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Darlyne Baugh
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correctiverape.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees © 2010

“Corrective Rape”

 

Darlyne Baugh

 

 

The Community Center was the heart of the neighborhood where we played seasonal games. Our youthful scents barely concealed us in summertime when it was ripe for Hide and Go Seek. In the chilly fall air we chose teams for Johnny on the Pony, straddling each other’s backs and bearing the weight of others. The blanket of winter purchased secret games of Spin the Bottle in a snug crevice behind the Center. Freezing teens engrossed in first kisses sealed the exclusivity of the circle.

 

The bottle swept past me but when my time came I’d be ready. I wanted in.

 

“She’s too little to be here,” someone complained.

 

“I’m almost thirteen,” I protested, standing outside the circle.

 

“Almost? You were in third grade a minute ago,” Cindy said.

 

“But look at her now,” Jose said, wide-eyed.

 

“What! You mean those scrambled eggs on her chest? Ha! Those ain’t nothing. You want to see some coconuts,” Margie said, twisting her lips. “Scram, puta.”

 

The four seasons offered second chances. They’d see. I was worth it. As the weather warmed up, the neighborhood playtime migrated to the opposite side of the Center, welcoming spring by skidding bottle caps in a game of Skully. Scraping sounds on pavement called to us from the parking lot. It marked a focal point to our afternoons.

 

Another sensation pushed time in 1975 when a phenomenon hit the neighborhood Tuesday nights at eight o’clock, the television show, Happy Days. It signaled a reordering of things. All the kids ran home to watch and came back a half-hour later to the Community Center where we acted like the Fonz and imagined the normalcy of the Cunningham family. Edwin, a huge fourteen-year old with fatty shoulders, would flip his collar and pretend he was cool. “Whoa,” and “Aaay” while chasing us girls into the street. We ran in circles under the street lamps, shrieking, afraid to depart from the cone of light until Edwin tired out.

 

“I’m gonna get ya’ll,” he said, gasping for air.

 

“Shut up!" the girls shouted. I was one of them. My voice laced in chorus.

 

Edwin was the first boy to show us his private part. We didn’t see the whole thing, just a portion of it that curved like a soft Tootsie Roll. We stared numbly, giggled nervously, attracted sort of, but we knew it was wrong, so we pretended it was funny.

 

“That’s nasty!” we said.

 

I bunched up with the older girls. We covered our mouths, shock and thrill bonding us. But we couldn’t stop looking. The arc of the wrinkled skin fascinated.

 

That summer, all the kids line-danced in the street to Van McCoy—“Do the Hustle” and KC and The Sunshine Band—“Get Down Tonight” and “That’s the Way (I Like It.”) I noticed Edwin’s belly shook and jiggled around his midsection. The other boys made fun of him, calling him Fat Albert, Fat Ass, and Fatso. But the girls knew there was more to Edwin than that. He had shown us.

 

Iris didn’t dance and she never played any of our games. She had spent freshman year at a college in Boston—15 miles east of the suburb we lived in. Rumor had it that she’d return there in the fall, leaving us for a future, a concept we had yet to comprehend. It was odd for us, someone leaving. No one ever left. Families moved in, but they never moved out.

 

 

 

Interfaith Terrace, the housing complex where we lived, coasted on feminist rhetoric and social programs popular at the time. The apartments were advertised as “new construction” for divorcées with children. Women who needed subsidized shelter, like-mindedness, and a leg up to start over.

 

My mother moved there in 1971, a year after divorcing my alcoholic father. Single mothers were the common thread for the kids: one Jewish, a few Italians, two Cubans, a lot of Puerto Ricans, and a handful of Blacks.  There were no adult men around. We parented each other. Our moms worked day jobs. Mine also went to night school; chancing education would open doors to a more meaningful life. She touted college as the be-all, end-all. I don’t remember anything else being advised beyond that aspiration. Some mothers had messages of hope. Most did not. We came from chaotic homes and we acted out our chaos when we had fistfights. We upheld traditions of being touched inappropriately by the older kids who generously passed down behavior to us, so we could inform the youngest.

