The day has folded up the corners of its picnic blanket and parents are brushing crumbs off their children as they pack them into the car. With skin darkened in the sun, they are exhausted by its heat slumped together in the backseat. Crusts of sandwiches not eaten are crumpled into the cool bag. Up front, the mother fans herself with polaroids of split seconds that will come to signify an idyllic summer. Theirs is the only car on the road as streetlamps blink on.
The older child awakens and holds her hand out in the cool breeze. She opens and closes her palm, catching balls of air that aren’t there. The younger one wakes up and quietly starts to cry. His large sniff attracts his mother’s attention, “What’s wrong, honey? Are you feeling unwell?” He wipes his nose with his hand, solemnly shaking his head. The older girl puts her arm around him, she knows. It’s over. He’s already missing the ballgames and warm lemonade.
Such strange, sensitive children. They grow up, inevitable as a snow used to be in winter. Wind chimes ring. Crickets. It’s now many summers later with hot nights, sultry in Plath’s Bell Jar, a copy of which peeks out beneath the older girl’s bed. Their parents are out for the evening, so they have a party. They invite just under two handfuls of friends and set up the rec room with cushions and bowls of pretzels and M&M’s. They smile occasionally at each other as the boy puts candles on the table and the girl sifts through her parents’ LPs, putting her favourites to one side. Looking up he asks, “Is Sam coming?” She shrugs almost imperceptibly, “Maybe. Is Lucy?” He mirrors her response.
July’s skies do not darken. The pale light hangs through the window casting squares of dusk on the shag carpet. The sister puts on the first in a long line up of albums. Her brother sits on a cushion near the open sliding door staring at the birch tree’s branches swaying. The doorbell rings ushering in a spatter of hellos. Bottles clank as the guests stroll into the room, the caps unleashing a fizz as they’re passed around between the older kids.
“How’d you score the beer?” asks Sam, shyly picking at a loose thread on his plaid shirt. They’re all under eighteen and don’t dare get fake IDs. “Older brother. Got us this too,” says Robert, throwing a tinfoil square onto the table they are sat around. A freckled girl wearing an oversized men’s shirt leans forward to discover the contents. “Sweet!” she says and brings out crinkled papers and tobacco.
The younger brother watches as she grinds the green leaves and rolls a long, slim cigarette. Lucy hasn’t come yet. His best friend Marcus is standing next to him. They both sip from soda cans near the glass doors. Marcus is awkward in the presence of such ‘cool’ kids. He hasn’t grown into his limbs yet and tries to contort himself into the smallest shapes possible. The boy recognises this and tells him Robert is saving up for a Fender guitar. Marcus’s pale eyes meet his. “Talk to him, tell him you play. I think he’s forming a band.” His body relaxes slightly as he goes to sit near Robert.
Records crackle with the electricity of as yet unknown sexual abandon. The girls dance together in the middle of the room, jokingly trying to pull Sam up. He shrugs them off, busying himself with the album sleeves. The girl half closes her eyes, arms outstretched skyward, dark brown hair hangs down her back. Her paisley summer dress grazes her thighs.
You see us together,
chasing the moonlight,
my cinnamon girl.
The doorbell rings again and the boy runs to answer it, content to leave Marcus now he was opening up. Robert’s an easy-going guy, relaxed in the leather jacket handed down from one his older brothers. He’s the one that introduced them all to Bob Dylan’s music. An unpretentious linchpin who somehow made everyone the better version of themselves. Even the jealousy Sam once harboured was sated in his tranquil presence.
The boy opens the door to reveal Lucy under the porch light, its glow painting her skin chestnut against her pale blue dress. He is unsure whether to hug her or shake her hand. He plumps for the latter and she giggles, putting on a mock business demeanour and takes his hand with a firmness that surprises him, “A pleasure to see you, Mr Newman.” He tries to regain himself and shows her to the kitchen, “Do you want soda or water or… something?” “A soda is fine,” she smiles, tapping her heels on the linoleum.
