The Artemis AdventureBy: Dorothy Rice Bennett
As Kiki lay on the warm rooftop and gazed skyward at the stars, she made up her mind. She was definitely leaving.
Her mama and papa were screaming at each other in the apartment two floors below. This ongoing marital battle erupted in semi-weekly yelling bouts, and Kiki needed to escape the uproar. She had learned that the best way to keep her own sense of balance was to come up the stairway to the roof, spread an old blanket, and lie down on her back. If she was lucky—and it was a clear night with minimal smog—she could see the moon and stars overhead.
Kiki was not an expert on astronomy. Although she didn’t know the official names for the star constellations, she loved looking up at the night sky. At first her favorite star had been the really big, bright one that she could always spot even when she found it in a slightly different place. After she had spent months just lying still and focusing on its bright light—while lost in her own teenage fantasy world—she noticed a smaller star just down and to the right of the big one. This one seemed to blink at times. The star would disappear and then come back. Kiki decided, with a touch of amusement, that maybe this star was communicating with her.
Someone from Kiki’s high school had read a book about mythology and told her of a Greek goddess named Artemis. An archer who wandered through the forest in search of adventures, accompanied by her faithful dog, Artemis was strong and independent—kind of an outsider who acted on her own. Although Kiki had never seen a real bow and arrow in the South Bronx, and a dog would be a luxury in her family, she liked the idea of Artemis’s free spirit and named her blinking star after the goddess.
Kiki had slipped away to the rooftop during the past several months, weather permitting, to have some privacy to think about her life. The Rodriguez apartment was crowded and cluttered, with six people sharing it—her three brothers as well as Kiki and their parents. At the moment there were only five, because her oldest brother Raul was serving time in prison. Besides that, Javier was seldom home, since he hung out with his gang, and Kiki feared that he would eventually end up dead or in prison as well.
A product of the American melting pot, Kiki bore the name Patricia Loretta Cristina Rodriguez. She felt like a Heinz-57 mutt, with her mostly Polish mother and her Puerto Rican-Filipino father. She was third among the family’s four children. Only Gusto was younger. With difficult and often-absent older brothers and an alcoholic father, Kiki had been forced to take care of herself at an early age. Her gut feeling was that lack of money and a chaotic upbringing—not to mention being a female—would make adult life very challenging.
Just turned eighteen, Kiki was five feet, two inches tall with an athletic build. She had large brown eyes that sparkled, wavy dark hair that fell to her shoulders—when not pulled into a ponytail—and an olive complexion. She was pretty, with full lips and two dimples that showed when she smiled. Kiki felt self-conscious about her nose, which seemed, to her, a bit too pug for her face, and she had a slight scar over one eye—a scar she had acquired when she hadn’t ducked soon enough as two brothers sparred with each other during a family fight.
Kiki had just finished her junior year in high school. One more year, she thought to herself, and you can start college and get out of this depressing world.
Kiki heaved a deep sigh. Yeah, what a dream. What chance did she have to go to college, really? She had worked for an elderly Jewish baker until he had a stroke and his store was closed. Now she couldn’t find another job, and the little savings fund she had spirited away for school kept shrinking instead of growing. No matter how creative she was in hiding her stash, Javier was smarter. When he needed drug money, he turned her room upside down until he found cash or something else he could sell. Kiki would scream at him and pound his shoulders with her fists, but he would just shrug her off, take her money, and nothing would change.
It seemed to Kiki that Mama and Papa’s fights were becoming worse, and with the sweltering days of summer upon them, they would be at it almost every night. Kiki was sure there was nowhere in the world more hot and humid than a South Bronx apartment in August.