The girls lean out as far as they dare, resting numb elbows on the first floor window ledge, balancing heads on fists beneath their chins. This is how they pass all of their days watching the boys and girls playing on the street below.
They know all the games. They see and hear all that goes on. Lilly loves when they play ‘Johnny On The Pony’. The attacking team takes a running leap and flies through the air landing on the defending team’s bent backs. The defenders try not to collapse under the weight of the assault before these ‘words’ can be said three times: “Johnny on the pony one two three! Johnny on the pony one two three! Johnny on the pony one two three!” Then they all fall down in a delightful heap of confusion and laughter. Lilly imagines herself flying through the air and landing on bent backs with a thud. She can almost feel the wind on her face and the breeze through her hair as she flies. Her younger cousin, Judy, gushes about how she would love to play ‘Three Feet to Germany,’ a game that was made-up on the block. She watches intently as the one who is “It” calls, “Three feet to Germany all aboard!” She imagines leaping into the street with three long graceful strides. She’d fake and dodge and get to the other side without ever being tackled.
They know all the players. As she often does, Lilly sits counting them off in her mind. There’s Orlando who attends St Johns with them. He’s cute with his black curly hair and smooth brown skin. There’s Hector the caveman, a.k.a. “Cavy-Baby,” and his younger brother Edwin with his black marble eyes and those dimples. Judy can hardly take her eyes off him. There’s Margie known for her “fabulous fanny,” Millie the princess, the colored kids, Laney and Karlzy, Dee-Dee blue eyes and her brother Tony.
Then there’s Little Carol, the white girl who lives with her father. Rumor has it that her mother ran away but Lilly would like to believe that Carol’s mother only died. Lillie feels that having your mother die is, after all, much better than having her just leave. Mothers who just leave are somewhere, without you, living a life, probably happy . . . far away from Octavia.
Octavia, for her part, has been ruminating about the girls all day. She’s sure they are up to something. She’s had experience with raising girls and none of it has been good. Today, she sits at her kitchen table mumbling over cups of hot cafe Bustello con leche. Girls! They are the spawn of the devil. Why hadn’t God blessed her with sons instead of daughters?
“And now, these granddaughters,” she says into her coffee. “But it’s not really their fault. It’s not like they can control themselves,” she reasons aloud. “It’s in their nature. It’s the way girls are. It’s written in the Bible, isn’t it? Didn’t Eve tempt Adam and drag us all into this world of sin?”
Octavia hasn’t been sleeping well lately. Too early for her usual afternoon nap, she decides to rest her head on the table for just a minute or so. Soon she is fast asleep.
He is mist, a shimmering figure, an apparition. He floats into her darkened bedroom. She cannot make out his face but somehow she knows who he is. She is not frightened though, not any more. Pushing aside the Teddy bear, she tosses her hair and licks her lips in an attempt to be seductive. She tingles with expectation and the delicious anxiety that comes with the forbidden. Mamá is asleep. She sweeps aside a tinge of guilt that threatens to spoil her pleasure. It dissipates into the fog. She feels her body responding. It feels so good, so good. But then, his body begins to solidify, is no longer mist. His weight increases as she begins to shrink. She is getting smaller and smaller. He is getting heavier, and heavier, so heavy! She is being crushed, smothered. Gasping for air, her screams are stifled under his girth. She cannot breathe … can’t scream . . .can’t scream!!
Octavia’s head jerks upright. Muffled screams leave her gasping for air. Trembling, she wipes cold sweat from her face and neck as the details of the dream become wispy, dissipate, ebb away, leaving only vague feelings of pleasure … and dread. Although she cannot remember exactly what happened in the dream, she knows this is the same dream that had haunted her for years in her youth. Now it is back.
“I know this is a sign,” she says to the kitchen walls as she prepares the arroz con pollo.
“Something to do with those girls,” She strains, concentrating hard, willing the dream to reveal its meaning. Clearly, she has to do more to protect the girls not, so much, from the males who would prey upon them, but from their own natural base instincts to invite such attention. That’s where the problem lies. Such is the nature of girls.
Octavia paces the kitchen floor, wrestling with her thoughts, the disturbing dream, the need to stay vigilant with the girls. Where had she gone wrong with her own two daughters? She had watched them like a hawk, but their capacity for sneakiness proved to be akin to genius. Perhaps she should’ve started monitoring their activities at an earlier age, like her own dear Mamá had done with her. But that was a different situation. This is not at all like that. In this country there are so many ways that young girls can get “nasty” ideas.
“The television for one,” she says aloud slamming her hand on the kitchen counter. “Cutting out television was a real good move. But now they’re always looking out that window at those kids doing those nasty things right out there in the open! I can’t believe how shameless those girls out there are!”
The doorbell is ringing. They are home.
As always, when the girls get home from school they stop outside their apartment door to tie back their hair, wipe the tinted lip gloss from their lips and roll down their uniform skirts.
“Octavia bendicion,” they call. As is customary upon entering their Puerto Rican household they ask their grandmother for her blessings.
“Dios te vendiga,” (may God bless you) she replies.
As always the house is filled with the sumptuous smells of Octavia’s cooking. As always, Octavia stands before them, a large imposing figure reminiscent of a heavy set Mongolian woman. Her thin straight hair pulled up into a severe bun at the top of her head, meaty arms crossed. Each girl hands over her book bag. Seeking evidence of impending lechery, Octavia inspects every page of every book and every pocket in each bag. On most days the girls do their homework and head for the window. But on this day Octavia stops them.
“I don wan ju luuking at dose nasty Sinverguezas!! (Shameless girls),” she rails. “Out dere playin wit boys. Das nasty!!” She pauses to let her meaning sink in, enjoying the devastated looks on their faces. “Dos girls dey gonna eend up pregnant for sure!!”
“Momi said I could look out the window!” Lilly cries.
“Mine too!” comes a plea from Judy.
“Ju moother? Ju moother?” she shrieks, “¿Donde estan? (Where are they?) Dats eszackly wat happin to ju moother!! Dey waz sinverguenzas too! ”
Having previously felt the sting of Octavia’s heavy hand across their faces, the girls swallow the urge to argue. They venture only a slight pout and sullenly retreat to their room.
Now the girls spend all the time in their room speculating about what the “sinverguenzas” might be doing outside. Before, Lilly had never really understood what was going on out there, had no idea. She thought it was only kids playing games and having fun with friends. But now, she realizes that Octavia’s adult eyes see the truth. Johnny on the Pony is cleverly disguised as a game. Octavia says it’s nasty. Replaying it in her head, Lilly visualizes the girls bent over seductively, invitingly, their young backsides held high. The boys say the words three times before succumbing to their “nastiness”. Then they all collapse, rubbing, touching and grabbing. It’s like that show they saw once on TV before Octavia said no more TV because TV is “nasty”. Lilly never quite understood the nature of “nasty”. Now she thinks about it a lot. What qualifies as “nasty”?
When Lilly shares her new insights about the games with her little cousin, Judy also begins to consider the nature of the “nastiness.” Now that they understand the games, new feelings are taking root in them, feelings they’d never felt before, strange tingly feelings. It’s true that they have always longed to do what the kids outside were doing … but now even more so.
Standing in front of the mirror, Lilly combs her long dark hair and wonders if those “nasty” boys would like to touch her too. Judy imagines kissing her capturer in the game as he explores her thighs. At night Lilly’s hands make their way between her legs. Is this “nasty”?
After a while the girls start sneaking to the window when Octavia takes her afternoon nap. Then, when they can stand it no longer, they resolve to make a plan.
The girls watch her face. It is contorting. She twists and turns. She moans and mumbles. Octavia is napping. The Sun is setting. The time is perfect. With their hearts beating with fear as well as anticipation, they slip through the door. They find the girls and boys sitting on the front stoop planning their next “adventure” no doubt. Surprised to see them, Orlando starts to speak, but Lilly hushes him with a delicate finger to his lips followed by a kiss placed ever so lightly. She takes him by the hand and leads him into the building’s closed doors. Grabbing Edwin, Judy watches and does the same.
“Is that those girls, the ones who look out the window all the time?” asks Laney.
“Yeah,” from Hector, “What are they doing?”
“Ay que sinverguenzas!” (What shameless girls!) Margie howls, smirking.
Across the street an imposing figure peers out of a first floor window. Leaning on elbows that feel no sensation, Octavia stares blankly… as tears roll down her face.
Born and raised in the Bronx, B. Lynn Carter graduated The City College of New York with a B.A. in creative writing. She is currently enrolled in the Writer’s Institute at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and is the founder of “B•X Writers,” which came out of The Bronx Writer’s Center.