by Gay Degani

Summer evenings, while the grown-ups smoked Kents and shuffled cards in the kitchen, Denny Dale and I played Superman and Supergirl in his mama’s front room. With old pillowcases tied around our necks, we leapt in single bounds from skyscraper to skyscraper. The worn leather sofa was the Daily Planet and the rocking chair—we called it Metropolis Tower—wobbled like an earthquake when we landed. Afterward, hot and sweaty, we sat on the front steps, drinking Hawaiian punch, breathing in the mossy oily smell of the canal across the street, listening for the deep-throated honks of barges. My cousin, Denny Dale, was the next best thing to having a brother.

He showed up at my grandma’s every morning, and we raced to the park to swing, play foursquare, and sprawl on the grass under giant oaks. We played hide-n-seek with kids we didn’t know. It was the fifties. We were safe. We owned the world, and when our clothes stuck to our backs and our faces burned with heat, we tromped off to the corner store. I liked hearing the jingle of coins in Denny Dale’s pocket. I liked it when he held my hand.

The day after my dad announced we had to go back to California, Denny Dale and I swung on the swings and trudged to the store for the last time, turning our faces up to the fan above the entrance, letting cool air whisk over us. We dug ice cream sandwiches out of the freezer and Denny paid, spilling dimes onto the counter. We moseyed home like snails, licking around the chocolate wafers, laughing as vanilla filling dripped down our t-shirts.

We ducked behind Grandpa’s garage where weeds grew to our knees to wash the sticky from our hands. I bent to twist on the garden hose and when I turned, Denny Dale was standing behind me, grinning, his raggedy shorts around his ankles.

No underpants. 

I gaped.

I’d never seen a naked boy.

He tugged at his thing. It moved.

He grinned. ‘Now show me yours.’ 

I remembered Father Ara’s scolding finger, preaching the fires of hell, and I skittered past Denny Dale, across the hot oyster-shell driveway, and into the kitchen, slamming the screen door. Grandma turned from the stove, ‘Lan’sakes. What’d you two get yourselves into now?’

‘Nothing.’ I plopped onto the linoleum floor, letting my long sweaty hair hide my face. 

‘Hurt my big toe,’ I lied, a venial sin.

‘You need a wash rag and some tincture of violet for that?’ 

‘It’s not cut, Grandma.’

‘Then how ’bout orange soda to cool you down?’ 

‘Yes, ma’am. Please.’

She jerked open the door to the icebox, glass tinkling inside. 

With a swish of her house dress, her rolled stockings were right next to me. She leaned down. 

‘Thank you, Grandma,’ I took the Nehi, but I didn’t lift my eyes, just in case she had the power to see what was going on inside my head, what was stirring in my body.

Gay Degani has received various nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. She’s published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.