– shadow of the day

Shadow of the Day
by Susan Pogorzelski

It was cooler outside now that evening had come, but as I opened the back door, I could feel the thick film of humidity that still clung to the air. The sun would still be up until way past eight, but already in the distance the sky was beginning to change color, grow a golden shade of darker. Marmalade scooted behind me to run in the yard, grabbing a ball in his mouth and tossing it up in the air excitedly in a self-made game of catch. His thick blonde tail wagged back and forth before he stretched out his front paws and collapsed to the grass to chew on the tennis ball. There would be green pieces of that ball all over the yard tomorrow, I guaranteed it. And I silently hoped that Audrey would be the one to have to clean it.

I hopped down the back steps and found my sneakers, still damp from having to rinse them off this afternoon. All of the loose dirt had pooled into the grass, leaving only stains on the once white shoes. I dropped them to the ground and ran back inside. Audrey had promised me her old sneakers, after all.

“You helping out your old man?”

“Dad, you’re not old.” I rolled my eyes as I crossed the yard, watching him scoop the dark soil with a small shovel, a black plastic flat of ready-to-plant flowers lying next to him.

Through the open window, I could hear Mom moving around to clear the table and the ceramic clanking as she piled the dirty dishes in the sink. The familiar echo of a basketball caught my attention, and as I turned my gaze down the block towards the Bartlett driveway, Connor looked up and caught me watching. I felt my cheeks grow warm and I raised my hand in a wave, but he whirled around, his back towards me, and shouted something to his brothers before catching the pass and attempting a shot, ignoring me and continuing his game. I quickly turned my attention back to the flower bed, the smile fading quickly from my lips, focusing on the flowers ready to be planted. I caught Dad following my glance across the street before focusing back on me.

“Let’s get these guys into the ground, what do you say?”

The flowers beside him were already wilting, the creases in the petals more like wrinkles. I wondered if the weatherman included flowers in his warnings of heatstroke. Then I wondered if they could be revived at all.

“Mr. Snavely’s been watering his everyday, but they won’t grow,” I said, kneeling beside him, the grass feeling cool beneath my bare knees. I glanced through the post fence that divided our yard from our neighbors. His prized flowers looked just as pathetic as ours, and I somehow felt satisfied.

“Even Mr. Snavely can’t control the weather.” Dad said, handing me a shovel and pointing to a spot in front of me. “And he doesn’t have an assistant.”

I watched my dad, who was scooping the dirt back into place around a purple flower with his hands, patting the earth to compact the soil. I turned back to my own hole and methodically shoved more dirt onto a small pile.

“Why doesn’t Mom want me to go see Grandma?”

“I think she’s just trying to protect you.”

“Protect me from what?”

“Grandma’s…Well, she’s sick.”

“So?” I asked, picking out a rock in the hole I had created. “She’s been sick for years.”

Dad paused, shaking the dirt from his hands. “She might not be the Grandma you remember, Annie.”

“Of course she is, she’s my Grandma.”

I knew I was being defiant, but I didn’t understand what they were trying to protect me from. My argument was full-proof — she had lived with us since I was a baby. Was I supposed to forget her just because she’d been in a nursing home for the past two years? And why did Audrey get to see her, but I suddenly couldn’t?

Dad finally turned to me, and for a split second, I could see him struggle with his answer as his lips parted and closed, could see the seriousness in his expression as similar colored eyes met my own. For a second, I saw myself in him.

“Anna, she might not remember you.”

I looked down at my hands, turned them over. Dirt had gotten underneath my fingernails and stained my palms. I wiped them on the back of my shorts and sat back. Dad turned back to the garden, pulled a flower out of the plastic container and handed it to me, a block of dirt and exposed roots waiting to be put back into the earth.

“Do you want to come play?”

I looked up, squinting against the brightness of the cloudless sky and setting sun. Connor’s form cast strange shadows over the flowers, and I wondered if that’s all the flowers needed to last — a bit of shade from the heat of the sun.

“We’re playing Capture the Flag — the whole neighborhood.”

I tried to bite back a hopeful grin as I turned to my dad, but he chuckled and nodded and went back to his task.

“She’s in!” Connor’s shoes slapped against the pavement and his words echoed back as he ran down the street towards his house, where a small group of neighborhood kids had already begun to gather.

“Can I really?” I asked, wondering if there was a catch, if I should stay to make up for playing in the creek and muddying my shoes.

“You can, really,” he replied, taking the shovel from my hands. I threw my arms around him before hopping to my feet, brushing my hands against the sides of my shorts to get rid of the thin layer of dirt.

“Be a kid, Annie.”

I paused. “What?”

Dad nodded as he picked up the small shovel, and for a second I wondered if his words were meant more for him or for me.

“Tonight, just be a kid.”

And he turned back to the withering flowers, placing them back into the earth, scooping the soil into place around them with his hands. The sky had turned a color that I didn’t recognize, casting a glow over the yard that filled every inch with color, reaching the shadowed corners and bringing them to life for the moment, the lingering remains of the setting sun. I started towards the group that had gathered near the Bartlett’s house, but Dad’s voice stopped me.

“Don’t forget to invite your sister.”

I groaned.

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1 Comment

  1. defygravity84 said,

    Ok, I’m entranced. What happens next?

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