Originally published in Marymount Manhattan College Review, 2004-2005/Number 17
*The Dymphna Leonard Award for Fiction is selected from material published in The Marymount Manhattan Review. A network of outside reviewers read all submissions and select the award recipient.
“… we are confident that your work, “The Summer of Lost Innocence,” demonstrates the kind of creativity and originality that [Dymphna] would respect and admire. It is our pleasure to recognize your accomplishment and to celebrate both our distinguished colleague and one of our distinguished students!”
–MMC Review Committee
“Congratulations on receiving the 2005 Dymphna Leonard Award for Fiction. It is a prestigious honor. You are a wonderful representative of the many gifted students at Marymount Manhattan College!”
—Dawn R. Weber, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College
The Summer of Lost Innocence
Awarded the 2005 Dymphna Leonard Award for Fiction*
Every summer it was the same drill. My mother would get laid off from thefactoría she worked at and would cease the opportunity to enroll in the community college to take ESL classes while I spent my days in Abuelita’s house with my tías, the vecínos and my cousin Chico. Everyday around noon my Abuelita would roll out the welcome mat and a parade of endless strangers would march in and immediately say “Mmm what’s for lunch? Lo que séa tíene que ser rico.” This made Abuelita beam she loved being praised for her culinary skills. As story has it back when she lived in the Dominican Republic she would cook up a storm and lay out her dishes by the window to lure a crowd. She even placed the food in front of an abaníco so that the aroma could creep into the neighbor’s front porch and pay them a visit. The neighbors would rush over with their plates in hand and napkins tucked under their chins. When money became scarce Abuelita has to close her blinds and come up with another scheme.
One day she gathered left over hojas de pastels and boiled them in a pot. This somehow produced a smell similar to crab meat, which made the barrio’s mouth water. Rumors that her extravagant lifestyle had seen its heyday soon died down. So it wasn’t surprising that Abuelita’s Washington Heights apartment smelled like sofríto and Lysol. She cleaned almost as much as she cooked.
Every morning I would be dropped off at nine-thirty and waited until noon for my cousin Chico to arrive. He was thirteen months older than me and thought that made him the boss of me. We would play card games like el cagáo and I declare war. We were only allowed to play one game before we packed things up and made our rounds at the neighboring public schools. Tía Sofie loved anything free. She’d prepare her tangerine tote bag with scrunched up plastic bags, folded pieces of tinfoil and a roll of bounty paper towels. Whenever she drew criticism for it she’d say “It’s the least those crooks can do! It’s our hard earned tax dollars put to use.” Except many neglected to remind her she didn’t pay taxes because she was always unemployed or as she liked to call it “between jobs.” She would gather the neighbor’s kids that lived on the third floor, the twins Mario and Luigi. Those were the names we knew them by. They always wore overalls and were addicted to Nintendo. And then we’d be off to collect free summer lunch.
Every summer was the same until the summer I became too old to play with the boys. The summer I was ten. “The super installed a basket for us to play,” informed Chico. “He said if we keep it down and not make too much noise we can play in the yard for the summer.”
“No sé, I don’t want you kids cracking your skulls open on the pavement.”
“Má we’re not gonna crack our skulls open! Jeaz! Why you always have to think of something
Tía Sofie rolled her eyes and continued reading a copy of El Diario Y la prenza.
“Má, mami!” yelled Chico.
“What!” snapped Tía Sofie.
“Can we play in the yard?”
“Fine! Now can I read the paper in peace?”
“Yesss!” exclaimed Chico with a little hop. “I’ma tell Mario and Luigi it’s ok.”
“Cool! But Chico I don’t know how to play basketball” I pouted.
“And who said anything about you going?” Abuelita interjected.
“Ha, ha!” Chico taunted pointing his index finger at my direction and doing his “good for you” two stepping, which he usually topped off with a spin.
“But Abuelita it’s not fair! Why does Chico get to go and not me?”
“Adeliza I’m not gonna get into this with you.”
Chico stuck out his tongue and made a run for the exit.
“Big girls like you should be helping around the kitchen. When I was your age I washed the laundry of the entire pueblo for five cents a piece” added Mercedes one of Abuelita’s domino partners.
“Kids these days don’t know the concept of hard work” she continued, “these gringos are spoiled!”
I never understood how adults could do that. Just talk about the children as if they weren’t even there. They’d laugh in your face and expect you to take it cause what did you know? You’re just a kid.
