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This Afternoon in Washington Square

This afternoon in the kitchen, Robby and I chase each other around the table— Hey hey we’re the Monkees—until my dad comes booming in shouting about the damn racket at this hour on a Saturday. He’s a security guard and worked all night long. Robby holds my hand. I try not to pee. When Dad shuffles back to bed, cupie doll hair spiking and pajama pants slouching, we go back to cartoons. Robby whispers, Wilma, I’m home! Let’s eat! We’re six, next-door neighbors and best friends.

This afternoon in gym, Mr. James has us separate into two groups so we can play tug-of-war: boys against girls. Sue Cardoza cries and snot runs onto her pink corduroy overalls. She is told to go get a drink from the fountain then take a seat in the bleachers. Chris Malone jams fist into hand so hard it’s got to hurt, though he just scrunches his eyes into slits. Robby stays with us girls. Mr. James yells that Robby had better cross over to the boys’ side right this minute, but Robby shakes his head no. I reach for his hand. He has to sit out of gym and go to detention for a whole week. His parents get called in; they make him go to confession. For the rest of third grade kids call him Little Roberta.

This afternoon in Ms. Williams’ twelfth-grade health class, Robby and I squirm side-eyed while she cranks through slides of assorted venereal diseases blistering and oozing, the carousel crunching over each one. Last week it was grimy smokers’ lungs. The week before, an alcoholic’s liver. We get the message. Danny Katz in the back row snort-laughs when she says herpes and is ordered to the principal’s office where he must stay until he can control himself. The rest of us giggle, grateful for the break.  

This afternoon in the bleachers, Robby and I watch varsity baseball. Robby’s got a major crush on the catcher Rick Johnson, all thighs, facial hair and hormones. He’s never said as much. Never. When Rick asks me to prom, I say no, even though I’ve got a thing for him myself.  I don’t tell Robby. We go together. He glistens in a white tux, I’ve got a red velvet halter dress my mom made, hair like Farrah Fawcett. Even while we’re doing the hustle, we’re keeping an eye on Rick and his date Ellen Byrd, who spends most of the night ralphing in the parking lot. Apparently Bartles & Jaymes was too much for her. Just think, that could be you, I say. Or you, he says. We take my dad’s station wagon over to Hoboken. Like Dorothy’s first glimpse of Oz, we stare openmouthed across the Hudson to the Village, fantasizing the limitless possibilities waiting for us there when we start college next fall.

This afternoon in front of the library, I pass Robby on his way in while I’m on my way to the dining hall, a little hungover, ask if he’s going to the pier tonight or if he wants to check out a fantabulous party with me over on the Bowery. He rolls his eyes. He and Geoff are staying in, maybe going to Film Forum to see Forbidden Zone. Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. I’m psyched when Geoff suddenly moves back to Indiana to help out on the family farm. I ask Robby to come along to Daytona over spring break, to which he says okay but don’t expect him to join me in any lame wet t-shirt contests.

This afternoon in Washington Square at the edge of the fountain, shoes off, toes dipped, we watch break dancers spin on their heads, share a warm Gatorade and a cold pretzel.  Last night at The Pyramid we were a sweat sandwich on the dance floor between two beautiful boys. When I left them to go to the bar for a couple more shots, I kissed the drag queen dancing on it; she tasted like glitter, Marlborough Lights and something beyond my reach. She called me a naughty girl. I laughed. This afternoon in Washington Square the broken pretzel looks like California so we imagine road-tripping there. All the way from Redwood down to Palm Springs, camping out in state parks and in front of Tom Cruise’s house. The purple splotch on Robby’s foot has morphed into something like Florida. Or no, more like the archipelago of Hawaii. We come up with another trip, this one in outriggers. We scale volcanoes, hopscotch across scattered islands wearing nothing but hula skirts. Really, I say, does it hurt? I poke it. Nope, nothing to worry about, he says. He tells me he saw a doctor. He doesn’t tell me about the AZT cocktail prescribed. He doesn’t say a thing about a white blood-cell count. He doesn’t say he’s scared. I reach for his hand. This afternoon in Washington Square we flick what’s left of southern California to the pigeons.

Catherine Chiarella Domonkos‘s fiction typically focuses on girlhood, womanhood and often, the juncture of the two. Much of her work draws on 1980’s New York art and culture.