They enter the rec room to stand beneath the hanging cloud of smoke and incense. The night is a still one. Even the open doors do not dissipate the air. Sam flicks the light switch off in favour of candles. The small spark of the lighter flickering wicks into life illuminates his face. He pushes thick strawberry blonde curls out of his face and begins to talk to Molly about the effects of mushrooms on memory in this article he read. Robert and Marcus are discussing Simon and Garfunkel, the latter nodding eagerly and shyly giving his opinion in between Robert’s lulled sentences. His sister is half-dancing, slipping in and out of the conversations between swigs of her almost empty bottle.
Sam leans over to Robert, “She’s really something.” Unlike Molly, sharp tongued, round and smiling, she was unobtainable. Dancing around her own spiral. A dream they had both woken up with physical signs of. Not just lust, but the desire to share that freedom. The brother saw them gazing at his sister. He was not embarrassed, but proud of how cool she was. Even Lucy seemed to think so. Those two shaded wallflowers inched their hands towards each other in the near darkness, watching the dancer in the middle of the room. They interlock their fingers. Lucy turns to him and smiles, her teeth gleaming.
The beer supply ran dry quickly as the heat held. The sister grabs Molly and goes off to seek her parents’ liquor cabinet. They come back into the room with four bottles apiece and redrew the lines on the bottles in a clumsy attempt to conceal their consumption. Sloshing the barely there coloured liquids in martini glasses and any tumbler to hand, they chug back the ill-conceived concoctions with grimaces and burning throats.
The brother and his friends stand to the side, Molly sees and pours them a drink to share. She doesn’t condescend, telling them to add more soda if they don’t like it, “I swear adults pretend to enjoy this shit”. Both Marcus and Lucy sip and wrinkle their faces. The brother, in a show of bravado, necks the cup’s contents, “No big deal, I’ve drank worse”. Their cup is refilled, but he is the only one who drinks for second, third time.
Records are dragged off the player leaving scratched trails. The group has divided, stopping their close-faced conversations to sip spirits or smoke the joint floating around the circle. Sam is slowly edging his hand up the older sister’s leg as she talks about Jim Morrison. “I want to write with that wildness, Sam. Listen:
– Moment of inner freedom
when the mind is opened & the
infinite universe is revealed.”
Molly is resting her elbow on Robert’s knee, watching Sam trying to get lucky. She jibes, “So Robbie, gonna wow me with some poetry?” He pretends to think deeply, “There once was a girl called Molly, whose presence made everyone jolly. She was down on her luck and desperate to –” She pushed him off the chair before he has the chance to finish. They both start to play wrestle on the carpet.
Noticing the party’s bell curve is descending into physical contact, Lucy says she better go home otherwise her dad will worry. The boy starts to feel not so good and begs her to stay, but she kisses his cheek goodbye. He sees her walking out of the room but can’t muster the energy to get up. The smoke is becoming too much. He staggers across the room to the sliding doors and hits his knee on the table, knocking off some bottles. Outside, the fresh air hits him making the trees in the yard double. He falls to his knees and throws up. Sam starts to laugh at the boy and the sister pulls away from him so quickly, he doesn’t see her interest in him evaporate.
The boy tries to focus on the blades of grass when he feels a hand rubbing his back. “Lucy! You stayed, I… Sorry.” He tries to tell her all his feelings, but his words spill together. A carrot lingers on his chin as he looks up. It’s his sister. She shushes him, proffering a glass of water.
A car pulls up in the drive way as the boy vomits the last of his stomach’s contents. Robert and Molly quickly and quietly begin Operation Clean Up with mutual expertise. The sister half carries her brother to his room with Marcus’ help. She takes off his t-shirt and tells him to drink the water and take a shower. She’s authoritative, but loving.
The guests slip out the back door through the bushes and run down the road laughing. When they’re out of immediate eyesight, Sam turns back to the house and searches for the girl in the upstairs window. The light is already out.
Next morning, the boy creaks open the door to his sister’s room, “Hey, you awake?” She murmurs and rolls away from the window, “Come ‘ere”. He goes to the bed and she lifts the sheet like a sail. The sunlight dances over it as she wraps him up in a hug. He tries to turn and face her, “Thanks for -” “Shhh! Too early,” she replies and links her fingers with his.
Image credit: James Vaughan via Flickr.