GARFIELD PROJECTS IS NOTHING more than three brick boxes on the largest field of concrete in the city. There’s more concrete than there is brick—rolling for what could’ve been blocks, theaters, grocery stores, but instead is just concrete. It pours on and on. A gray lake dividing the complex’s three buildings, flooding the vacant middle space (the “playground”), depositing into a back parking lot, and beyond beyond beyond. This is how Garfield became known as the Cave Yard, which makes y’all (you sneer) Neanderthals. When Garfield was built, they erected a chain-link fence around it. Only hip-high and pointless except in its symbolism. At the school, while planning sleepovers, Carlos often looks at you and asks Izaiah? What about your house? to which you respond Garfield? Nah. It’s a gated community.
Each building has three floors, four units. In each unit are two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large space for living and dining rooms. Everyone’s carpet is the same. Popcorn textured and biscuit colored and stained with brown, yellow, and gray dried puddles. Some stains you can remember. This one from coffee, that one from blood. Some you must give stories to. The large one in your living room, you imagine, is from a previous woman who gave birth on the floor when the ambulance was an hour late.
In the winter, the brick boxes could be confused for charming. When snow frosted the tops of the buildings, the concrete white and the windows lit up. Like gingerbread houses. But by the thick-aired summer, not even somebody’s grandma could smile at the diaper-clad babies. Sweating from their neck folds, aimlessly walking the concrete, tugging at the chain-link.
It is July and the seventeen-year cicadas are due this month. The kids are restless about it, especially your sister who is seven, and the next time cicadas come around you’ll both be twenty-something and gone. She wakes up at 7:00 a.m. to sit on the birth stain and watch the local news. All month the stations reserve five minutes to host some expert of insect shit. Trying to convince y’all how special it is. How inspirational to witness an ancient race pull themselves up through dirt from suppression. Well, you think, thank God they can’t dig through concrete.
Mazi loves summer and gets the very best of it. She spends the mornings at the corner, irritating the liquor store cashier until he exchanges free candy for her absence. After, she walks back to the Cave Yard, back to the baby-teeth niglets that pick cigarettes out the concrete cracks, put them to their mouths and blow. She brings them neon-colored juices that they pour into the small plastic caps and knock back like imaginary shots of Hennessy. Even as dirty, dumb, and poor as these boys are, you sometimes catch Mazi in the middle of the playground, looking past the snot pooling at the corner of their noses and into their mouths with something you shouldn’t think is lust, and yet. You consider the look she gives them on many days, and you look around at Garfield and think of how women have turned premature lust into premature babies with dumb negroes. How endless Garfield is and will always be. How much you hate it and everyone here.
Especially the boys your age. All of them, but especially Aalee who is half a foot taller than everyone else so a whole foot taller than you. He is brolic with thick dreadlocks, large square hands, and an all-wrong soprano voice inside his cherubic face. When he is shirtless, as all the boys are come July, you can see how the cords in his thick neck throb. The sweat that clings to his breast before falling from his nipple and hitting the pavement. He is Mazi’s favorite person. Each summer afternoon she rushes him and demands to be tossed into the air and he catches her in a bear hug before the concrete does it for him. All the kids have love for Aalee, but the older ones are smart enough to have fear.
Aalee is the most vicious fool to ever be from the Cave. Even boys from Baltimore knew better than to skim him. He is only sixteen but welcome to sit with the men at the parking lot when he pleases. It is no wonder he is already into that Muslim shit negroes get on after they go to prison and “get right.” “Assalamu alaikum” was the most common phrase on the concrete next to “how your family an ’nem?”
The men in the parking lot shoot dice, press clammy dollar bills to their kufis, and whoop out a “oh, I’ma let you win it back.” They smell of sweat and sour wheat and passing them is a task. They love to talk and are known to grab. “Zay! Boy how yo’ momma?” never fails to be the strings that draw your stomach tight. Sometimes they get so close that your eyes water as you examine their mouths and try to remember which man belongs to which boy. You occasionally found yourself yanked into watching a game, but that was before the time you forgot how they can rush the circle if a “fever-five” is thrown. When they all came crashing over your body you let out a shriek so painful it stopped the swarm dead in their tracks. The concern quickly turned into whoopin’ and ribbin’. Someone joked to the group over your head, “You know being that small will make a boy tender hearted.” Since then, you’ve doubled the space with which you avoid their circle in the afternoons.
This is how July fourth starts, like any other day.
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ELIAMANI ISMAIL is writer and filmmaker from Washington D.C. via Mali and Tanzania. Finding writing in her teens, Eliamani was a youth poet with the D.C. Youth Slam Team. She has performed at multiple venues including the Kennedy Center. After earning a BA in Film and Africana from Scripps College, Eliamani was named a Watson Scholar and is currently undergoing an international project that explores how writing and art engenders communal partiality to non-punitive justice. Eliamani is a Pan-Africanist focused on creating stories from and about the global African world that foster familiarity and responsibility through the diaspora. Her work is featured in PRISM International, Stonecoast Review, and ellipsis . . .