Little baby with flyaway hair is dancing. White sheets on a clothesline and a tree with green leaves waving high to the big blue sky. Baby laughs and waves at tree and sheets and runs through grass to cool mud. A reel-to-reel memory and the baby has blue-green eyes, half on land, half at sea. We laugh and toss her between us. Then nothing and the film strip thwock thwocks at the end of the reel. Thwock thwock, thwock thwock, then the living room is dark except for the hard white light staring out the end of the projector.
In summertime, there are many smells. Smells of hot, melting tarmac, of laundromats billowing out sweet dirty laundry sheets and bleach. Hair burnt crunchy and dry, slightly green from chlorine and swim lessons. Chemistry smells lingering wherever blue pools light up at night. Steaming bright midnight, an abandoned inflatable chair rocking gently in the wee hours as the pool filter blurbs and billows, benign and protective.
Wish I had a shoestring. What do I have? Rummaging in this paper bag, I find a bag of Fritos, a dollar twenty five in change, and a book of matches. Making do. I buy a single cigarette from the Circle K on the corner of Solano and Hadley, sit on the corner in the hot July evening. I eat the Fritos and go back inside for a cherry lime slurpee. Then back out on the curb, I smoke the cigarette and drink the slurpee and my tongue turns bright red. A white Chevy Nova pulls up at the corner and I kiss the boy in the driver’s seat with my bright red tongue, which is still cold. Then I run away into the dark alley behind the Circle K and lose him almost immediately. Ten minutes pass, then twenty, and I walk back to the Circle K for another cigarette. They are three cents apiece. I now have a paper bag, 45 cents, and no place to sleep tonight. It is 1 a.m. and the streets are still hot. I can see moths and fireflies banging against the streetlight in the parking lot. I put the cigarette out and save the butt in an empty pack, then walk down Hadley three blocks, four, til I come to a small square park with a bandstand in a summer pagoda. It is the only building lit this time of night. The boy is there, waiting for me, and we dance a polka on the raised stage. There are still flowers in early summer, not worn and dry like everything else here will be by August. We sit on the steps at the edge of the stage; we can both see the fourth of July from here, still three weeks away. We lean back and look up at the sky and the stars are fireworks, shooting up into the deep forever and bursting. Thousands of shooting stars bursting and showering the night, comet tails leaving a bright, trailing signature. We sleep in the Nova that night, him in the front seat sitting up, me in the back with a trunk blanket on the floorboards in case of a chilly dawn. In the morning, we drive to the Denny’s to wash our hands and faces, and order coffee, and fill my purse with crackers and jelly packets and a bottle of catsup for later. Then we go back to the Circle K for a cigarette, which we share. Later, we will either go back home, or find another place to stay, or do the same thing again tonight.
Be happy, precious five
Be happy, precious five.
Five fingers, five toes.
Five days in a work week.
Five acres, five dreams
Dreamt in a night of coupling
Uncoupling, dreamt in a night
Of sweat and a morning of worry.
The snow coming late, left early
And everything is dry:
Grass, air, trees, eyes, and dry is a crisp
Threat calling sparks from the sky.
I am counting on my five
Fingers, five toes, counting on
Rain, counting on clouds piling up over
There, over there, purple and heavy,
Pregnant like cattle in this late spring.
We are overdue, it is past time.
I am counting the days til the rains begin.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Until then, I cannot afford to breathe. Hail Mary,
Hail Mary, send us hail, send us rain,
send us rain. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
(Three prompts: “Summer” 10 minutes; “Making do on a shoestring” 20 minutes; “Precious Five” – W.H. Auden – 10 minutes.)