“Soy una chica blanca en los suburbios, tengo todas las ventajas.” June Bug instructs. Her tone is slow and mocking, the definition of passive aggression, and she hardly glances up as she flips through an old National Geographic. King Tut, his eyes darkened by black eyeliner, looks out from its cover, seemingly perplex by our modern world.
“Soy una chica blanca en los suburbios, tengo todas las ventajas.” I repeat, careful with the j’s and rolling my syllables, leaving my tongue feeling loose in my mouth. I think this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a French kiss.
“I’m a white girl in the suburbs; I have all the advantages.” June turns the page. “Repeat white girl.”
She does this sometimes when money is tight at Hunter Estates, when her mom has to choose between paying the water note or the power bill. I repeat the words, giving way to her pissy mood.
June tosses the magazine onto a heap of others and moves to the fridge. The camper, an early 60’s Airstream (one that according to her was first owned by “rich people” but has since passed to successively poorer people) is painfully cramped, about the size of a large sardine can. Every space is bundled together, leaving only the tiny bathroom to offer privacy.
“You want a Mountain Lighting?” June asks. Before I can answer, she tosses me a can of cool-not-cold off-brand soda. I sip it slowly.
She pulls another magazine from the pile, a Newsweek from the Clinton era, and sits beside me. The afternoon sun pours in through several small windows as the tiny AC unit bellows cold air from the far end of the camper. Mrs. Rodriguez must’ve chosen power this month. I mumble God a quick prayer of thanks, this in spite of June’s mild BO.
“So, are you finished with Jane Austen?” I ask, already knowing the answer. June reads like sprinters run; with speed, focus, and grit teeth.
“Breezed through them.” She says without looking up. “Cake.”
“What’d you think?”
“Pan blanco. Just like you.” She flips impatiently through the familiar pages. “That’s ‘white bread’ if you didn’t know.”
But I do know; she teaches Spanish better than Mrs. Murray, West Greenville’s indifferent and sightly hard-of-hearing Spanish teacher, ever did.
“You’re half pan blanco too.” I say, wanting to prod her a little. You get what you give. “Remember?”
“Yeah and all I got were these.” She points to her winter blue eyes, her only Caucasian feature, everything else from her curly black hair to her fat butt and thighs are stamped, Hecho en Mexico.
I bypass the whole idea of recessive genes, wanting to keep things lite. “I thought the books were well written.” My kittenish attempt at annoyance is about as effective as an unlocked door. I do’t have an ounce of guile in me. But I love playing devil’s advocate; it gives me purpose. “They were very…orderly.”
“Yeah, well so is the phone book.” June throws the Newsweek back on the pile and cracks open her Mountain Lighting, downing half of it with one go. She burps a heavy, masculine burp, the likes heard on construction sites and in locker rooms, then wipes her mouth with her sleeve. “Sunny failed the 8th grade.”
I say nothing, a little shocked that anyone could fail 8th grade. Isn’t it pretty much the same crap they’ve been teaching us since kindergarten?
“I was looking for loose change, and I found a school letter under his bed, along with all the others he didn’t show me.” Scowling, June spits out her words as if they were wasps. “I told the little s**t that if he needed help to ask.”
“Your mom didn’t know?”
She gives me a don’t ever ask that again look. It could be used to shape rough diamonds.
“When school starts he may have some classes with Oliver,” I say, offering a possible bright side, seeking the silver lining to this storm cloud of failure and anxiety.
“Su hermano es un culo.” June sneers, her eyes like the verdict of a biased jury. “Opie’s an a**.”
“He’s not,” I say, a small bubble of Nolan pride swelling up in me. “He’s a good kid, just introverted.”
“The last time we were over, Sunny tried to talk to him, and Carrot Top just brushed him off and hid in his little attic spank-tank.”
“I’ll talk to him,” I say, “after all, a freak needs a freak. ” I wonder if the allusion to ourselves was caught.
“You do that,” June says. “Maybe it’ll get Sunny off my back with all his Bible-thumping, I’ll have to endure it all next year. I’m going to start tutoring him.”
“Si,” I say. “It could be a new start for the two of them.”
She looks at me, appeased for the moment, a short, plump Latina Hitler content at some ground being gained. Somehow the comparison of that little Bohemian Corporal to June Bug (or is it vice-versa?) seems fitting. “Forgive?”
“De nada,” I say, not for the first and surely not the last time.
“Pronto voy a ir a la universidad con mi amigo Mable.” she says. “‘Soon I will be going to college with my friend Mable.’ Repeat pan blanco.”
I repeat. After all, a freak needs a freak.