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The summer I was ten began like every summer I could remember—long, idle days spent in the field behind the factory way over on the other side of town where they stamped metal parts for small kitchen appliances, mostly squeezers and grinders. Generations of speeding feet had worn a crude baseball diamond into the dull, brown dirt. I was small and always picked last; positioned in the high grass of left field. I was afraid of the shushing grass; of the bees, snakes, and mice it concealed.
One afternoon, early in the summer though the Texas sun had already scorched the field grass white, I came home, surprised to see my grandparent’s car parked at the treeless curb, frying like an egg in a pan. I thought they’d gone to Oklahoma; that’s what they’d said when they came by that morning to talk to mom. I could see them through the screen door sitting alone in the kitchen at the back of our flat, sweltering house.
“C’mon in here, Luke. Your grandpa and me wanna talk to you.”
I went in, dragging my toes across the linoleum to hear the squeak.
“Your mama has gone to a summer camp for grown-ups across county, Luke. Camp Rehab. We’ll be living here with you, son.”
Nothing much changed for me, except my grandparents didn’t need me to make drinks or light cigarettes. I still went to the field everyday but now I met up with older boys who lit matches and threw them into the parched grass. My job was to stamp out the fire before it spread.
Then, late one August afternoon, mom was at the kitchen table when I came home. She sat limply in the stifling afternoon; one hand wrapped around a glass of water while the other looked as though it had fallen to her lap from a great height. Grandma was watching her, a hard look on her face.
Grandma patted the chair beside mother. I dropped into it. Mother didn’t look at me. She stared at the surface of the table where her hand gripped the sweating glass of water and I noticed for the first time some brown Rx bottles with her name on them. Grandpa got up and, pulling a carton of ice cream from the freezer, scooped some into aluminum bowls. Still, nobody said anything.
My grandparents shot sidelong glances at me and whispered a few words under their breath, then got up to leave. I followed to the screen door. They stopped at the curb to wave goodbye. Then climbed into the Buick my mother called The Boss Hog.
Mother fished a capsule out of the Rx bottle and pulled it apart, emptying the contents into a big spoon. Then she poured melted ice cream into the mix and stuck it out until it almost touched my mouth.
I parted my lips and swallowed.
“You climb up here and kiss your mama.”
published 25 May 2011
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