Baby You Summertime Fine
They meet at camp.
He gets the counselling job through an email list for students looking to find work. He sees that the camp pays well and he gets the job after a short phone interview.
When he sees Her, he is devastated. He has a girlfriend back at school, a redheaded history major from Ohio, but this is different. This is true love.
They have dinner together in a sea of shrieking campers. She tells him everything about herself. She’s studying comparative literature.
Comparative literature. He rolls the words around on his tongue. He thinks it makes the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard, except for Her name.
She has a younger brother and two dogs. She used to have fish, but they all died, and Her dad helped send their souls up to Heaven by letting them go in the brook behind Her childhood home.
What about you, She says. I’ve just been talking and talking.
My parents could never afford to send me to camp, he tells Her. This is my first time doing anything like this.
I grew up coming here, She replies. It’s Paradise.
He tells Her he went kayaking with the outdoor club at school and now he’s leading the kayaking expedition. They set off in four days.
She’s staying at camp to run the jewellery-making workshop. She’ll make him a ring. Rings are the easiest thing for Her to make. She’s blushing. Someone died on the kayaking trip a few years ago, She says. Be careful.
He barely hears Her. Instead he watches Her lips move, the fluorescent light glance off Her hair.
They sleep together the night before he leaves for the expedition.
He’s inside Her, moving slowly. Her eyes are closed. You should bring extra snacks. Everyone does it. She whispers facts about the camps and the woods and then slips the ring She made him on his finger. He thinks it’s beautiful, almost as beautiful as She is.
He leans back and sees Her haloed in moonlight, the trees branching behind Her like angel wings. He rolls on top of Her so that She can be prostrate on the moss, his wood nymph. When She opens Her eyes they reflect the starlight.
The kayaking expedition runs two weeks and he thinks about Her every second. No one dies, though he worries he might die of longing. Every night he sits by the water and eats peanuts that She snuck him the morning before he set off. They taste salty, like Her.
The expedition ends and they return to camp. Shrieking pre-teens run in circles around his cut-up legs, laughing and chanting inside jokes from the trip. He feels like the whole thing was a long dream.
Seeing Her will be real life. She isn’t waiting for him, which he thinks is strange. She isn’t at dinner that night. She isn’t at the bonfire or in the girls’ cabins.
He goes to Timmy, the head counsellor. Timmy is smoking by the lake. Timmy frowns and blows smoke rings.
Either you’re fuckin’ with me, Timmy says, or somebody was fuckin’ with you.
Timmy looks disappointed when his smoke rings go unacknowledged. He doesn’t offer a hit.
Running through the woods. The clearing where they slept together. Silver moss, dipped in moonlight. Dew on the grass. A lonely wildflower, the same white as the stars. He worries he’s being punished for something he forgets doing, some childhood sin. He sleeps on the moss, curled around the flower. He wakes with the pink dawn, his lips wet.
On the last night of camp he goes to the dance with his hair slicked back. One piece keeps falling in his eyes. He tosses his head. He needs to see.
There are the pre-teens from the kayaking trip, their faces twisted in demonic expressions of glee. He sees other pre-teens, beautiful girls, with silver rings glinting on their fingers, catching rainbows from the disco ball. Explosions of purple and green.
Where did you get that. Who made that for you.
The girls back away. Some laugh at him. Finally an ugly one, a redhead, whispers in his ear. It’s my grandmother’s, she says. My grandmother gave this to me.
He turns away and is accosted by yellow lights, now strobe. The DJ is playing sad music, eighties hits, because that’s what kind of camp this is.
To Timmy. He’s outside smoking.
Timmy, he says, did someone die on the kayaking trip a few years ago. It’s very important that you tell me this.
What are you talking about, man. You gotta relax.
This time Timmy does offer a drag.
Please, Timmy. Please.
Timmy blows smoke rings. They dissolve in the moonbeams.
This is my first year here. They didn’t tell me anything about that.
He runs to the main office. It’s shuttered, draped in tinsel for the dance. On the stairs, smoking, a girl.
Did somebody die here, he asks. The girl looks up at him. Teeth outlined in blood.
No, she says. Nobody ever dies here. It’s Paradise. Haven’t you heard?
He realizes she’s being ironic. It’s one of the pre-teens, though she looks older. He should probably take away her cigarette. He realizes the blood around her teeth is the light from the mosquito lamp reflecting off the tinsel. It’s not real blood. It’s a trick of the light.
A few years ago, he says. Did. Someone. Die. On the kayaking trip.
I’m pretty sure the kayaks are new this year. I’m pretty sure Nora bought them from this guy Pablo.
He sits on the stairs with the pre-teen. He holds out his hand for her cigarette. He takes a drag.
The fireflies are out tonight. He hands the cigarette back.
He walks to the lake. It smells like pot, but Timmy isn’t there. The surface is velvety blue. It looks like it would be soft.
Someone, somewhere, is burning peat moss. He can smell it on the wind. His feet are sinking in the silt. Summer is over.
The first time he’s back in bed with the redheaded history major from Ohio is the first time he forgets his wood nymph. It’s only for a second, but it happens. Afterward he lies frozen and panting, stomach damp, and he remembers. He springs from the bed and runs naked to the hall bathroom. In the mirror the ring on his left middle finger is pulsing with light and colour.
When he gets back to the history major’s room he tells her he can’t do this anymore. At first she’s upset, but then she’s angry.
I could have fucked a lot of guys over the summer. But I didn’t. I waited for you.
He feels nothing. He shrugs. Why, he says.
Because I love you.
You don’t know what love is.
He leaves her naked and crying, rising from the foamy white bedsheets. She has her youth and beauty. He doesn’t feel bad.
He tries to go to class. He tries to masturbate. He tries to eat. The full moon comes and She calls to him through the window. He climbs down the side of the building, his feet catching on loose stones. He bathes in her light. He sleeps on a mossy patch of the quad, his toes dipping in dew. He wakes with the golden dawn.
One night he doesn’t sleep and just before dawn he steals a friend’s car and drives to Middlebury. He wanders the grounds looking for Her, stumbling through a maze of smiling students in sweaters and knee socks. A girl wearing Tevas looks like Her but the her hair isn’t as luminous, as perfect.
He heads to the administrative building and gives Her name.
Sorry, sir. We can’t offer you that information.
He screams. He cries. He is escorted from the premises. Two blondes in drug rags giggle behind their hands. They smell like Sandalwood. Enchanting. It doesn’t work on him.
He gets back in the car. He hasn’t slept in a long time.
Eventually someone makes him go to the campus psychiatrist. A nice man with woven portraits of tigers on his walls prescribes several orange bottles of pills.
Another eventually and he forgets everything.
He eats strawberry yogurt for breakfast. He goes out for pizza and drinks with his friends from class. He joins a club, then a fraternity. He watches two freshman girls kiss in someone’s mouldy hot tub and feels nothing except a vague tiredness.
He apologizes to the redhead. He brings geraniums, breath of blush pink. They reminded him of springtime, before everything became hazy; but they only made him feel that way for a moment, and then they stopped making him feel anything at all.
Highway in Madagascar
by Biswadarshan Mohanty
... From a shed by a highway, / parents feigning smiles / under tattered straw hats sell vegetables ...
by Marina Carreira
... remind me / that life is suffering and skirmish and strolls through a garden // girdled with beauty ...