Stacy. Girl is fine fine. Jevonne’s just gotten back from chilling with her on the bleachers at Division. Still so high from that guerilla glue weed that he opens the wrong door to the wrong room. His bed isn’t in here. It’s Mary’s guestroom, a room she’s told him in that polite gritted teeth way to never go into, and now he’s done and gone fucked up. Rass.
He flips the switch to the lights. Barbies in wooden boxes everywhere. Like someone has just dumped a bunch of school projects nobody wants anymore in the room. Some boxes as small as Nike shoeboxes, others big like soda crates. All sorts of stuff spilling out: plastic tables and pillows and fences and bbqs and little hot dogs. One box hosts a disco and a bar. A trail of unplugged twinkle lights is sloppily stapled and strung up around the box’s corners. Inside, beer bottles on the floor. Barbie’s in a short short sparkly dress, lying facedown on the couch like she’s dead. Madness. Who has time for all this.
He doesn’t like seeing the girl being disrespected like that. He picks her up. Fixes her dress so that’s it’s covering her small bubbies and pulls the front of her skirt down over her pattacake so Ken won’t get any wrong ideas. He puts her back on the couch and closes her legs shut. Follows the light cord that snakes through the boxes. Another box has magazine cutouts of sand and the ocean and a “Surf’s Up!” sign. Barbie’s in a polka dot bikini on a surfboard holding a cocktail. Another box is a tea party, four guests surrounded by potted plants so tiny that he thinks for a minute she’s stashing bud. He plugs the light cord in. Shuts the other lights off. Takes out a joint and sits down and stares into the pink glow. It’s quiet quiet. Nobody telling him what he needs to do for his future. He knows. Get good at math and build things. Guyana is beautiful, but fucked up. So mom sent him here with Granny and now her friend Mary because Granny laid up in the hospital sick in the heart. His aunties at home would give him a good beating if they heard word of him messing with high school. They’d hate Stacy. Especially Auntie Cookie, who never goes to church without one of them hot suits buttoned up to her neck even though the sun melts her fake ass eyelashes like butter.
He should sneak Stacy in this busted up Barbie room one night. Girl loves that kinky stuff.
He closes his eyes, sees the backdam. Neon green grass. Women cleaning clothes on a squish squish board. Men cutting sugarcane with a cutlass. Home. He opens his eyes and Mary’s in the doorway. Hair pulled back real slick in a ponytail and her lips are pink. She’s wearing frog pajama pants and her robe’s wide open. She’s not fine fine like Stacy but she’s still fine. She’s got on one of those black lacy tops Granny always puts in the barrel for mom back home.
Maybe he’s dreaming. He closes his eyes again and pretends he’s asleep, hands wrapped tight tight around the joint, his fingers warm from where it was once lit.
“You don’t fool me, you know,” Mary says.
She has put her hand on her hips. Her robe opens even more and a lone black strap falls down over her shoulders. Big bubbies nothing like Barbie’s. Overripe mangos hanging from a tree.
“You saw my girls, huh?” she says.
He says nothing. She’s trying to act vexed, but it’s not like she’s gonna do anything. Woman worships him, he can tell.
“Who you been hanging out with? Where were you?” she says. “You want a glass of water?”
Making his head spin, all those questions. She talks too fast. He needs to get up and go to sleep. He can’t. The weed is sticking his jeans to the floor. Mary plops next to him. She smells like minty pepperoni. He could use a pizza from Portofino’s. That’s one good thing they’ve got here in Levittown.
“Here, give me that doob,” she says. He pretends to cough. “The one in your fist.”
He shrugs. He gives it to her along with a lighter Stacy dared him to steal from 7-11.
“Where’s your man?” he says.
“Garrett? Who knows. He texted me earlier to tell me he saved a puppy tonight,” She takes a puff. “Whoopdifuckingdoo. He thinks being a fireman is God’s gift to the world.” She waves the joint in the air. Like a magician. Some kids at school talking how the magic shop doubled as a cocaine den, people can be so tricky, you hear.
“The one next to the disco.” Mary taps his shoulder and points. “That’s my favorite one. I spent weeks on those curtains.”
Barbie’s riding a white plastic horse with a fat gold medal around her neck. She’s facing a wall plastered with people sitting in bleachers, cheering. Curtains full of tiny sewn golden triangles cover a window. A window in a stadium makes no sense but maybe this Barbie madness keeps Mary from going batty in the head. Garrett seems nice but he’s never around. The one time he saw Garrett by himself, Jevonne sat at the kitchen table pretending to study algorithms. Garrett tried to talk to him about school but couldn’t even look him in the eye, speaking into the refrigerator, ham in hand.
Mary reaches in the box and rubs the curtains between her fingers.
“Here, look,” she says.
He traces his fingers over the outline of the triangles. Guyana gold, beautiful gold. Mary’s fingers touch his.
“Nice,” he says.
He loves Granny of course. She feeds him chicken curry alright, washes his boxers, and gives him change for the bus. She never hugs him. Maybe she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek every now and then. She’s never said it, but he knows she doesn’t want to get too close and make his mom jealous.
Mary looks at him and smiles without showing teeth. Hair so blonde it’s almost white and now it’s pink like her lips from the lights. Her lipstick’s funny. She could star in one of those movies with superheroes and villains looking all sorts of pagalay with too much makeup on. He starts laughing. He loves those movies.
“Whatcha laughing at? My pants? My mother-in-law gave them to me for Christmas,” she says. “What am I supposed to do? Break an old lady’s heart?”
“Nah, frogs are cool,” he says.
She takes another puff. Hands him the joint with her lipstick on it. Tastes like a candle. She elbows him and her body falls into his shoulders. She’s heavy but warm and he can’t wait to tell Stacy about all this. He laughs at how much he doesn’t belong here. Mary joins in and they’re both cracking up now, the sound filling the small room.
The smell of burned plastic is strong. Garrett, still wearing his boots, towers in the doorway with arms crossed over his chest. Thick and tall man. They’d call him Moongrazer back home. Jevonne pinches the joint tip and throws it into the disco box. Mary gives Garrett the finger and keeps laughing and laughing until he walks away.
Celeste Hamilton Dennis is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. Her nonfiction and fiction has appeared in various literary journals including Lunch Ticket, Boston Accent Lit, Gravel, Barely South Review, and more. When she’s not engaged in the arts activism space or being a mom to two little girls, she’s working on a book of short stories connected by her hometown of Levittown, New York. She has a thing for mouthy women.
–Art by Magdalena Roeseler