You’ve caught me in a bit of a pickle. I’m currently in the final gasp of my current work-in-progress, a novel I had a goal of completing by June 30th. Today is (mumble, mumble, ticks off on fingers) OMG, July 4th! (P.S.: Happy Independence Day to my American friends!)
Anyway, I’m late! I’m also still 10,000 words from done, and yet time hasn’t stopped so I can finish this puppy in some kind of interstitial limbo outside the spacetime continuum, take a good long nap, and then wake up and have it still be four days ago.
Given that, I have no brainspace or time to figure out what to say about Summer Lovin’. But then it hit me. Cheat! So below, with my humble apologies, I offer one of my early young adult flash fiction stories. It’s about love, and partly occurs during summer. It’s also, I confess, something of a reprint, though probably only about twenty people have ever read it.
Without further adieu…
He would always remember the air under the bridge as ten degrees cooler than the air above—cool as her skin on that day they met, hands brushing as both reached for a handout during third period language arts. The creek there ran mostly shallow, water flowing over round stones like fossilized teeth, though an eddy had gouged a deep pool around the center pier. The counterflow trapped branches, beer cans, and plastic bags, all tangled in a slick of yellow foam. A bank of damp gravel and sand sloped below the span, too wet to sit on but open and flat: a fresh canvas.
After school most days he’d ride his bike to the bridge, four miles past blank, staring houses which all looked the same. The sheltered bank was a place to be alone, to mope and to yearn. She lived just a quarter mile away in a subdivision hidden from view by a line of trees on the creek’s edge. He could sense her there, somewhere beyond the boiling clouds of gnats which rose off the water when the heat pressed down in the afternoon. He knew she came to the bridge at times. He saw her once from far up the road. He waved, but she must not have seen him. Gone by the time he arrived. Afterward, he thought of the bridge as her place too. Maybe, he dreamed, they’d run into each other some day. An accidental meeting in a shared refuge. The start of something perfect.
As the year wore on, the bridge served more and more as his sanctuary, a safe place to conjure. She’d appear in his thoughts and they’d talk about the trivially significant. Somehow she always wanted to discuss whatever was on his mind. His insights always impressed her. He was earnest and wise and she adored him for it.
Then there were the days he arrived at the bridge to find her beset by hooligans. Aimless drifters with black gums and stolen shoes. Maybe there’d be a bit of rope on the bridge and he’d swing down from above. One day he might wield a sword, the next double-fisted .45s — or more often only his own limbs. Kick one brute backwards, arms windmilling, into the eddy. Send another flying onto the rocks with a well-timed upper cut. An eighth grade boy against men, but faced with his fury they’d flee, bleeding and bruised. Then she’d fall into his arms in relief and gratitude. Her hero, swinging in on his rope to save the day. No wonder their passion took root in the sandy lee of the bridge across from the eddy full of trash.
Spring gave way to summer and school let out, cutting him off from the one place he could count on seeing her in the flesh, even if they never spoke. He found himself spending more and more time under the bridge, anxious and adrift in fantasy. The shape of her face began to merge with reflections of light off the water, and in response she teased him in his mind, saying he should declare his feelings for her in some lasting way, a way anyone could see. So he waded into the shallow water and gathered creek-rounded boulders as big as his head. He placed them on the damp, sandy bank in the shape of his desire, “I love you,” spelled out in stone. He left them, validated by a syllogism of dreams, convinced these stones would be the thing that lured her from his reveries and into his arms. He returned each day after he finished his chores, indifferent to his friends, and talked his long talks with his beloved. Saved her life again and again. Then one Saturday he couldn’t go, pinned down by some pointless to-do of his mother’s. Sunday he biked out to the bridge again. Four long miles through dead air thick with humidity.
She’d been there. She’d seen the stones, knew them as hers. He didn’t even have to name her name. She saw the shapes of the words, and she responded. Fossilized teeth jagged in the sand. “Stop,” they now read. “Please, stop.”