The Static of Summer

Irma would never forget the look on the people’s faces as they lifted her grandfather up. Disgust; anger; fear; worst of all, pity. Grandfather had been an able handed man for eighty six years. Pity was for the weak. Pity was for those who no one remembered.

It had been a record breaking summer day. School was out. Sunlight torched  the sidewalk. To walk outside, barefoot or not, on this concrete, was to acquire a coltish limp. Irma had done it anyways. The trick was to step on sandals made of sponges, tied with soft twine salvaged from the produce aisle.

Behind her, Grandfather was moving, albeit slowly. He wavered, the way piles of sand did in the documentaries, shaped and reshaped by the wind.

The desire to talk tugged Irma all the way out the door, but she stayed silent. They were worn out by the heat. The grocery store was just straight down, but Irma had counted that it was still ten blocks before they could reach the ice cream.

Half a block ago, Irma had excitedly engaged her grandfather with a fragment of a seashell she had found on someone’s lawn. She had pressed it in his hand, both of which were equally wrinkly, and closed his fingers around it. “Is this from the ocean?” she had breathed. “How did it get here?”

Her grandfather had gently pried her hands open and squinted at the pale moon shaped fragment. “Irma, it is definitely from the ocean. It is a sign that you and I will move near the water.” Then he turned his hand over, transferring the shell back into her hand. “Keep it safe. When we get there we will place it on the mantle.”

Irma kicked her feet extra high the rest of the block. A shell! The sea! They were nowhere near shells, nowhere near the sea. Her grimy neighbourhood stank of underground and concrete and heavy things. The thing closest to the sea was the neighbourhood pool, which Irma was only allowed to go once every special occasion. “Ripthroat”, as grandfather muttered under his breath when he thought Irma wasn’t listening.

She considered smashing a hole into it and some strong, wax-like string, maybe the kind they used to tie vegetables together in the produce aisle, and wear the medal around her neck. She had not decided yet whether she should keep it out for all to see, or tuck it under her shirt, where she could feel its touch.

At the moment, she rubbed to feel its presence in her pocket. The question of whether they should continue their walk from the posh neighbourhoods to the corner shops was on the tip of her tongue when something in the air changed. It was as if the dense, heated air had been suddenly become superheated, their neighbourhood placed on a pan and heat turned up.

She heard a hacking cough, and wobbled in her step. Her eyes snapped to her grandfather; it was reflexive. “Grandfather!” All she received in reply was a low moaning groan. He was clutching his chest, and suddenly for Irma the neighbourhood became a maze.

Somehow, her feet carried her towards a door.

“Who is it?”

Irma still had her eyes on her grandfather, who was now lying on the sidewalk, and nearly pounded her fist into the empty air where the door had once been, the air where a frightened face now peered at her as if she were wearing an astronaut helmet and asking for carrots.

“Did my secretary send you here? That-”

Then her face closed and reopened, fish gills breathing, when she saw Grandfather choking on the sidewalk over the shoulder. To Irma, the white, painting-studded walls rippled and she yearned to jump into their depths and cool off.

“David, we’ve got an emergency on our hands!”

The clamour that followed lulled Irma into a haze. An ambulance, which reminded irma of a refrigerator turned onto it side, on wheels, arrived on the scene. People in white jumped onto the concrete as if magnetized. Irma stayed rooted to the spot, a few meters away. A shorter man in white rushed up to her.

“Are you his granddaughter?”

“Does this bus go to the sea?” Irma asked, latching onto the paramedics arms.

“Shhhh. Your grandfather will be okay,” the man replied, his shoulder squeeze firm and warm. “ Will you come with me? The ride will be fun, I promise.”

When Irma seemed to resist, her body turning towards the grocery store, waiting for the paramedics to give her grandfather some magical oxygen and walk away with her to continue their usual journey, the paramedic tugged a balloon out of his pocket and began to blow. To Irma, his arms crossed and recrossed like pretzels, but the end result was a tense red donut shaped creation.

