“Gosh it’s hot.” Grace moans. She’s fanning herself with an old newspaper, lifting her ponytail to airing her neck, “It’s like a sauna in here.”
“Yes, it is.” June says, indifferent. She’s slouched in the front passenger seat, hardly moving as sweat beads on her forehead, becoming large droplets that stream down to drip at intervals from her fat chin. Her jaw is a pink, swollen mess. She’s hardly taken her eyes off Deshawn Cannon. “It’s hot as b***s.”
I apologize, maybe for the tenth time this morning, but it’s not my fault the Caravan’s AC kicked the bucket earlier in the week, leaving us to sweat bullets as we watch our unsuspecting victim play basketball with imaginary friends.
“How much longer ’til your parents fix the AC.” Grace asks. She moves up between the driver and passenger seats and begins pushing buttons on the AC control panel.
“A few weeks.” I slap her hand away, “Te dije su roto! I told you it’s broken!”
She pulls back, her look venomous. I can’t blame her. The van’s front two windows roll down, allowing something of a breeze in, but the two rear windows only crack out slightly, leaving any passengers to bake. In the rearview, Grace looks like a cooked ham. She’s too afraid to open the sliding door.
“He sees us.” June says. She dries her face with her shirt, leaving a sweat stain that could be the image of Jesus Christ, or the Enlightened Buddha, or Fidel Castro depending on the interpreter’s religious or political persuasion. “It’s almost time.”
I look out the cracked windshield. Deshawn Cannon has stopped dribbling and is eyeing us. Funny he hasn’t spotted the van sooner. It’s been parked in the empty lot just across two-lane Hwy 82 (a stones through from his own trashed single-wide trailer) for almost an hour.
“Will he come over here?” Grace asks. I can sense her double checking the door locks.
“No.” June says, as if reading his mind, “We’ll have to go to him.” Perhaps, being a poor minority herself, they share some sort of telepathic connection, something developed and honed by centuries of oppression. Who knows? I really don’t care.
Deshawn Cannon begins dribbling again. His patchwork basketball, it’s loose leather held down with what looks like electrical tape, disappears in a cloud of dust. Every few moments he looks back at us.
I close my eyes and breath deep, trying to slow my heart rate. I feel like throwing up.
“He’s ugly!” June snarls, “Nappy headed, big fat lips, that birthmark like a s*** stain on the carpet.” She looks at me then back at Grace, attempting to share an grotesque grin, “Bet his own mother hate’s him. Who’d let their kid live like that, trash all over the place?”
Grace and I say nothing. We’ve secretly decided between ourselves that June’s own mother (that pale, bat-like creature) must herself be on meth or something. How else can you explain her indifference to her children’s welfare? June’s black molar and Sunny’s grades? That and the fact that she’s rail thin, and her own teeth (ground down to bleeding brown nubs) are worst than June’s.
“Bet she does.” June mutters, continuing the conversation with herself. With her bad tooth twisting like a rusty screw in its socket, she’s lost weight, her midsection thinning to what may be called husky or big boned as opposed to just plain fat. Her cheek on the other hand, is so swollen that her lips are always a little parted. She keeps a napkin in hand to sop up the drool.
“I’m going to shave Sunny’s eyebrows Monday morning before school.” She goes on, eyes turned to her quarry, “The boy’s got to know that there’re some things worst than getting your a** kicked by a jungle bunny.” Her laugh is high and uneasy, the likes heard in Bedlam. I’m beginning to wonder if the pain is getting to her, if that black tooth and maybe the unbearable heat are sending a thin red ribbons straight to her brain, poisoning it with rage.
“Grace,” June calls without looking back, “how do you stop four black guys from raping a white women?”
“You toss them a basketball.” Grace beams. You’d thought she answered the million dollar question and a super model is waiting backstage with her huge cardboard check, “I saw that movie. It was about Vietnam.”
“Yes is was.” June smiles. Her attitude towards Grace has improved this last week, with our new third offering bottles of extra strength Tylenol, tubes of Orajel and an invitation from Mrs. Laurent to see a dentist. June has accepted everything but the dentist.
Deshawn Cannon has stopped dribbling and is now pacing, eyeing us like a caged orangutan, the ball tucked like a newborn in the crook of his arm. You expect to see it hanging from one of his nipples, sucking him dry.
“Lets go.” June slaps my arm and gets out the passenger side.
Grace opens the back sliding door but June pulls it closed.
“You stay here.” June says through the window, pointing with a stiff finger.
Grace nods and sits like a well trained labrador. She doesn’t even attempt to hide her relief.
I’d figured June would let her off easy. The fact that she was waiting for us this morning wearing what June called her fight cloths (old blue jeans with yellow paint stains on the knees, a torn flannel jacket and work boots that seem too small to be real) appears to have satisfy the Mexican of her courage. I half expected to be left off the hook as well, some stay of execution for an obviously innocent convict, but no. June’s pulling me along with invisable chains of loyalty cutting into my wrist, almost drawing blood.
“Grace will wish she was with us.” June says already half way across the highway. She has a rubber band and is working her thick black curls into a tight pony tail. The back of her shirt is soaked transparent with sweat, reveling beige bra straps. My heart races as I try to keep up with her confident stride.
I look back at the van. It appears ancient, a relic of the 90’s, older than any of us with it’s broken tape player and faded D.A.R.E. bumper sticker. Grace, with her almost pretty face and slightly wide-set eyes, watches us through the windshield. She’s rolled up the front two windows and sweat shines off her forehead like Vaseline.
Contempt fills in me like water fills a fresh dug well. Is Mom right about June? About her being a bad influence? Will I be barefoot and pregnant by the end of the semester? Strung out on PCP and flunking Family and Health? What is PCP anyways?
“Slow down.” I call out, making my way closer to June, matching her step for step. I batter down my questions like drunk man his wife, not wanting little things get in the way of the big picture; surviving the next five minutes.
“Pan blanco, esto es muy importante para nosotros. This is very important for us.” June says, like the mentor of an afterschool special, an in the locker room before the big game type of thing. “Just don’t chicken out on me.” She turns to me, her look reassuring, demanding, maybe even a little threatening. “Don’t p**** out on me.”
“I won’t.” I say, my fingers having already curled into soft, fat girl fists, “I won’t.”