 

“It’s okay, just don’t tell anybody.”

 

Iris going back to college was a big deal in the neighborhood. She hung around the Community Center waiting patiently for the last months of her teen years to run out. She now represented distances and choices.

 

She leaned against the wall wearing a jean jacket with an Earth, Wind & Fire emblem stitched on the back. It looked like it cost a lot of money and came from somewhere else. She was yellow and we were brown and black, but her full lips betrayed an opinion that lighter skin made a person better off. Her wide round face and slanted eyes suggested that perhaps a Chinaman had gotten lost in San Juan. Seventies cool, she had a soft Afro, dressed in dark jeans, and wore Converse sneakers. Iris’s reserve made her popular. We burst with energy, hopping in and out of her orbit, hoping for a glance or a wry smile.

 

“Iris, Iris, Iris!” Junior shouted.

 

“Boy, stop all that noise,” she said. “You all get out of here.”

 

“What’re you doing, Iris?” he said.

 

“Yeah, what?” we said.

 

“Minding my business. What’re you runts doing?” she said.

 

“Minding yours,” we laughed.

 

Iris ran fingers threw Junior’s black curly hair. “Go play. Be good! You too!” she said to me.

 

She tolerated us with mild reverence, but around her Puerto Rican family her stoic presence loosened up. She even let down her guard with Edwin, who was her nephew, occasionally hugging him and pulling him aside to whisper in his ear. “Hijo, cuidar. Watch yourself,” she said. I don’t think she knew he called her slut behind her back and jostled his balls when he said it.

 

Drugs came into the neighborhood and routines changed. The older boys didn’t want to play group games. They slunk off into the woods and came back with glassy eyes and loopy behavior. Iris watched this from her spot on the wall. She stared for longer stretches. We still ran home on Tuesday nights and came back outside to talk plot and character, only it was a smaller group, and mostly pre-teen girls. Stuff was happening in hidden places. Cindy kissed Edwin. Margie liked José. I shaved my legs. And Junior was locked in a dryer in the Laundromat until he cried and Margie gave him a warm bottle like he was a baby boy.

 

I discovered Edwin, leering white teeth, his shoulders thrust forward in a prance, inside the utility room next to my apartment. He was a fair find on my part. Our team had been losing at Hide and Go Seek and finding Edwin would win the game for us.

 

I was about to yell out when he snatched me, shut the door, and pressed me hard against the boiler. I felt his Tootsie Roll, no longer soft but hard like chocolate from a freezer. Covering my mouth with one hand and stripping off my tube top with the other, I was more embarrassed by my budding breasts than terrified by his intentions. I couldn’t decide if what was happening was bad because his touches felt hungry and good.

 

We both jumped when the door slammed open and Iris loomed large in its opening.

 

“What are you doing with this child?” she said.

 

I thought her compressed rage was directed at me, because she looked at me first, but it was Edwin who shrunk back like a helpless girl. His answer was a whimper.

 

Iris grabbed his collar and dragged him from the boiler room, belly down, onto the sidewalk where a half-a-dozen kids had followed her, waiting to witness what would happen next.

Iris propped Edwin up on his feet and slapped him in the face without mercy.

 

“This is not the way!” she declared.

 

“Quit it, I’m telling mommy,” Edwin said.

 

“I’m the only one who cares!” Iris said. A fresh slap reddened his brown face.

 

I ducked back inside and hid in the corner of the boiler room, listening to Iris push him down the street. I wanted to come out, but everybody waited for me.

 

“What happened? Is she in there? Oh shit,” I heard them mumbling outside.

 

I opened the door slightly. A prism of afternoon sun reached for me. It was my turn to report how youth blossomed in the heat of a dark room. My turn had arrived.