“Here you are! Now, can we get on the bus?” He offered the balloon to her.

“What is that?” Irma turned the foreign object in her hand. “A jelly donut? You are not very good.”

“It’s a buoy,” the paramedic winked. “The kind used to save people from drowning. A lifeguard taught me. Now, the bus?”

Excitedly, Irma pulled out her sea shell fragment. “Like from the sea? I have a something from the sea, too! It’s a sign. Grandfather says we’re going.”

Static buzzed from the paramedic’s pocket. “Radio in. I’m getting her, she’s calm now,” Irma heard distantly. “Yes, we’ll have to tell her later.”

She thought she saw pity in his face. Irma didn’t understand. After they gave Grandpa a rest, they would be on there way, planning to go to the beach. The heat was hot and still climbing. They could wait; she didn’t want to burn her feet on the sand, and she wanted to feel it, all the grains and seaweed like she saw in books, every grain in her hand.

Chrysalis

it happened with any warning at all. He was standing precariously with his body flush against the ladder. the paintbrush in his hand seemed to dance without his direction, moving with finesse around the intricate corners of the roof’s eave. Her face danced in the paint, created from the chiaroscuro of the half-hung lights and pulled his eyes into it without so much as a glance at him.

It was no longer the summer of such and such a year. The wobbling line that had crawled into the future, that was time, was vanquished like a fastly fading train track. Ricky was no longer the summer worker; the handyman painter; Ricky was the wingman, the oddball, the easy job. Still, Ricky was not without his plusses; Ricky had earned the nickname “Bricky”, for admirable reasons pertaining to his body. The reason was solely that Ricky wished to shed the identity that had been fostered on him-”Oh, that genius-what a weakling!”-an identity that Laura didn’t share an admiration for. Dicky became Bricky over the summer with the help of Ricky’s older brother. His old identity had melted away as forgetfully as did years now.

In his mind, Laura’s image was shimmering towards him. He could feel the heat intensely on his skin, though whether it was the sun or his own nervousness, he himself could not tell. Inside, he was the same doughy, smart alec kid he had been for the last  seventeen years of his life. The terror that arose in him, of being unable to own the actions of his body, or, worse, to somehow have all his hard work undone in front of his eyes, chose to at the inconvenient moment undo his resolve. Ricky bolted. A shadow passed over him before he dared to look up again. There Laura had come-and there she had gone. No matter where Ricky looked, Laura was gone. Ricky dusted off his knees and kicked his sore legs home.

Later at night, when the heat had left his body, Ricky lay wide awake, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He did not seem to see the stain in the uneven surface that had been above him for all the time he had lain there. The air was still hot, too hot, but Ricky felt himself reaching for the comfort of his blanket. He was not cold, exactly; the memory of Laura’s face and the short lived excitement of finally approaching her in the best way possible was like an ember smouldering in his chest. It was more that his entire body felt like a trembling shell, an egg about to hatch that had just let in the first tendril of air and touched the shivering chick inside. Ricky as of yet still felt unhatched. No matter how many bench presses he did, nothing would change that.

He must have fallen asleep, but he did not remember it. There were many things he didn’t remember after that. When he woke up, the sound of multiple metallic clatters swallowed the half-wisps of a name. The clattering was followed by a spike in volume of human voices, a roomful of voices that crowded like a threat in Ricky’s tiny room, his tangled bedsheet cocoon. He jumped up, wide awake, and fell. His veined, muscled legs were useless in the tangled cocoon. Had he been screaming? The pain that Ricky felt far surpassed the knock he had incurred to his head. He wished to be bundled off in his bedsheets to somewhere far away where the pain would stop. All he could hear was the screaming on the TV that he wished would stop. That was the last word he heard: Laura. From: Laura has been kidnapped. If only the screaming would stop.

