Summer after Ninth Grade, Continued

My eyes follow a groove in a knotty pine panel down to the space heater below the bulletin board. It is quiet for summer, no fire, no flames sighing and sending warmth out into the room, now kept cool by the air conditioner in the Piano Room. The last letter the Texas boy wrote said he’d take the coolness and beauty of Glorieta any day over the heat and humidity of Texas. Me, too. There is nothing worse than the scorching yellow Delta sun in the waning days of August. I want to go back to the green mountains and keep the feeling alive. I have already told my friends that I will never get married until I see this boy again and find out if the feeling is still there.

On the trip home, I sat on the back seat of the bus, looked out the back window at the big fiery Texas sky meeting flat plains at the bottom of day, and sang the lonely cowboy song about how “I’m going to leave ole Texas now…” It made my chest ache to think that mile by mile I was fast moving away from where I wanted to be. The center of my world had shifted.

On winter mornings, Mama comes back here in my room at five and lights the heater. When she pushes the “on” valve, it wakes me up. She won’t leave the heater on at night so I have to burrow under quilts and an electric blanket. I fold myself up in the covers like a mummy. Wires in the electric blanket broke and scratched my leg, deep, and I think it will leave a scar.

I used to stick crayons in the holes of the brown and white chalky columns in the face of the heater and into the flames behind. I’d let them melt and the colored wax would drip and now there are stains of yellow, blue, green, and orange at the bottom of each crevice. My mother has never noticed.

I like fire. I always have. I like the yellows that stretch high and curl, the blues that stay low like fingers curved over piano keys keeping a steady rhythm. I like the oranges that glow and pulse. I like how the flames breathe hard, then slow, fade, die out.

I had a summer romance. It’s supposed to be in the dying down phase now, the orange glow. I don’t want to go to embers. I’m not ready to give this feeling up. I’m not ready to be with my boyfriend here. But school is starting, my birthday is coming up, and my mother is wanting to invite my friends over for hamburgers. My birthday is on the day of the first football game, and my boyfriend will be with the team. I don’t say this out loud, but I am glad he cannot come.

I think about the trip out to Glorieta before all this happened and my life got complicated, when the world was easy and my life was smooth. I should have seen the sign that change was coming. I should have known on our first stop, in McAlester, Oklahoma, I think it was, when I went for breakfast at the motel restaurant and saw the national headlines on the newsstand that the ground under me was going to crumble like the red-clay-dirt sides of the gully on my granddaddy’s farm in Kemper County.

BODIES OF THREE SLAIN CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS

DISCOVERED IN AN EARTHEN DAM

OUTSIDE PHILADELPHIA, MISSISSIPPI

My grandpa’s farm is just outside Philadelphia.

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