It’s the dog days of summer in the Piedmont — late July, early August. That point where the novelty of summer has worn off. I’m tired of the neighborhood kids; I just want to see my school friends. Too many games of flashlight tag that end in pointless fights, too many profitless lemonade stands. The water in the pool is the exact same temperature and humidity dew point as the air — no longer refreshing. The North Carolina humidity is oppressive, and street after identical street of repeating brick, colonial-style houses trap the imagination within their bounds.
I’m eleven. I lie on my back in the middle of my backyard. It’s so hot and humid, I don’t want to move even an inch. It’s mid-afternoon, past the peak heat of the day, but still several hours off from the evening thunderstorms that will offer a small respite from the heavy stillness that permeates.
I lie on on my back in the middle of the yard. A grassy lawn divided from the woodsier, pine-straw covered part of the yard by a border of creeping lily. Trees tower overhead, dappling the yard in shade. Mostly long-leaf pines, of course, but a smattering of oaks as well. A few baby pine trees sprouted in the woodsy area this spring, but I don’t think they’ll grow to adulthood. This is suburbia; we control our natural environment.
The grass is scratchy and dry on my bare shoulders and legs. Although thunderstorms sweep in nearly every night, they hardly ever bring rain. Just the atmosphere relieving the tension. So, the grass is dry and yellowing. The air doesn’t smell of freshly cut grass and loamy soil, as one might suspect. Instead it smells like midsummer in Carolina — the dry, hay-like scent of dead grass and the always-damp smell of hard, red clay earth. If there were a breeze, it might carry with it the scent of pine and dogwood. But it’s as still as death. And hot as hell.
I’m lying in the middle of the yard because Mom sent me outside. Apparently, “it’s good for” me. I can’t sit on the deck because the screened-in porch is technically “inside,” and the wooden slats of the flooring are too hot to touch. Plus, it’s kind of depressing, being wedged between the gas grill and the wilted, dead tomato plant. I’d lie closer to the porch, in the shadow of the house, but I’m afraid of the black widow spiders that my brother claims are hiding behind the wheelbarrow and the other lesser-used yard maintenance tools (We don’t “garden,” we just “maintain,” because, like I said, this is suburbia). The pine needles of the woods are sappy and they stick to my sweaty back. Thus, I find myself lying in the center of the yard, on a patch of withered grass.
The porch door creaks on its hinges. Somewhere down the street a car revs up and whips out of a driveway way too fast. Probably a teenager testing the limits of his provisional driver’s license. A dog barks in the distance. Otherwise all is quiet and still.
My cutoff jeans chafe my day-old sunburn uncomfortably. A single bead of sweat slips down my back, in the gap between my shoulder blades. My tank top doesn’t quite fit right these days, as a shadow of my soon-to-be breast distort my known body shape. Too many things are changing too quickly. But I’m eleven, and I want to force that change. I’ve finished one year of middle school and I already know it’s the worst. Maybe if I can force these changes, it won’t suck so much.
My tank top is from Old Navy — the kid’s section — but I claim it’s from Aeropostale. I’m a runty kid, still too small to fit into “junior’s” sizes that all the cooler middle schoolers are wearing. We were friends in elementary school, but something changed over the last year, but I don’t know what; it wasn’t me. I want to fit in, so I do what any self-respecting eleven-year-old would do. I lie about where my clothes came from.
Three bracelets woven from colorful embroidery floss encircle my skinny wrist, evidence of a summer-boredom-buster project. My bare feet are tough from walking around the scorching hot, cement pool deck without shoes all summer. A dog-eared, well-loved copy of the first Baby Sitter’s Club book lies just out of reach. Maybe I’m not as ready to be adult as I profess to be.
I open my eyes and look straight up. The sky is a blinding, beautiful Carolina blue. A few wispy clouds dot the skyscape, but nothing substantial enough to block out the blazing white sun. I’m bored and have been rendered lethargic by the heat. Moving makes the suffocating heat worse, so I don’t.
My best friend is on vacation on Bald Head Island with her family this week. My other best friend goes to the year-round school and is tracked-in this week. There hasn’t been a dance choreographed to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” in over a week. Nor has there been a stupid, pointless eleven-year-old girl fight. I can’t remember the last time I’ve got this long without crying hot, angry tears as I fought with my best friends over who would get to be in the front of the music video. It’s been quite a dull week.
My little sister doesn’t get home from soccer camp for at least another hour. But when she does, the silent spell will be broken. She’ll come find me to play with her, but also to goad me into picking a fight. At least it will be interesting. But for now, I lay completely motionless in the hot, humid, oppressive, sunny, blazing, still afternoon, as sweat drips from my temple onto the dry, itchy, dead grass.