June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
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It’s a summer day. Early summer. Maybe Mid-June. Everything smells like freshly mown grass and the sky is the color of my dress.
I am eight years old.
I am waiting in the barn, and I’m nervous. As nervous as an eight-year-old can be, I expect. My little body is overwhelmed with feeling. I close my eyes and envision a warm, bright light filled with electrifying, vibrating little dots. The light is filling me up and dancing through my heart and shaking my knobby knees. I smile. My lips are trembling.
It’s the unmistakable noise of the boy next door. I can hear grass crunch beneath his feet. Freshly mown grass. And the panting. In my head Mrs. Douglas says, “For God’s sake, Bobby, keep your tongue in your mouth! You’re not a damned dog!” Always the bright pink, lolling tongue bouncing around by his chin as he runs. Runs downtown to the market. To the chicken coop. To the barn in which I’m standing. I remember being utterly fascinated by that tongue. There was always this insane desire to just reach out and touch it. See what it felt like. Run by finger across the little bumps. Stick mine out and compare.
The vibrating little dots have invaded my brain. It’s buzzing with the force of a million watt bulb. I remember the fire of two summers ago, the one that almost destroyed the barn. I imagine the fire gobbling away at first my eyes, than my mouth, than my heart. I get the weirdest image of a tongue lying amongst the hay. “That’s all that was left of her,” they’ll say remorsefully to my father, handing over the little pink tongue. “By the way, not nearly as nice as the neighbor boy’s.”
It occurs to me that he must be near, very near now. The panting’s stopped, probably because he’s decided to examine an ant. Bobby never cared for all the other animals roaming around my father’s farm. He just liked to crawl around in the dirt and try to squeeze himself into ant holes. He stopped for a while after an army of fire ants put him in his proper place.
Then I hear the wooden door at the other end of the barn open, and he’s there. The neighbor boy. The boy next door. A little, dirty eight-year-old boy with sandy hair and a whole lot of freckles and a brilliant pink tongue wagging down by his chin. He’s got something behind his back, and I bet the entire crop of corn it’s some sort of bug to scare me. I’m jolted by the memory of Bobby quietly slipping a praying mantis into my hair. I smile, because I also remember beating him silly.
“Hey, ‘Lizabeth.” He says. He’s still careful about holding that bug behind his back. He steps into a slant of sunlight coming down from the hole in the roof. It’s only then I realize he’s red as a beet. My eight-year-old self interprets it as a side effect from the combination of running and heavy panting.
“Hi, Bobby.” I say. It’s usually around here that we’d awkwardly look at each other for a moment, and then take off running. We’d run up the sloping hill into the woods and play hide-and-sick, or attack-and-wrestle-to-the-ground. A lot of the time we went to a quiet little hill covered with flowers. We’d run across and a hundred butterflies would awaken and rise up around us and swirl, so all I could see was a blur of color and laughter. We’d spin and spin and then fall down beside each other, watching the butterflies follow each other to heaven.
I’m waiting for Bobby to start running. But instead he just shuffles his feet. He licks his lips with that tongue. He readjusts his hands behind his back. He shakes his head so that the sandy hair flies about and then rests again on his freckled forehead. And those vibrating dots are shaking so hard I think I might lift off the ground. I worry he’ll see me glowing. I try to silence them but they just buzz in anticipation, rattling my eyes and tickling my heart.
“This is for you.”
He’s extending a dandelion towards me. An old, dying dandelion. It droops mournfully. The bright yellow has turned to an ugly brown. The stem might disintegrate in his hand.
But it’s a rose.
It’s a rose, and not one you could buy down at the market on Sundays. It’s an other-worldly rose. The tips of the blood-red petals are shining, glittering like diamonds, like it’s been encrusted with jewels. And it’s magic, too, this rose. The petals open and close, open and close, so that you can catch a glimpse of a world beyond. You can look in and be swept away, down into a land that’s not your own. Like traveling inside an ant hole.
And it wasn’t like I was really seeing a dandelion and, swept up by the current of a young first love, decided instead to see a rose. Because I was seeing a rose. A beautiful, beautiful rose, and I imagined staring at it forever. There was this insane desire to touch it, to reach my hand out and see what it felt like, run my finger along the petals and feel the softness, the vulnerability of the beauty.
And so I step forward and I accept my rose like the Queen. Not the Queen of England, but the Queen of this Noble Barn. On a mid-June summer day that smelled like grass and had a sky the color of my dress.
And I lean forward, not on my tippy-toes, but just with the force of love, I suppose. Like a rock leaning towards the sea. And my little eight-year old lips touch another little eight-year-old’s lips. And my whole being explodes and rattles and shakes like the sun exploding. Like the birth of a New World.
And little Bobby’s tongue just drooped there like a pretty pink petal.