Ricky’s world became silent. It might as well become black and white, too. He lost hearing in one ear, temporarily, but he could not hear where it mattered most. They put the TV to his right side, his bad side, in hopes of triggering it to life once again. Laura’s mom always stood a little bit to the right, where his right eye had swollen shut. Her image came to him through a pinhole, blurry as her voice. Was she sniffling, or was it his ear, fluttering? As hard as Ricky tried to recover, the same strokes regretfully marked his chart: awaiting recovery.

His muscles wasted. There was something sad about the fact that his body did not match the pallid blue of his hospital gown, so he strove to match it. There was another’s it strove to match: Laura’s. If she did not need food, he did not need food. But he was not delusional: he kept the two of them separate. Laura could no longer see his body, and so his body was no longer needed. He was discharged when he was found that no better recovery plan could be better than an action plan.

Back at home, he would replay the tapes of Laura’s mom’s pleas, over and over, until the batteries ran out on his laptop. Then he would do the minimum physiotherapy required of him, the maintenance of a body required to keep his senses sharp, in order to review Laura’s case more. Laura had disappeared a few moments after he had ducked behind a bush and reappeared on the other side hoping to get a glance of her rear view. She was alleged to be kidnapped by her divorced father. Ricky was pretty sure that she was gone.

It was time to graduate. Ricky had to decide-to work, or to go to school? There was a third option that laid unspoken in his mind: to continue the investigation of Laura. His hearing and eyesight had returned full force and he had never felt sharper before. Over the summer, instead of working a steady job, Ricky travelled over the province, with never more than a ticket and some money in his hand. These were places Laura had allegedly been seen. These were places Ricky could disappear behind a bush and reappear in a world Laura roamed and time would forgive any trespassing.

There were, of course, no results. Everyone expected Laura to fade from the minds of the newly fledged freshmen. Except Ricky. Ricky remained where he was, folded into a non majestic job where the days seemed to unfurl each morning, ready made, one day ending in the appearance of Laura.

He was not entirely unhappy painting other people’s rooms all day, every day. it was not truly a monotony-sometimes he was outdoors, sometimes he was indoors. He heard things. He was a fly on the wall, a secret correspondent. In his mind, he had never given up his search at all, and his parents were satisfied that he was saving up for college and no longer flitting across the province.

He grew back into the rigor of expected performance. Whatever he was delegated he returned, and more. His body reformed, constantly reaching and pulling, reaching and pulling, covering every inch of untransformed wall into a new land. He understood why sailors surged to new lands, even when the going was rough, because the ardour of performance could easily become amour.

And now she was here, observing the last leg of his journey. The fine features of her face arose from the thin blue splatters of paint on the wall, like hieroglyphs painted on fine china. He was enamoured, he felt joy for the very first time, he was complete.

He was taking off his painting clothes, what was he doing? He dropped his shirt; he heard it outloud, “What are you doing?” His motley overcoat heaved loudly towards the ground. His fingers did not hasten to climb down the ladder and pick up the shirt but to unfasten his paint splattered overalls; underneath it was just him, and the thin layer of his street clothes, barely enough to keep him warm. Barely enough to contain himself.

“What are you doing?” There was it was again, the comical refrain that everyone wanted of him; Ricky wanted none of it. He quit. He smiled on, ridiculously.

“Go on, git! You’re fired!” Ricky grinned straight into his boss’s embedded-into-the-flesh raisin cookie eyes. Just what he wanted.  “I’ve had enough of you!” Ricky had not had enough.

She was not alone, he was with her. For once, Ricky not strain to keep his body from peeling away from the ladder. He did not feel that pull, that abyss, that had been waiting for him to fall all those years. His boss’s anger seemed to double upon itself, thicken the air, creating a meringue. She was there, he was there. He clutched the ladder and shivered as the photograph of her face shuddered in his mind, fading fast. If he let go, it’d be gone forever.

He clung on.