It was hot and I could hear the ringing of the ice cream truck as it made its way down the street. Laughter filled the air and soon enough Chico and the Mario brothers were going to devour ice cream without me. The doors slammed open and Chico ran up to Tía Sofie who had spare change in her hand held out for him.
“And bring one back for Adeliza” she sang.
“Aww man” he disappeared almost as instantly as he had appeared and returned soon after with a Power Rangers Popsicle.
“Here. Bye” he threw the ice-cold bag in my direction and rejoined the guys.
For a split second I wished I were born a boy.
Temperatures had reached a record high of one hundred and five and there I was stuck inside with a ceiling fan and a bunch of viejas in their bras and medio fondos drinking Coronas while the boys played in the pompa. Chico would run in occasionally drenched in a mixture of water and sweat and raided the fridge. He would spend a dollar on those colorful twenty-five cent juices and freeze them in the morning so that when he came in for a snack they were ice cold. Usually it took him three gulps to empty the bottle but not that day, that day in one massive gulp it was gone. He’d place the empty bottle on top of the kitchen counter and pound his fist against it. He’d belch and carry on. That was the day I decided I’d had enough. I excused myself and made my way into Abuelita’s bedroom and locked the door behind me. I hiked up my jean skirt and climbed on top of her dresser and cracked her window open. I wasn’t as strong as Chico and could only open it wide enough to squeeze my arm through. I had seen it done hundreds of times. Chico would climb up, open the window in one swift motion, jump out and land on the fire escape. He’d swing from the rusted bars and make his way down to the yard safe and sound. I decided to give it another try and managed to open it wide enough to squeeze through. The moment my feet made contact with the fire escape I wanted to go back but the sounds of boleros and loud drunken laughter kept me going.
I kneeled at the edge of the fire escape then sat down. Held my breath and reached over to the bar at the end. Cowardly I snuck a peek and shut my eyes and leaped into the yard. I landed on my feet but immediately toppled over and scraped my knees. I had no time to cry and picked myself up because in the distance I could her Chico scheming.
“Just stick to the plan and everything will be cool” he assured.
“We betta get going then” supplied Mario.
“Shh, what was that? Did you guys hear something?” whispered Luigi.
I stopped in my tracks and hid behind a dumpster.
“You crazy!” exclaimed Mario “You always hearing shit!”
“Alright let’s go. Now remember the plan!” hissed Chico.
With their hands tucked in their pockets they made their way towards the back. I could hear the terrible threesome climb up the gate that separated the yard from the street. I began to grow dizzy from the rotting diapers in the dumpster and decided I had no other choice but to follow them.
I was unable to climb the gate with the ease I had heard the boys do it. And with my skirt hiking up every other second my chances of making it to the other side seemed slim to none. Just when I had accepted defeat a hot gust of wind blew in my direction and rattled the lower left corner of the gate. I realized not all was lost and pushed the curling side of the gate and crawled through. My knees burned and I could feel blood trickling down my legs but ignored the pain and ran across the street. There was nothing there but the Bodega.
I began to worry that I’d lost them and that I would have to return to the smell of cerbezas y viejas with scraped knees and nothing to show for it. When SMACK! My body hurled to the end of the sidewalk and Chico flew on top of me.
“What the hell you doing here?”
“Come back! You stupid kids!” yelled Papo the owner of the bodega.
“Run Chico run!” yelled Mario and Luigi as they made a break for it.
“I’ma get you kids!” screeched Papo.
“What are you waiting for? Come on!” Chico grabbed me by the hand and dragged me down the block. Papo could still be heard a block away.
“Ok we can stop now,” panted Chico.
“Man! Did you…see that? He…nearly…got us,” wheezed Mario.
“Did you see his machete? That shit was huge!” added Luigi.
“Yea it was pretty big” Chico admitted.
“What were you doing?” I asked.
Chico gave me a stern look and spat “What the fuck are you doing here? That’s the question. Look at you looking like a chupacabra all bloody. Did my Má put you up to this?” he shot me a menacing glare.
“No I swear! They don’t even know I’m here”
“Good. If you keep your trap shut I won’t tell on you.”
“Unless you piss me off,” he added.
“Man, forget her let’s take a look at the stuff” Mario insisted.
“Be easy. In due time.” Chico reached into his left pocket and pulled out a pack of baby water balloons. He tore the bag open with his teeth and began to count them on the pavement. Mario and Luigi avoided eye contact and hovered over Chico’s shoulder.