 

 

 

 

Darlyne Baugh worked in the film and television industry for way too long. She currently lives in New Jersey but savors the day she returns to Manhattan as a tax paying New Yorker.

stake.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees © 2012

 

“Stake”

Darlyne Baugh

 

      He was taller by a foot. He bent over and nibbled at her hand like she was a lady of distinction. His brow furrowed in concentrated nips. His jaw locked at the hinge. He was shocked and pleased that handling a woman felt natural because it had been several seasons since he’d touched one. She tasted like Scotch and gulping at her lips seemed normal, but a second later he pulled back, hoping she hadn’t noticed how hungrily he had searched her mouth. The woman mistook his hesitation and pressed into him. Her body arched like a drawn bow and fit cleanly into his long arms. The wetness of their clothes twisted into knotted opportunity. The tips of her boots grazed and then kicked the carpet as he lifted her off balance. Outside, rain poured down, sheets of water blurred the picture window. His back was to the glass pane, but he knew one tree branch, leafless, stubborn against the weather, trembled outside the window.

When she had entered the apartment ahead of him, he saw collected bits of dirt in the folds of her white skin, above the collar line of her sleeveless t-shirt. She wasn’t pure white. Her skin was mottled with irritations. Brown spots freckled her shoulders and arms. She smelled like grass and was sweaty at the base of her neck. He ran a tongue there now and tasted verdant life.

A white flash and lightning lit up his dark apartment. Black couch, mahogany table and her thin blonde hair cut blunt across the shoulders. His heart beat. Thunder clapped, the crackling and rumbling aftermath punctuated her moans as she lay down on the table. Her small bones felt fragile and broken underneath the skin. The frailty of her body helped him to move with a conscience, a state he was not used to employing. She was bra-less and weight-less and without any resistance to his intentions. He loosened his grip and watched her oblong breasts swing from side to side. He was as gentle as a hard man could be. He didn’t care where she had come from. He just wanted what other men had: renewal, rebirth, and reinvention because she was some kind of gateway to neutrality.

The brief memory of their meeting faded and his eyes adjusted to the shadows as he locked onto her mouth and parted her lips. Her kiss back was filmy, thick saliva closer to mucus than to fresh spit. His muscles flexed at the taste of her. She made quick snorting gasps. His tongue flicked the back of her throat in a futile search for more air.

       She coughed. “Slow down, baby,” she said, wiping her mouth. “I ain’t going nowheres. The night is just beginnin’,”

“Sorry,” he said, wiping his palms.

“Been awhile?”

“Yuh.”

“Been alone?”

“A lot.”

“What’s yer name again, baby?”

“Bob.”

“Bob,” she said.

He searched her face but it was too dark to see it.

“Yours?” he said.

“T-a-n-y-a. Like I told ya before. Ain’t nothin’ changed since.”

“Tan-ya.”

“That’s right. Say it again.”

“Tan-ya.”

She offered her mouth. “Kiss me, Bob. Gentle this time. Like I’m delicate, like I’m a girl.”

Rain blanketed the windows; dark liquids ran inside him. He didn’t know how to handle her with conversation between them. He hadn’t expected words to diminish desire and shine a light on his soul. He had seen Tanya smiling nice at him over at the tavern night after night, but she had walked out with other men. She had started coming around a few months ago, in the late fall, last November, a few days after the first frost. She was on the run, people said. But for a woman wanting to get away, she stayed on, and sampled each lonely man until Bob’s number had come up tonight. On the stool next to him, she had looked rancid in the dim bar light. Fatigue shattered her voice and it pulled down the corners of her mouth. But when she smiled, her face was young and charming, armed with womanly wonders overwhelming her quick eyes. She had said the same thing to him as she had said to the other men, “Is there somethin’ in that drink ya wanna tell me?” He hadn’t expected “Nope,” to come out arrogant and sharp. He had been surprised by the sound of his voice and sipped the last of his bourbon to gain a moment to say something different. In an instant the heavy thoughts of so many winter nights, drinking alone in bed, wishing booze would kill him dunked his head into common sense to take back what he had said. “I don’t need no drink to tell me what I need to tell you,” he had compromised. She had sat down, smiling like she never heard his first answer in the first place. There she was right in front of him, not on the ceiling of his bedroom where he had imagined her as an oasis of fresh starts, or when he had turned on his side, her face hovering from the corner of his room like in a dream. Like on TV.

