This story was originally published by the now-defunct e-zine eMuse in 2008.
It doesn’t fit well with my short story collection (in the works). I am publishing it here in two installments. As always, comments are welcome.
Copyright © 2008 by db mcneill
It was still summer, no matter what Suzy Jacobs said. Crickets were chirping down below my window last night. Frogs were singing at the edge of the lake this morning. I dangled my feet into the water. Small silver fish nibbled on my toes. It tickled. Suzy sat beside me. Her skin was pink from the summer sun. The seat of her swimsuit had worn thin. She pulled on the fabric and let it snap back, as much as it still could. Leaning forward, she kicked her foot up. Water splashed and, for a moment, the fishes stopped nibbling. I still wore cut-offs and an old T-shirt for swimming. Ma said I wasn’t old enough to need a swimsuit, but I knew next summer she’d have to let me get one. My breasts were beginning to grow.
Suzy said the last day before we had to go back to school just didn’t count as summer. The suspense was too great. No one could stand that bursting feeling, she said. It was too much. She wondered which teacher we would get. We could get Mr. Spence, who was nice, but he never made bullies go to the principal. If you were in his class, recess could be scary. We could get Miss Felder, and that would be good. Or we could get mean old Mrs. Drury. That was the worst. She hated everybody. We didn’t know if our friends would be in class with us. We didn’t even know if we would be in the same class. Suzy talked about Mrs. Drury for a while. There were rumors Mrs. Drury ate the students she hated the most, usually poor kids with good grades. Kids like us. Suzy stopped talking, eyes wide, frightened by her own wild speculations.
I looked up at the sky and sighed. “I don’t believe that,” I said. “We’re too old to believe teachers eat students.”
“Well, it might be true!” Suzy replied, chewing her bottom lip.
“I don’t care…I just don’t care,” I said. Suzy didn’t believe me.
“Now, don’t you be lying to ME, little Miss Scaredy Cat,” she said.
“I am NOT a Scaredy Cat!” I yelled. Jumping up, I chased her down the rocky edge of the lake. “It’s not summer anymore! It’s not summer anymore!” she shouted.
Before she disappeared into the trees, she turned and stuck her tongue out at me.
“Bleh!” I called after her. I crossed my arms, made an angry face, then stomped back to my toe nibbling spot. “I don’t care,” I grumbled. “It is TOO still summer. It’s not over yet.”
We spent a good part of the summer together, playing house under the trees in the woods. Some days, we were too mature to play house. On those days, we walked down to John Ervine’s Boat House. We pet our way through his pack of friendly, mangy dogs. Suzy liked to hold the screen door open as I walked through. Then she’d drop it. Slam!
The door bounced shut behind us. We lifted the glass door of the battered bench cooler and picked out the sodas in the frostiest bottles. We felt very grown up as we gave old John Ervine our dollar and waited for change. The animal heads mounted along his walls watched us with indifferent glass eyes. John popped the caps off the sodas for us, and handed the bottles back with a flourish.
“For two of my loveliest customers.” He said the same thing every time.
We walked along the dirt road back to Suzy’s house, sipping our sodas and talking about the weather.
“Lovely afternoon,” she’d say.
“Hot enough for you?” I’d reply.
When we got to her house, we went inside, turned on the fan, and watched television. The fan blew our hair back. We created shampoo commercials. We usually tried to find a movie on the television. We especially liked the monster movies, but we watched romances and war stories too.
The fish nibbled more fiercely now on the tips of my toes, worried perhaps that they wouldn’t get their fill before I ran off again, taking my toes with me. I shut my eyes and thought about the movies.
Suzy and I knew exactly what life would be like when we were grown. It would be a lot like a movie. The women mostly stood around and screamed while the men sprang into action. We made a pact to be like the men. We would save people, discover lost civilizations, and have other grand adventures. So far, I was a failure as a great adventurer. I had to be redeemed.
I knew Suzy had taken the short cut to her house. I’d have to go get her later, but it was still early in the afternoon. I leaned back and looked up into the sky. The clouds looked like horses and windmills. I squinted, hoping to see angels or God, but I guess they’d all gone home too.
Big Ellen, who lives next door to my Ma and me, told me once that God can always hear you. He knows what you’re doing and what you’re thinking. Big Ellen goes to church three times a week, so she ought to know. The thought of God spying on me, peeking in on my private thoughts kept me pretty scared. Today, though, it might be a good thing. I shut my eyes and tried to think real loud, just in case God wasn’t close by right then. “God,” I thought, “summer’s not over yet. I’m not a liar yet.”