Her blonde hair swung in the sunlight just as free as the tire swing, which ever nodded about even against the softest summer breeze. We were lazily making out way over to it, through dry grass and fresh flowers, petals brimming with water and life. The ice cream store with pink walls was far behind us, the houses small and far ahead, and nothing else between but rolling hills and swaying trees with bark older and more solid than anything still here. The hair on my legs even buzzed around with the energy. Her long fingers tenderly caressed my hand.
“Do… you want to come over for a bit?”
I hesitated. Too long, “Are your parents going to be there?”
I should’ve said family. She hit my arm, playfully rolling her eyes, “We already did that, this morning,” and then tracing her fingers across my arm, “But I guess we could again.”
Until snapping herself out of hazy eyes and sweet summer filled lungs and luscious hair, and answering, “I don’t know.” There was a bit of a longing in her voice too.
“So… you mean you don’t want to come if they are?”
“Well… I just don’t think they like me.”
“They… do,” she hesitated too long as well.
“I don’t know Carter, what do you want me to say?” She pressed her side into mine, lightly grazing her breasts past my elbows as if to make up for it with her warmth. Her nipples were a little hard. In a year there’d be so much I’d miss. That but…
“I like you…”
These long walks…
“I know… but you like them too…. I just don’t know how long this can last.”
I should not have said that. Or maybe I should… the air and wind seemed mighty longer, the next trees almost miles away.
We still swung our hands back and forth. Her’s seemed colder, and her nails had a greater gap to them. She was letting them loose a little. She had the glossy, hazy eye that was fighting back tears… maybe. Or maybe it was just me thinking it. We seemed to only be walking farther and farther into our own heads.
But we did make it to the tire swing in time. It was shielded by bushes and draping over birch tree leaves, hanging like dull nooses or whips. I cringed a bit. The black glass of curtained windows watched behind us. Could someone see through the curtains? I worried about that even when we were in the basement. Even in the moment I was worrying about what was next… what was next. For the doors to open, the stairs to creak. My mouth didn’t taste like ice cream anymore, but bitter, like coffee. She sat, and kicked off on her small bare toes through the green grass, shifting her ample buttocks to sway the disc a bit. It was drifting through the air like a leaf. It was the sound of the beautiful summer silence that never was quiet: the distant sounds of life that you took for granted until they were buried, frozen, hibernated in white. She outstretched her arms to bring me in. I knelt down a bit to kiss her. It was passionate; I could feel her lips curve into a smile as they darted over mine. But I felt so far behind my own eye sockets, in a long hollow hole. It was warm. It fluttered up my face, down my neck and into my stomach like butterflies. Was it enough to wake me up? My head still hung back.
I opened the corner of my eye, to steal a glance at the watchful window. Even with eyes closed she could tell.
“What’s wrong?” But she knew. We all know too much deep down, and try to forget. At best to pretend that we don’t.
“Let’s go around the block? Go for a drive?”
“Oh come on, at least check with me,”
“But if we go in, and duck out so fast if they’re there,”
“Let me worry about it,” but there was a sternness in her voice. It was me. I had gone crazy, and I was driving everyone else crazy along with me. Nobody wanted me here…. but…
The door swayed open. Sand still tickled our toes. It rubbed on the wood floor like a bit of massage even after we kicked the sandals off. Nothing stirred, except — a distant tinny roar, like an ocean wind leapt from the television around the corner, around the stairs and in the living room. Everyone was dead inside, fixed like embalmed, staring at the TV. They were there — everyone — all the family: we walked in without our feet carrying us, like ghosts. Getting drawn in like sleepless moths to a fire. The screen was simple messages of black and white, and a mere voice just as pixelated “This is a message of the emergency broadcast system…”
We watched it. We listened to it. And again we sat until it looped. Nobody moved. Nobody acknowledged any other.
The glare out of her dad’s eye, out of the corner, through the glasses, under me and to my side at the couch, stabbed me like static. More than that harsh ear knives cacophony coming from the speakers. Somebody shut the television off with a swift click of the remote. It boomed like thunder.
The last message had been:
Still nobody looked at me. I squeezed her hand. Our fingers were still intertwined. I could feel the dew drops of sweat on them. I caressed around them, wiping them off for her, instinctively. Maybe it would’ve worked out… could’ve. Was 15 minutes enough to get home? She had driven me. And for her to go and to come back…. No. No. Not at all. I felt her father’s eyes bare silently into my side like hot lead, still from the sagging leather seat. She was the one to first break her head. She turned, and stared: stared at me first, to see what I thought, what I would do. I could hardly meet her eyes, but had too. After so long I just had too. Their deep blue twitched with dull electricity. Distant sparks drowned out in a sea of past memories — of all kinds — of coming tears, no matter what.
I don’t know what I looked like. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel myself doing anything. My skin was gone, my senses were gone. I was a floating set of eyes in a shapeshifting fluid of emotion that carried me, only by instinct. The parents shot each other a look. The mother put a hand on the back of the other child, to shelter them down to the basement… would they even be safe there? But it was as much about the decision.
I broke my eyes away from hers. I walked back, sand still scraping at the small fingerprint grooves on my feet, tracing through the wood grain that would be bleached moments from now. I walked past my shoes, I didn’t really need them. I walked past the door, which we had unknowingly left ajar, carried by heat to that awful news machine. It would have been better, I thought, just not to know. She lingered behind me for a moment. I could feel the tears waver in her eyes just as in mine; I knew through her swelling voice, “Wait.. Wait, you can…” But I knew. And even if: it wasn’t if I could, it was about the moment after.
I didn’t want to drag it out… and so I took my long slow strides.
I was out on the porch now. The long sways of the tire swing now altogether more ominous, like the slow immutable motion of a pendulum. The ants flickered over themselves, unknowingly. Would they be ok? Were they simply too small? I was always disgusted by bare dirty streets, but the cool concrete felt good under my bare feet. It felt real. I walked out into the field from where we just came. The sky still rumbled in low wind tunes. I searched for the bird song but could not find it. Maybe they knew — instinctively, not like us, over a cackled voice. But then, what had cast this long shadow since morning? What had carried us to the television like a mine’s oil lamp? Or… I listened more carefully. I listened for the air itself. Maybe the birds were still there, always there, just far in that deep, warm, sweet summer silence.
I let the wind wash over me. I captured the rustling of the individual grass leaves against each other. They echoed in my ear. I heard all the little swirling motions of air and dirt and sand and the leaves and the branches. And watched the clouds drift over the long long picnic. I never heard the door close, but I wasn’t sure I would’ve. It was as if deep in a dream, and I was one of the characters a mind invents for itself. I looked off at the horizon. The warm sun beamed down, swelling everything to its sweet song. The wind blew.
And the sun hovered, unwaveringly. The sun would still be there after. The sun would always be there.
(My mind wasn’t there; wasn’t making trouble for itself anymore. It was now and not next. I could really taste the air, maybe for the first time in my life. It was so wonderful… rushing over my tongue. I could feel everything. My hair moved like the grass. And I thought I felt her, padding her soft feet through the grass, parting her soft body through the air, just behind me. Coming to sit down, cross legged, to rest a slender warm hand on my back. I thought… did it matter? Maybe I just needed to imagine her there.)
The new sun erupted with impossible brightness. With warmth never felt. All the summers since burned away.