niñas verano (summer girls)
The following story was inspired by the above photo in the U.S. National Archives. It may also represent certain childhood fantasies entertained by a young girl growing up in the 1970's in upstate New York and Cleveland, Ohio.
I dream of the dark, smoky summer parties behind the tenements, of the clackity-clack of the night train going by, constant as a rolling stream, and waves of interrupting laughter, like splashes of water on the rocks. If you listen carefully, there's the sound of the rocks too; in sweating glasses they tinkle and melt, and when I raise my glass to my shiny face, I can feel the spray of seltzer on my lips and in my nose. It's cool and tickles. It feels good in the thick, damp air which smells of smoke and sweat.
The walls hold the breeze back and the smoke in so that it hovers over everything, and the paper Chinese lanterns hanging from the clotheslines are limp in the humidity and still. But they are the only still thing, because there's salsa now from someone's radio. Couples are dancing while others wrestle over the Hibachi or sit chatting and laughing in beach chairs they bought for here because they're cheap, not for the vacations they will never afford. And some are playing cards at the rickety card table, sitting on overturned garbage cans.
Pop is playing cards too, in the only wooden chair, smoking a cigar and taking everyone's money. And here comes Pop's laugh, deep, brown baritone, always followed by a rising crest of laughter from the crowd who's money he's taking.
My sisters and I lean in the doorway, watching, silent. The flicker of candle light and the shadows of friends on brick and cement are soothing. Lifting the cool, wet glass to my forehead, I roll it across and Pop's olive eyes sparkle at me across the haze.
I swim like a minnow through the crowd to stand beside him and he puts his arm around me. His arm is hot, but I don't mind. Some players nod and smile, others barely register my presence. I lean my hip into Pop's broad shoulder, sipping my soda and watching the game, keeping my face blank because I can see people's cards and I know better.