Summer, after a hard and prolonged winter. It never lasts as long as it should. There was a fair weight of rain that year, but it was a kind rain, lilypad rain, forming wide green puddles in the driveway that glowed phosphorescent at dusk.
Dad broke the big toe on his right foot kicking after our rooster Dude. We had fresh fried chicken the next night. Grandpa was getting more easily agitated whenever the television was turned on, his volume louder than whatever was playing, so we ended up taking the set down to the basement. I don’t think anyone missed it. Mom got a nasty case of poison ivy over by the barn checking for eggs, and she spent most of July scratching ugly. Sister Connie, who moved into her own little place in Syracuse late winter, visited for a few days, holding forth on college life and boys. She was as bored as she was boring. She was the first one in the family with itchy feet, wanting to travel and get away from what she grew up with. No one held it against her, but she could be ponderous with the things she had learned.
Me and Ruth… we adjusted to each other. No one came out and said it, but I think our temperaments were showing different. We didn’t argue, and I tried hard to stay out of her way when she was helping mom in the kitchen. When we play-acted our dislike for each other, she stuck out her tongue, and I felt the warmth spread down to my belly.
There were more hugs between us when we were away from the house, but that’s all they were. I didn’t dare hug her too tight. We had conversations full of surprise and hesitation. I could hardly stand being apart from her. When we were together, she was especially sweet, kissing me lightly on the mouth, and squeezing my hand while we talked. I knew it wasn’t going to come to anything. Our close relativity made it taboo. We knew what that meant. She told me that kings and queens sometimes got married even if they were related, but that was just for show, to carry on the family line, and that they didn’t necessarily love each other, England and Spain were good examples if I cared to open a book once in a while. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I liked the throaty sound of her voice.
We spent a lot of time talking about our lineage, and if it mattered. According to Ruth, she was the granddaughter of my great-uncle Donovan. We were related, but you’d have to heave a rock pretty far down the road to get to the intersection. It made sense to me, but still… it was the same road.
And then there were moments when I didn’t care. We were young now, I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another three months, and she wasn’t yet eighteen. What about when we were older and moved away?
She laughed, a low, rumbling laugh that came all the way from her belly. “Oh, David, that’s miles away. Pay attention to the road in front of you. When you’re twenty-one, I’ll be twenty-three and probably married to a man who give me his half of the moon. We’ll be living in a city and I’ll spend my afternoons shopping for things I don’t even need. We’re sweet now, but people… well, they grow up. You’ll meet a nice farm girl and you’ll settle down with her and make nice farm babies. But hon, that’s miles away from now. And you know I’m not going to lay down with you, right? I’ll hug you as tight as you want, and kiss your face. But David, don’t go on thinking this is where your life starts. I’m not it for you. You’ll do better than me.”
And then a look of sorrow came over her, washed over her complete, like a summer storm out of nowhere. I felt it in my heart, but she wore it on her face. I didn’t know what it meant then. And I still don’t know. Or maybe that’s all pretense. I do know. And I did know.
We always walked back to the house holding hands for most of the way, until we came upon old Mister Needlemyer’s barn. Then we’d cross the road, and she’d walk ahead of me, like she always did, and I’d skip stones on the mud creek that ran alongside our driveway.
No one ever knew that I might have been in love with her.