“That’s right, baby, like that,” she said, wrapping her legs around his waist, hooking her ankles in an easy grip.

He was afraid to break her. A wishbone, no, something ephemeral like white sand running through his fingers. Not enough of her except those big sloppy breasts he wanted to confess to and two teardrop nipples he hoped for solace in. Short, slender fingers combed through his coarse hair. He clutched the edge of the table. He felt his confidence grow. Hard. Sturdy. Giving.

The windows were closed tight. Trapped, humid air held them together. Her neck was hot. Thunder clapped and lightning lit up her alabaster skin of fresh Grade D milk poured into a tumbler. He wanted to drink her up, gobble her whole, stick her in his mouth, push her feet between his lips, slurp in her toes. He moved slower, but not slow enough. He was sweating and speaking in tongues.

“Baby. Bob?”

“Yuh.”

“Ya cryin’ inside?”

“Yuh,” was the only natural word he could think to say.

“Don’t ya wanna have me?”

“I wanna. I wanna, Tan-ya.”

“C’mere,” she said, reaching out to him.

Bob seized both breasts, life preservers, givers of life. He groped at their velvet softness with big rough hands. His fingers were deformed and grotesque against her skin. He was used to handling hammers and drills, nails and bits, saws and chains, wood and steel, cigarettes and liquor, loneliness and silence. Lightning lit up her blue eyes, lashes of a doe. He hadn’t expected her to be more beautiful in the light. She moaned and he saw her teeth. Her face disappeared into the crook of his neck and she nibbled at his ear. The heavy rain changed direction and fell in slats tapping an unsteady beat. All the moisture in the room suffused his body and he swelled twice his size.

“Wow, baby. That’s somethin’ ya got down there.”

He was done talking. Bob lifted Tanya up. He cleared the living room in three long strides. She was light on his hips like a bundle of laundry. Inside his jeans pocket was her number written on a cocktail napkin in blue ink. Something-something-something-nine-six-seven-four. Jersey. 2-0-1.

       He laid her out on the couch, found her mouth again and inhaled supplication. She was tart on the tongue, sweet in the package. His damp jeans dropped in accordion folds at his ankles. He scooted Tanya toward him, pressed her shoulders back, and leaned over her. And pushed.

          Bob mumbled.

          “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, baby Bob.”

The rain fell sloppy, in loops, and jerks. Wind howled. Wood creaked. He saw perfectly how her nipples fell into the folds of her armpits. He fondled their knobs into his mouth and tasted life, tasted water, tasted time. He smelled the foliage of springtime and parted wet leaves and groped at moist soil. He pushed deep into life, lush and green, damp and yielding. Gripping the small of her back, he faltered, but Tanya planted him firm. He sighed. She anchored her feet on his shoulders and life continued.

Sheets of water pounded at the windows. The rain had started this morning after Bob had hung up the phone gentle and had poured his first drink quick. His fixed ideas were altered forever, but drinking results remained the same. He had gone to Danny’s bar across the street, a little to the left, after his shift at the Coleman place. He had hovered over his liquor, protective, as he watched Tanya swing those breasts at other solitary men, pucker her thin lips, and call them baby. For five months and before tonight everyone had known a taste of Tanya except Bob. He was the only one she hadn’t talked to. Maybe it was because he seemed a sturdy man with an extra layer between him and the outside world, but Bob wasn’t hard to spot, his loneliness was like a black box in a happy room. The bar was ten, maybe twenty men full. Bob always occupied the second to last stool. She was nineteen or thirty. He couldn’t tell. He didn’t care. He was the one tonight. The other men had slit eyes and aimed hatred as Bob led Tanya from the bar, out into the weather, retracing his steps back home, her coarse laughter trailing him, her hand tight in his, the two-story apartment complex across the way.

Lightning lit up his life and Bob saw it. A flannel shirt thrown on the floor, the cracked leather of his father’s chair, the molded indent where his father drank, where he waited angrily for Bob’s mother to do nothing wrong. Along the far wall baseball caps hung at random angles—one had fallen from its hook revealing a hole the width of Bob’s fist. Tanya curled into him and he stared at the hat. Rain fell lightly, a pitter-patter of infant feet.

“Go again?” she said.

“In a minute, maybe,” Bob said.

“Tired, baby?”

“Yuh.”

“Poor, Bob.”

He fastened his jeans at the waist and rested his head between her breasts. He felt his neck strain at an awkward angle. He heard Tanya’s soft heartbeat. He felt emptied into darkness. He wanted to ward off morning. Bob closed his eyes. The day had been long. Tomorrow would be longer. Bob stroked the length of her body, examined her hands and elbows. Fingered her thin hair. She sat up, hung onto him by the neck.

“Ya wanna say somethin’ to me. Somethin’ nice,” she said, blinking her eyes.

“Yuh, I wanna, wanna try to tell you somethin’.”

“Whatcha wanna say to me, Bob?”

“I have a boy.”

“Yer boy?”

“Yuh.”

“What’s that gotta do with me, Bob? I ain’t got nothin’ to do with no boy.” Her arms hung like stretched out cords.

Bob locked his eyes on hers. “Sorry. I’m sorry, m’am.”

“Tanya, like I told ya at the bar. No need to be polite.”

The rain drizzled faintly, the sound of it between them.

“I just want ya to tell me somethin’ sweet, that’s all,” she said.

He leaned against the couch. She shimmied onto his lap and rocked. Bob kissed her. Lightning flashed, thunder grumbled and lit up Tanya’s tired skin and the deep grooves in her brow. He stared at her closed eyes. Her breasts were flat, long straps of leather.

“Beautiful Tan-ya,” he said.

She smiled at him. “See how easy? Yer turn now, what’s all this talk about yer boy?” She hopped down to the floor and turned from him to find her clothes. Her voice reached high, skipping ahead.

“Didn’t mean nothin’.” Bob watched her dress.

“Well, see how good we done did? Ya have me feelin’ like I’m special. We’re here now, talkin’ and all.” She shivered and looked around. Bob followed Tanya’s eyes to his hats on the wall. “Why didn’t ya hang them straight? In a line?” Her eyes rested on the cap on the floor below the hole in the wall.

He peered up into Tanya’s face. She swallowed once and pulled the t-shirt over her head. When her face poked through the neck hole, she was smiling too wide; her eyes flickered toward the front door. “I should go,” she said.

Bob believed the rumors. Word around Danny’s was Tanya ran away from a drinking man who used to throw rocks at her and slap her around if she complained about it. His Daddy was a drinking man, too. Momma had two front teeth missing, permanent.

He took a small step toward Tanya. “I ain’t gonna do nothin’.” He felt tall and ugly in the room. “Sometimes words don’t come and I get mad about it.”

She weighed carefully his reason, cocking her head from side to side deciding what to do. Bob waited. The sky was moonless. The rainstorm had passed. Bob could see her clear as morning light. She smiled nice at him, placed her hands on her hips, and tilted her head up. “I ain’t seen no marks on yer hands since I was just in ‘em,” she said. “Yer tellin’ the truth?”

“I ain’t no harm. I ain’t hit nothin’ in a long time.”

“Ya gonna have some explainin’ to do to yer boy with all them holes in the wall.” Her shoulders relaxed.

Bob picked the hat off the floor. He touched the embossed emblem of John Deere Tractor and read the slogan: Nothing Runs Like A Deere.

“The boy dunno me. I dunno him. He’s drivin’ a hundred miles from the city to look me in the eyes. Said he’s as tall as me.”

“He is, eh? Clint Eastwood-like—like his Daddy?” Tanya winked, but an old burden clouded her eyes. She fell silent and then said in a whisper, “Ain’t a lotta dignity in leavin’ a child behind, but I ain’t gonna judge ya for it. I ain’t so innocent in that department myself.”

Bob turned his back to Tanya. Hung the hat on its hook, covering the hole. “I didn’t leave him. I didn’t even know he was alive. His Momma wasn’t ever on my mind.”

“Ain’t that somethin’ kinda frightenin’? A surprise like that comin’ all the way out here then?”

“Drivin’ a hundred miles. In the morning,” he said.

“Whatcha gonna do with him?”

“Dunno. Yuh. Dunno.”

“Well, it’ll be all right. Ain’t no harm in meetin’ family. It’s a precious thing.”

“Guess there’s nothin’ at stake except a little somethin’,” Bob said.

“A little somethin’ what?” she said.

“Dunno exactly on account of origin and all that.”

“Ya’ll end badly? You and the mother?”

“Never ended. Never began. Just a meetin’ in a room, but not like you, not like here. I was runnin’, ended up on Lennox in Philly. She was cleanin’ my room. We stayed in touch for a while but I ain’t talked to her in years.”

“On account of my own story, on account of my own left behind. I think I know what ya mean.” Tanya stroked Bob’s arm. In the gray light, she said,  "Yer boy is black.”

“Yuh.” Bob sat down on the floor. “What do I do with that?”

“Don’t do nothin’ but shake the boy’s hand.”

Bob shook his head. The morning light was coming too soon, too fast. Slate gray diluted the darkness.

 “Where’s he? Yours, I mean. With that man you left in Union?” Bob said.

“No, he ain’t the boy’s father. My Daddy made me give my baby up. He thought my boy might come out whiter, but he came out lookin’ just like the Daddy. As brown as chocolate syrup and as sweet too. I wanted to keep him. Fourteen ain’t so young when ya been carryin’ a child most of that time. Dunno where the boy is, but he’s here.” She pointed to her head. “And sometimes here,” she covered her heart.

“Don’t ya wanna know what happened to him?” he said.

“Not when ya been raised on hate. Not when ya dunno what people be sayin’ behind yer back. It’s my secret and now it’s yers too.”

 “I was waitin’ for ya at the bar.” He reached out to her. “I was wantin’ to know ya.”

“I know. I saw ya there lookin’ at me.” She slid down to the floor and leaned into his body. Bob could smell the rain in her hair. “Lemme tell ya somethin’,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“You tell yer boy what he wanna hear.”

“Dunno what to say. What do I say, Tan-ya?”

“Tell him ya love him.”

“Dunno if I do.”

“It’s all any ‘ole body wants,” she said.

Bob pulled her in close. Her skin was cold. He held her tight. “Is that what ya wanna hear, Tan-ya?”

She looked into the middle distance, into the shadows and into the light. “I can feel my boy’s heart beat sure as my own,” she said. “Sometimes I think he’s gonna find me, too. Yer lucky.”

“Yuh, I love you, Tan-ya,” he said.

She touched his face. “I’ll stay with ya ‘til yer boy comes. I’d like to meet him. Maybe it’ll help me some, too,” she said, meeting his eyes. “D’ya have somethin’ to drink? Kill the morning time?”

          “Yuh,” he said, “I do.”
 
 

Darlyne Baugh has published short stories online at Troubadour21.com, Short Story Library, and Yellow Mama Issue #21. Her debut fiction novel, Black Girl @ the Gay Channel, (Full Court Press) comes out April, 2011. Visit the author's website http://darlynebaugh.com.

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