First published in The Changing Image, 2013
Winner, 3rd Place Adult Prose, Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards
It was the kind of day that clings to your belly. Sticky-sticky, like candy floss melting in its bag. The kind of day when Beulah our fat mutt crawls into the chicken run to lie in the dust ditch under the avocado tree.
The chickens clucked and flapped their wings at her but she yawned and closed her eyes and wouldn't budge. Even the air yawned for the whisper of a breeze. The chickens folded their wings behind their backs and shrank away. Flies swung between the swelling avocados.
Sammy and I spent all morning looking for garter snakes in the grass that was higher than our waists and scratchier than the big old scrub brush that grandma uses on me when she gets the mind to clean me up, even though I'm ten and can clean up by myself.
The snakes slunk around sneakier than the heat of the day, and we didn't see a single one, even though we knew they were there, slipping circles around our ankles and singing catch-me-if-you-can. Sammy said, Let's go bug Beulah instead. But I said so long as we were in the grass we should make a fort that would last all summer and fall and even through the winter. I showed him how, by knotting the tips of the grass together.
Inside the grass fort the heat couldn't melt so easily into our skin. We lay down side by side on our elbows. I said, We ought to get some cool lemonade and bring it here.
Sammy got a grin on his face like a field mouse with a funny secret. After a while he said, Have you ever kissed a boy?
He said, Are you scared to?
He stuck out his lips like they were a pair of cool ice pops or something else that I might like to glue to.
He didn't taste like ice pops, or even salty like skin, not that I was hoping he would. It didn't make his mouse smile go away neither, though. He kept on grinning until grandma hollered across the yard for lunchtime.
When we came in grandma said, You kids fetch an avocado for me from the tree.
Usually our rooster crows and kicks at people when they go into the run and I've got to bring the rake to fight him, but with Beulah snoozing there in the ditch I told Sammy he wouldn't make a stir. The avocados were full and black, bigger than my hands. It was just a little tree that grandma and I planted from a seed when I was five, and it was dragged down so low from the weight of its fruit that its leaves brushed against the earth like tired fingers reaching over the side of a canoe.
There was a fruit lying on the ground already, that was darker than the rest and had some brown spots on it. Some flies were hanging over it, and it had a crack in its skin where it had hit the ground when it fell. I told Sammy to pick it up, but in case grandma found worms in it I decided to grab another fruit off the tree. I chose the highest one I could reach and twisted it off quick without pulling it, so as not to shake any of the others.
After lunch grandma had to take Sammy home. She said she wanted to see the dishes clean when she came back, but not to use up half the bottle of soap like I did last time.
I made the water real sudsy, anyways.
When I was done I thought I ought to take some cool lemonade to mama in her bedroom.
She was lying in the bed like yesterday, and her hair looked like oozy liquorice on her head and her arms. She was singing a song she used to sing to me a long time ago when I was a baby. I didn't want to stop her so I waited in the doorway.
The white bed sheet was twisted around her body from beneath her breasts down to the end of the bed like it wanted to pull her over the edge and onto the floor. I knew the sheet was hiding the place where her bump had fallen and crumpled. I thought about putting my hand over the place, like I did before when it was full and sweet and kicking.
The ceiling fan turned over the bed, slow as the day.
When mama was finished singing she didn't say anything so I walked over to the dresser and put the lemonade on top of it. Then I went outside again and sat in the dust ditch with Beulah.
Beulah's not the greatest companion since mostly she snores and farts because she's old but sometimes I like being with her anyways.
I guessed mama would stay in bed for a while.
I thought about if the heat had made the baby grow too big in mama's tummy.
Thinking about that made me close my eyes against the afternoon sun. It melted through my eyelids anyways, and all I could see was orange-red.
When I woke up grandma was carrying me through the yard and the sun was below the sky already. She didn't see me open my eyes, so I closed them again so that she would keep on carrying me.
I felt her put me down in the bed next to mama. Then the sound of her footsteps carried her into the kitchen. Mama's weight made me roll against her body that was warm as a murmur.
Mama put her hand on my head and started to sing again. Her breasts were sticky-sweet against my lips. I closed my eyes and let her cosset me.