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 relief granted by minute gusts of wind to sweeping over the perspiration trickling down your face. It was a day where even lovers, usually rapt with passion, kept their distance so as to prevent one another’s body heat from protruding their personal space. A day where bullies were too dazed by the brilliance of the South Florida sun to sort out the weaklings, easily brutalized, from the ones who were frail on the surface but pocketed a kitchen knife for just-in-cases before walking out of the house this morning.
On this late August morning, when the glorious flowery days of early summer withered into the barren days that made one yearn for the relief of Fall, Dominique sat, watching and waiting for the two hands on the clock to mark noon and for Michael to release her to the playground. Her summer days had been nothing other than repetitive. And being still one year away from school, the closing of summer was more of a relief for the child than not. After her mother dropped the five year old off at her grandmothers tiny apartment, Dominique was always greeted at the door by her Aunt Mary; a beautiful woman in her mid twenties. To be kept out of the way, she was systematically seated on the linoleum floor between the orange vinyl plastic covered sofa and the gray box fan, whose cover had long gone missing. Tuned into the television , the little girl sat contentedly with aGarcia sausage and half a scoop of cheese grits in a makeshift bowl of tupperware, whose top had also long gone missing. As both her Aunt Mary and Grandmother got ready for work the oldest grandchildren, ages 17 and 15, scarfed down two bowls of grits each, wrapped the sausages in slices of bread and picked up Dominique and to kiss her 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 strutted past Dominique as though she weren’t there and shadowed his mother as she prepared for her day.
‘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 of it. With that she grabbed her purse, her plastic grocery bag with what seemed to be a change of clothes, gave her son a peck on his cheek, waved goodbye to Dominique and was out the door.
“Maan” Michael moaned and snatched up the remote and changed from Dominique’s cartoon marathon to music videos.
“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 wide frame and her purse seemed rather like a child’s toy, but there was a handsome beauty and elegance to her every move. 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 sure once you get on that playground you don’t leave till Shawn or Nessa or Mikey come and get you. And you bet’ not be out there before 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 yer’ 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 shifted. Even with the fan and the wall unit air condition blowing at full power, the heat penetrated every nook and cranny in the two bedroom. 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 friends of the family that were mounted on the wall began melting into Picasso-esque images, each a section of Guernica, belligerent and wretched. 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 quietly she sat, rigid and wide-eyed with anxiety.
Dominique and Michael had always had their problems getting along. Though she was much younger than he, Michael always found reason to fault and punish the young girl. When he had 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 Michael’s behalf because after his mother beat him terribly and said that it was high time he move from the room in which he slept with his mother and grandmother 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 it seemed he had a growing hatred for Dominique.
At the start of the summer his grandmother told him that it would be his responsibility to watch after Dominique until noon when he would walk her over to the playground so Miss Betty could keep and eye on her until mid afternoon, Michael decided it was time to exact his revenge. 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, at the way her scrawny knees turned red then purple from being pressed against the hard floor. He stared with ravenous eyes as her curls fell down the small of her her back, as they swayed when she turned her head right and left to view her masterpiece better. He caught himself grinning hungrily as he observed the grace with which she dropped one crayon and reached further, lengthening her tiny frame, for another. And he made up his mind.
“Nini, grandma said you have to listen to me, remember?’
“Yeah,” she replied without 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’s 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 stay 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, no so much because of her nature to listen to whoever was in charge of her, but rather 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. The fear and anxiety proved so much for the girl that she fell limp. When Michael was done they both had blood dripping down their thighs. “Go bathe and put on yo other clothes. I’ll take you to the park now.”
Crying silently, Dominique walked to the bathroom and ran water into the tub. 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 and drying, which all had to be done meticulously. She was grateful her spare clothes turned out to be 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 no trace of what had just occured 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 remained unresponsive. He shrugged and led her to 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 that evening he was told that she wasn’t feeling well, for no one had any other reason for her melancholic state. At home her mother gave her sprite and crackers and sang her to sleep and sat beside her daughters bed all night wondering why Dominique kept fighting in her sleep, waking with screams every few hours. But wonder was all they could do, as the child refused to speak. And in the morning, Dominique was back at her grandmothers where she would return every day for months.
It’s funny how children begin to associate things in the same manner adults would. No Dante, ice would not be found in it’s greatest depths, for Dominique would forever, and quite effortlessly, associate all circles of hell with the heat of that summer. 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.