“Ok so here we go. There’s a hundred, split three ways in 33.3 each which can’t be done so we gotta think of another way to split it.”
“Why don’t we just give ten to your cousin and each take thirty,” suggested Luigi.
“And why would we do a thing like that?” asked Chico.
“Why not? She’s here isn’t she? Might as well” Luigi challenged.
“This wasn’t in our plan. She wasn’t in our plan!” Chico spat.
“Man forget the plan” Mario reached for the balloons and counted out ten and placed them in my hand. “Now we’re good,” he said.
“Whatever. Let’s get to the pump” Chico lead the way.
One of the tígueres that rolled dice on the corner offered to lend us a hand and opened the pompa for us in exchange for five water balloons.
“You heard the man, give it to him Adeliza” ordered Chico.
I had no right to complain and so I handed him five of my water balloons.
“Gracias” the tíguere said twisting the top of the pompa. Water gushed into the street and the boys immediately went to work. I stood to a side and watched as cool drops made their way towards my oily face.
“Alright I think we got enough,” announced Chico “let’s go!”
I followed. We ducked behind parked cars and waited down the quiet street for cars to drive by. Chico’s idea of fun involved us hurling water balloons in the cars’ direction.
“Whoever gets the most cars wins!” he exclaimed.
“Alright, alright. Here comes one now” shushed Luigi.
Mario took a crack at the first car and the balloon burst against the windshield pissing off the taxi driver.
“You stupid kids!” he honked the horn and drove off but not before giving us the finger.
“Ok bro, it’s your turn” said Mario.
The game continued for what felt like hours until we were down to our last batch of balloons. I only had one balloon left; the other four hadn’t even made it across the street.
“That’s why girls shouldn’t be allowed to play” Chico teased. They all laughed as if this was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.
“Alright, alright let’s just let her waste her last balloon,” teased Luigi.
“Fine” said Chico “You can have that guy over there” he pointed across the street where a man in a white suit stood. His car matched his outfit. He opened the back door of his car which was full of “it’s a girl” pink balloons and placed the cake in a box in the backseat. He locked the door and took a moment to admire himself in his rearview mirror before stepping into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t know you guys” I began to chicken out.
“Ha. I knew she wouldn’t go for it,” said Chico.
“But you hafta do it” begged Luigi.
“Leave her alone guys. She doesn’t have to if she don’t want to” reassured Mario.
“Adeliza, I triple dog dare you to hit his car” sang Chico.
“Fine!” I said defiantly.
“Shh here it comes,” warned Mario.
I closed my eyes the moment I saw the car was close enough and took my shot. I heard a splat followed by cheers.
“Damn Adeliza you did it! You actually did it!” said Chico.
“Way to go! You’re one of us the guys now!” cheered Mario.
“Oh, oh guys look” Luigi pointed.
“What you think you’re doing!” thundered the man.
“Run guys!” yelled Chico.
We ran as fast as our legs could carry us.
SPLAT! “Ha, ha sucker!” yelled Mario who had successfully landed one on the man.
“You fucking kids!”
Every muscle in my body began to ache. Every time I took a glance behind me the man was there. When we rounded the corner we collapsed onto the ground.
“Man that was close” exclaimed Mario.
“Adeliza be look out” ordered Chico.
I dragged myself to my feet and snuck a peek down the corner and spotted the man in his car swerving in our direction.
“You guys! He’s heading this way!”
They immediately rose to their feet and we resumed our game of cat and mouse.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Holy shit!” yelled Chico as he reached over to grab my hand. We made it back to the front steps of Abuelita’s building unscathed. Luigi soon turned up.
“Man! That was crazy!” he laughed.
“Yea we better get inside” Chico added.
“Hold up let’s wait for Mario” said Luigi.
The loud screeching sound gave us reason to believe the man was gone.
“I wonder what’s taking him so long?” asked Luigi.
“C’mon let’s go back”
Chico and Luigi began to head back down the block.
“You guys why if the man caught him!” I panicked.
“Don’t be stupid Adeliza, You’re sounding just like my Má” Chico responded.
And there he laid face down in a puddle of his own blood, motionless. Luigi went into convulsions at the sight of his brother while Chico and I stared paralyzed with fear. At that moment I wished nothing more than to go back to being an incarcerated “big girl” whose only outlet of fun was to help around the kitchen. At that moment I would have done anything to be that girl instead of being one of the guys.