scowl. “Or on Tony time”
If she’d heard the boy she didn’t show any sign because with that she grabbed her purse, her plastic grocery bag with what seemed to be extra clothes, gave him a peck on his cheek, waved goodbye to Dominique and was out the door.
“Maan” Michael moaned and walked over to the lazy boy, snatched up the remote and put the television on The Box a music video channel, which was playing Iesha by ABC.
“STOP IT MIKEY, PUT IT BAAAAAACCCCKKKKK” Dominique wailed as he jumped to his feet and danced along to the video.
“STOP MESSIN WITH THANGS BOY AND GET YO CLOTHES OFF THIS BATHROOM FLO'”their grandmothers voice came booming as she emerged from the hall. She was a burly woman with a friendly face and a heavy Southern Alabama accent. Her gray dress fit snugly over her growing frame and her purse seemed rather like a toy, but she was beautiful nonetheless. To Dominique, her grandmother was what queens needed to be: strong and poised. She strode over to the lazy-boy and plopped down beckoning Dominique over. The little girl crawled into her grandmother’s lap, which was, like every grandmothers’ lap, the safest place to be.
“So pretty guh, what you gone do today? You make sho once you get on that playground you don’t leave till Shawn or Nessa or Mikey come get you. And you bet’ not be out there fo’ noon. Here,” she handed Dominique a dollar bill, “you can go to the cookie lady but you got 50 cent for today and 50 cent for tomorrow in yo’ hands. Don’t lose it, okay?” And she wrapped Dominique in a tight bear hug, still squeezing as she stood up. She placed the little girl on her feet. “Now come lock the do’ ‘hind Granny suga.”
And with the locking of the door the air in the two bedroom shifted. Even with the fan and the wall unit air condition blowing, the heat penetrated every nook and cranny. The photos of Emma Mae and Harry, Dominique’s great grandparents, of cousins and aunts and uncles and people who were called aunts and uncles but were really neighbors that were mounted on the wall seemed to be melting into Picasso-esque images, each a section of Guernica, chaotic and gloomy. Dominique dare not knock on the door to the kids’ room where Michael no doubt lay on his bed reading the comic books he had been collecting for years. So she sat, alone and anxious, waiting for the two hands on the clock to meet on the top and for Michael to release her to the playground.
She hated having to listen to Michael. He was the meanest of her cousins. He never poured the juice for her when she asked and whenever he caught her in the room playing with his action figures he took the head off of one of her barbie dolls and melted it on the stove. This incident set an especially large vendetta between Michael and Dominique because after his mother beat him and said that it was time he move from the room in which his mother and grandmother slept to the room with his cousins. “It’s time you grow up and stop actin like a child Mikey” their grandmother said consolingly to an upset Michael. But that didn’t stop him from taking out his anger on Dominique whenever he could.
And so when at the start of the summer his grandmother told him that it would be his responsibility to watch after Dominique until noon and walk her over to the playground so Miss Betty across the complex could keep and eye on her until mid afternoon, Michael decided it was time to make himself happy, and Dominique miserable at the same time. On their first day alone, Michael approached the little girl as she sat coloring a Hello Kitty coloring book her Mom got for her special on her business trip to California. He stared at the way she bent over, scrawny knees turning red then purple from being pressed against the hard floor. Her curls falling down her back, swaying as she turned her head right and left to view her masterpiece better. He caught himself grinning sheepishly as he noticed the grace with which she dropped one crayon and reached further for another. And he made up his mind.
“Nini, grandma said you have to listen to me, remember?’
“Yeah” she replied no looking up from her book.
“Well,” he began nervously, but as she laid on her belly and pulled the book closer he became resolute, “if you wanna go to the playground you gotta do something for me first. It something I learned in school. But you can’t tell nobody or I won’t let you out to play all summer and you gone have to sty in the house by yo’self all summer and Freddie gone come get you.” The girl dropped the crayon and started horrified at the boys solemn face. He continued, “you gotta turn around and pull yo pants down.”
Dominique didn’t understand but she did as he asked, both because of her nature to listen to whoever was in charge of her, and out of her fear of Freddie Kreuger, whom all of her cousins had convinced the poor child was real. Isn’t that the problem with all fears? rational or not they become as tangible to the frightened as though there was no question in the matter. Especially for a little girl with a big imagination.
“Now get on yo’ knees” he said as he hastily pulled off his own pants and Yosemite Sam briefs. He approached the little girl and also dropped to his knees and pulled her so close her ponytail ticked his nose. “Stay still”
He proceeded to rub his penis over the little girls behind, slowly making his way to the hole he didn’t know quite how to get into. But somehow, like magic to the boy, he got the tip of himself inside and Dominique let out a squeal of pain. She made a futile attempt to break free but the warmth of the young girls body seemed to drive all reason and humanity from Michael. “HOLD STILL” he said as he put her in a sort of head lock and thrust himself deeper. “You want to play, don’t you? Or do you want to be left with Freddie all by yoself?” The fear and anxiety proved so much for the girl she fell limp. When Michael was done they both had blood dripping down their thighs. “Go baze and put on yo other clothes. I’ll take you to the park now”. Crying silently, Dominique walked to the bathroom and ran some water into the tub and climbed in. Every step of it hurt, the climbing into the tub, the sting of water on her raw bottom, the climbing back out of the tub. She was grateful her spare clothes were a dress, she couldn’t bare to try to climb into shorts right now. When she finally emerged from the bathroom, Michael had his pants on again with a smug look of satisfaction on his face. He held out his hand and as Dominique hesitatingly placed hers in it, he said “It’s okay Nini, people do it all the time. I’ll show you if you want.” But the girl shook her head and tugged him towards the door. Then they walked slowly together the block and a half to the playground.
When Dominique’s father came to get the little girl in the evening he was told that she wasn’t feeling well. At home her mother gave her sprite and crackers and sang her to sleep and sat wondering why Dominique kept fighting in her sleep waking with screams every few hours. But Dominique didn’t tell a soul.
This had been Dominique’s summer. This summer of record heat would forever assist the girl and eventually the woman she would become, in associating Hell with heat. They were one in the same. And as the credits came on Flinstones Kids, and as the two hands were nearly touching, in unison with Michael’s hand turning the knob from his room, Dominique began to unbuckle her pants.