That summer everyone was involved in a cause. Every street corner had someone holding a sign, telling you to be for or against something, sometimes both on the same corner. It was sweltering that summer. We stashed our freezer with popsicles and ate them on the stoop, while pigeons shat indiscriminately on the sidewalk. When we drove, we left pieces of skin on leather seats, browned our arms as we walked the sidewalks looking for a cause that suited us. We were young and cared about everything. We wanted to be in every protest, holding up signs, sweating through our shirts while we yelled at people to think just like we did. We were so passionate that we wanted to be on both sides, waving signs from across barriers at ourselves while chanting pithy slogans. We wanted to be a part of something larger, to shed our shells like crabs and slip into something new.
You wound up devoting yourself to poetry, and I wound up devoting myself to you. You’d lie awake at night reading Lorca, crying at certain passages, your night gown half-open—collarbone exposed. I'd run my fingers through your hair as if it were silk, as if it were rain, as it were a loom and my hands were thread, as if we would one day get old, as if we would one day be dead, as if we would not exist forever but only inside the eternity of this moment.
We told each other stories as we looked at the stars. You pointed out certain symmetries of night skies and the deaths of famous men. You said that Napoleon and Caesar both died under a full moon, that Mark Antony and Marcus Aurelius died when Neptune was at its brightest, while I listened in the cold, damp, evening. After you’d finished, it would be my turn to lie awake, watching the outline of your ribs, wreathed in skin, rising and falling—such a beautiful liar.
On the way home, while the moon lay like oil on water, I asked why all of our conversations were about dead people. You said you had more in common with them than the living, that they understood you were a kind of labyrinth, and life was a confused searcher. I kissed you on the lips, hard. I said I'd been searching for you all summer, through cups of coffee, trails of cigarette smoke, bits of glass upon the shore, broken fingernails and fingertips, the slight grazing of knees beneath the table. And you turned from me and said, "I’d like to get more coffee,” as if the words were empty.
A week later I was gone, traveling back out west to finish college. I left on a warm summer evening—the sky purpling under a mass of cumulus clouds. After a few miles I stopped thinking of you. I drove through the rice fields—insects pattered like rain against the windshield. By the time I reached San Jose, the dark hills rising sentenially above the valley, I’d forgotten you.
Until tonight, when I was on the roof, stringing Christmas lights from the gutter with the children watching. I told them to throw up more lights, lost my balance and fell. I broke my right arm on the sidewalk. With that, you, and the memory of that summer returned to me. I realized, as I lay there, that I had not missed you in my mind or heart. I had carried you around in my bones. And now you had been released, the night was suffused with you. And as I lay on the cement, beneath a pinkish sky, with my family gathered around me, I thought of you. I thought of that summer, of all the summers that had passed since I’d seen you, and all the summers that would pass without you, enough summers to fill a lifetime.
About the Author: Andrew Bertaina is currently living and working in Washington, DC where he obtained an MFA in creative writing from American University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Broadkill Review, OxMag, Big Lucks, The Wilderness House Literary Review and Fiction Southeast. He am currently a reader and book reviewer for Fiction Southeast.
Story Song: "Avenues" by Whiskeytown
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone