– gold in the air of summer

Gold In The Air of Summer
by Susan Pogorzelski

“Look here, this one’s cool!”

I turned my attention to the object Connor was examining, trails of water trickling from my fingers and scattering down my legs where I had just splashed them. The weatherman had said that it was the hottest day of the summer and that all the kids and pets and elderly should stay indoors so that they didn’t croak from heatstroke. Dad left for work early, saying that at least his office was air conditioned, while Mom fenced our dog Marmalade in the front hall with a bowl of water, cranked the fan on high, and took Audrey shopping.

“Audrey needs new shoes for school,” she had said as she rooted through her purse. I watched her from my position on the couch, legs draped over the back, hair hanging down to the floor as I followed her movements upside down. She hated when I did that, but I was too hot to move and she was too tired to argue.

“Does that mean I can have her old ones?”

“As long as you don’t go playing in the creek with them.”

“Why not?” I asked, my eyes closed, lips barely moving as I spread my arms and relished the breeze from the rotating fan.

“Because.”

She grabbed the fan and plunked it down closer to the hallway; immediately, I noticed the lack of cold air as my hair began to frizz and my cheeks blotched at the humidity. I groaned and struggled to sit upright, elbows digging into the cushions to hold myself up.

“Why does Audrey get new shoes for school?”

“Anna…” She said my name like she was exhaling, her eyes raised towards the ceiling and her shoulders slightly hunched. I knew that gesture; I wondered if it was the heat getting to her.

“I’m just asking.”

She raised an eyebrow at me and then reached down to plug the fan into a closer outlet. Marmalade sniffed at the air as the blades began to whir again, his ears perking up at the steady creaking as the fan oscillated.

“You’ll get yours closer to school.” she said, gathering her things from the kitchen counter. “I don’t want you ruining them before the first day.”

“I wouldn’t ruin them,” I grumbled, but Mom was already making her way to the front of the house, shouting up the stairs for Audrey. I could hear my older sister’s footsteps padding on the carpet and the light pounce as she skipped the last step and landed on the hardwood floor.

“We’ll be back shortly,” Mom said as she opened the door, ushering in the hot air and shooing Audrey out. I sat up straighter and gaped at them over the back of the couch.

“What am I supposed to do here by myself?”

“Read. Or better yet, you can do the dishes for me.”

I stared at the door as it clicked shut; through the open windows, I could hear their voices gradually fade as they slammed the doors of the station wagon and backed into the street. The outside sounds were beginning to invade the house, creeping through the crevices like the heat. Our neighbor’s lawn mower growled as it moved closer to our yard, then pulled back, then crawled forward again. Further down the street I could hear the hard thud of a basketball hitting the pavement at intervals, an annoying rhythmic thump, thump, thump.

“Do the dishes…” I repeated under my breath. “Fat chance of that.”

I flipped my feet over and flopped back into the cushions, covering my eyes with my arm. In the hallway, Marmalade grunted and sniffed at the floor, his nails tapping on the hardwood as he circled the small space.

“I’m not cleaning it if you pee,” I called out to him and then, because I feared that he really would, I strained my neck and peered over the side of the couch to watch him. He stared at me, his ears perked; I raised my eyebrow, daring him. With a huff, he heaved himself onto the floor and nestled his nose into his hind quarters, the hum of the fan and the soothing rustle of his fur lulling him immediately to sleep.

I gritted my teeth and groaned. Nothing was on TV in the summer and the kids in my neighborhood were either at the beach with their families or at the community pool. Ava was away at camp, I had already poured through all of Audrey’s Judy Blume books, and there was no way I was touching dishes by choice on my summer vacation. If I didn’t die of heatstroke, then I would surely die of boredom.

“Stay here,” I instructed Marmalade, but he barely lifted his head as I opened the front door and stepped outside. The heat radiated on my skin as I walked down the driveway; already, the hair on my neck was wet with perspiration, and I wiped my palms on my shorts every few seconds to keep them dry.

Our next door neighbor had just set out his garden sprinkler so that now it waved back and forth, spilling out into the street before it sprayed the flowers and then turned over and repeated the pattern. His yard was mixed with patches of brown and green and the daisies surrounding his mailbox had withered in the heat, but still he set the sprinkler every morning, trying to revive them with expensive fertilizer and wasted water.

I waited for the sprinkler to rotate again, timing my run through the water. I let the droplets rest on my arms and legs, resisting the urge to shake them off. As I walked along the sidewalk, sidestepping the cracks, I could hear the echo of the basketball hitting the backboard, then thumping back to the pavement. The yard was littered with bicycles and wiffle balls, although Connor was the only one of the Bartlett boys outside. I sped up, my shoes kicking at the tiny stones that scattered the road, the worn soles of my shoes occasionally scuffing the asphalt.

“Where are you going?”

He stood at the end of his driveway rotating the basketball in both of his hands. His red shorts stood out against the contrast of his white house, and he stretched the front of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

“Where are you going?” He called across the street again, and I stopped, the hot, dead air choking me so that I could barely speak.

“The creek,” I pointed up the street where a row of trees lined the dead-end drive.

“Oh.” His gaze followed my gesture. I looked at him, looked back towards my own house, looked towards the end of the block. The heat rose in my face, and I wiped my palms on the backs of my shorts again. Maybe I was getting heatstroke; maybe I was going to croak like the weatherman predicted.

“Can I come?”

I shrugged and began walking again, picking up the pace as he tossed the basketball into the grass and jogged over.

We climbed up the small embankment to the trees and followed the path through the wheat field, our footsteps kicking up dry dust that seemed to evaporate as suddenly as it was formed. We reached the dense outline of oaks that followed the creek, and I stepped around the familiar rocks and upturned roots and hopped across the water. Reaching my hand beneath a fallen tree, I pulled out two colored objects.

“Here,” I said, tossing one to Connor.

“What is it?”

“It’s a sieve.”

“It looks like a kid’s toy.” He flipped the plastic pan over in his hands, trying to wiggle his fingers through the holes.

“It is. They’re from Ava’s brother’s sandbox.”

“You stole from a kid?”

“Borrowed…”

I grabbed the sand bucket and shovel and crouched down by the water, scooting my shoes to the very edge of the bank so that the leather tips barely skimmed the water.

“What are you doing now?” Connor eyed me carefully as I scraped at the soft earth below the water with the pan and brought it back up, mucky water trickling through as I patted the mud down with the back of the shovel.

“Panning for gold.”

Connor scoffed and shifted his weight onto his other foot, flipping the pan like he did his basketball. “There’s no gold in there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, scooping the dirt away with the edge of the shovel. “What do you call this?”

“A rock.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“No it’s not.”

I rolled my eyes and tossed the rock into the bucket. It made a hollow echo that lingered between us for a few seconds as I glared at him, my eyes narrowed as I squinted against the sunlight.

“You asked to come.”

“I was bored.”

I turned back to my pan, running the edge of the shovel back and forth against the dirt. Around us, the birds had settled back to the ground as they pecked at the sparse plots of grass, and a nosy squirrel darted in and out of the trees, running up the nearest one as Connor crouched down on the other side of the creek.

“So…” He looked at me doubtfully, then in one fluid motion plunged the plastic into the water, a grin lighting up his face as he began to poke at the mud with his fingers.

“Yup,” I said. “I told you so.”

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