Every day that summer we went down to the corner store on Oak Street. We went late afternoon, when the heat reached the edge of madness. The sun shot sharp at our eyes as if angled through a magnifying glass. Anyone with a lick of sense was inside with a fan or beer or weed trying to make the hours pass. Men in oversized t-shirts with brown papered-bottles tucked between their legs sat on collapsing porches. Sometimes they'd wave to us.
“Girl,” they called.
“What up, mister?” We twitched our hips a little as we walked by.
“Who you think you fooling?” they called. They grabbed their crotches and hollered.
The dusty brick building never had many customers. Our classmates spent afternoons at the gas station trying to get the older kids to buy them cigarillos – the kind that made your lips taste sweet like maple sugar. The corner store seemed from a bygone era, a relic from our parents' childhoods when the drunks were stumbling but harmless and hard candy cost sofa change. Metal grates crisscrossed the windows and a handwritten sign declared NO LIQUOR with the Arabic translation scribbled below.
We stole more than we bought. I'd get a Milky Way or a warmed over hotdog to keep up appearances while you'd sneak out handfuls of cheap taffy in the pockets of your cutoffs. Once onto the pavement we'd high five and cram the sugar into our mouths. We weren't poor, at least not to our own knowledge. But the neighborhood was. We could feel it in the last dying elm trees, stiff chewed-up gum and cigarette butts sticking to our shoes. Bad folk loping the streets. Even at fourteen going on fifteen we were sucked dry of ambition and the neighborhood replaced it with the dangerous feeling of being disadvantaged.
We'd split the share at the old elementary school playground, which was abandoned in the summer except for gangs of smoothed skinned boys playing three-on-three. Curses, slurs, and the rhythmic bounce of a ball on concrete echoed through the air. We lazed in the uncut grass, the straps of our tank tops pulled down to avoid tan lines.
We talked about boys. Endless enigmatic intent hidden in a bit lip, a coarse laugh, a hand on a knee on a leg on a shoulder. A boy named Jason, another named Marcus. Hands on bellies on your ass cuddled in recliner chairs in my parents' basement.
You blew your bangs out of your face and undid the top button of your shorts. The roundness of your lower belly sticking out was a little disgusting. Naked. Soft. You caught me looking.
“I'm a growing girl,” you said. You scanned me up and down. “Bet I could wrestle you.”
I grinned. You went to move but I was faster. Your wrist was in my grip. You leaned forward and whispered, “Go ahead then.”
Quick as a blink I was on my back.
Laura Citino is a fiction writer and essayist from southeastern Michigan. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Midwestern Gothic, Bluestem, Passages North, and Sou'wester. She received her MFA from Eastern Washington University. She currently lives with her partner and teaches English in Terre Haute, Indiana.