Occasionally we have them in Maine, days laden with the scent of honeysuckle, scattered with birdsong, shot through with the low hum of bees. So damn hot and sticky, say the natives, unbearable. They swipe their foreheads, look around in shock, keep pressing. The first genuinely warm day in three years, I say, a day when my muscles are relaxed and my bones loose, when my hair goes thick and wavy, when the creases at my elbows and knees gleam. Sweat tickles my right calf, and my back is slick, caressed by my soaked shirt. I walk like I’m in a wading pool. I take my time.
There were weeks of days like this growing up in Carolina. Weeks when nothing happened but anything was possible, everything was in the making. The air pregnant with expectation—that’s why it felt so heavy. The color of the grass, sun flashing on the water, the sky. Overbright, everything. Overfull. It’s coming. He’s coming.
Not on a day like this but the day after, a few days later. The next week. I can’t remember exactly when. I just know it was after a heat wave—always after, when legs are brisk again, the air is too stirred by activity to settle on the shoulders, in the small of the back. In the middle of doing, he appeared on the front porch, clutched in his fist a pillowcase with a few clothes in it, some gum. He was chastened, the promise was practiced, and she let him in.
That last time he stayed long enough to teach me how to make a fishing pole out of scrap wood, how to tell the harmless turtles from the snappers, how to grab a snake, quick, just behind the head.
You don’t know how to get the nectar out of honeysuckle? He was amazed, a girl so grown up. How’d you get so far along without knowing that? He picked a blossom, showed me how to grasp the tip of the stamen and pull it, carefully, gently, to release the tiny bubble of honey to your tongue.
Every once in a while we have a true-blue summer day in Maine. And when we do, I move through it at a Carolina pace, relaxed and hopeful, looking for butterflies, wishing I had a cool slice of watermelon so dark-pink ripe, like kissed lips. I’d trade everything in my pockets for a jug of lemonade with pulp stuck on the rim and fat chunks of ice that slap me in the face with every gulp. And I’d trade everything I’ve got for another lesson in how to pull the pure sweet out of something that lives in alleys and broken lots, that creeps into your yard, takes hold wherever it can. Unwanted and wild.
Claire Guyton is a writer, editor, and writing coach. Her fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Mid-American Review, River Styx, Sliver of Stone Magazine, and elsewhere. She has been a Maine Arts Commission Literary Fellow and earned her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts.