Part 9: Waiting For Summer
The walk back was a leisurely stroll down a country road. Not wanting to return by the orchard, I decided to walk back by the road. One car passed by on the way. The driver, a complete stranger, threw up his hand to wave. Not only would this be alien where I lived, but the cars would be racing down the road, nearly pushing bumpers to get where they were going. This slow paced way of living was both refreshing and strange at the same time. Could I ever get used to this lazy pace of life? Not alone I couldn’t. I mean, I knew I stopped here to be alone and get away from my troubles, but after a while the loneliness would get to me and I would be wishing for that hectic pace of life again; the people rushing around going nowhere fast, the noise that made you abandon your thoughts and just be like everybody else. How could I ever live like this, walking down a road without a care in the world? I walked up the drive to Orchard House. The scent of the magnolia tree was powerful here, and if I was trying to avoid Jackson in the back yard it didn’t work. He must have heard my footsteps on the gravel because he came running around the house, tail wagging. He ran to me and immediately lay at my feet, rolling over on his back, as if he had a sign painted on his belly, saying ‘rub me.’ I pet him a few minutes and then headed into the house.
You don’t realize how quiet things are until you live in the city. There, even inside your home, you can hear everything your neighbors are doing. Someone is fighting next door. Kids are playing with a basketball in the street. Another neighbor is working on his car. But walking inside the empty house here in the country, the silence was almost maddening. I guess, after you get used to noises all the time, peace and quiet can seem deafening itself.
In the kitchen, a radio sat on top of the frig and I pulled it down, setting it on the kitchen bar. It wasn’t a large radio, just a little AM/FM with a speaker no bigger than my hand. I turned it on to kill the silence and another Elton john song came on, this time sung by Tim McGraw it sounded like. I left the radio playing in the kitchen and walked around to my bedroom. I opened a suitcase and dug around in the bottom looking for something. My cellphone. I hadn’t turned it on since leaving home. I didn’t want to hear anybody asking where I was. But now I turned it on. Of course nothing happened, the phone was dead. I got out the charger and plugged it up. If I wanted to hear if anybody missed me, I was going to have to wait.
I stepped out of the room and into the hallway. I was tempted to go take a look upstairs. I hadn’t even been up there to see what the place looked like. All I knew was there was two bedrooms up there, one of which Summer had taken as her own. I started up the staircase. As long as I didn’t go into the one she had claimed I would be okay. At the top, there was a door on my left. It was closed shut. To the right, the landing went around to another door diagonally across from the closed one. It was open. I went around the landing to the open door. Just as I assumed, it was unoccupied. Stepping inside, I noticed it was almost a carbon copy of my own, which lay directly under it on the first floor, except instead of blue roses, here they were pink. I imagined this to be a room for families with children because instead of a desk in one corner, another bed was set up in its place, allowing multiple people to sleep here. The bedspreads were both adorned with pink roses on green vines. Two lamps, one by each bed, had pink shades. The window curtains were a light pink, and even the carpet had a light floral pattern. On one of the beds sat a doll, an old porcelain thing whose face was cracked by time. It was obvious it was old, just the kind of thing young girls would have had back in the great depression. It immediately made me think of my mother and her own porcelain doll collection. She had one similar to the one I was looking at. It was a cherished heirloom, the one doll she swore she would never part with. Until Ashley came along. Pleased that I had found someone, she offered it to her as a gift. But Ashley hated dolls and she refused it. My mother never let me forget that afterwards. In fact, she often would say to me in confidence, “I don’t like that girl. She’s not right for you.” It’s funny how mothers seem to know these things.
On this memory, I left the room and returned to the stair case. I hesitated beside the door to Summer’s room. I was curious about it, wondering how she may have fixed it up for her brief stay. Was everything still packed in her duffel bags, or had she arranged everything neatly in drawers? Perhaps she had just strewn her clothes about the floor or on the bed. Had she taken a picture of her guy and placed it on the dresser to remind her what was waiting for her after her business here was done? Maybe she had her own happy couple picture, taken during a trip to the beach or just goofing around in the house she shared with him. I shook my head and went down the stairs. Why did I care if she had someone to call her own or not? Her business was her own, and her love life certainly of no interest to me.
Back in the kitchen, I noticed the music had stopped on the radio. Instead a commercial for a local farmer’s festival two months away was playing. It advertised good fun, food, and dancing to local musicians, and then proceeded to rattle off a list of sponsors. I turned off the radio. I wouldn’t be here long enough to even know what they did for fun around here.
I walked to the living room and plopped down on the couch. I was bored out of my skull. On the coffee table beside me, a couple magazines lay: National Geographic, Better Homes and Garden, Outdoor Living. Nothing at all to pique my interest. Looking over to the end table on the other end of the couch, I saw a couple of travel magazines. On top lay a folded up piece of paper. I slid across the couch and picked it up. Unfolding it, I saw it was a list of names, all beginning with Earl. There was Earl James, Earl Jackson, Earl Jessup, and an Earl Jones. Beside each one were a notation: Not Him. The writing on the paper had a feminine flare, and so I guessed that maybe Summer had sat here this morning looking over this list. But why? Who were these guys? Did this have something to do with her business here?
Just then, I heard Jackson barking. It wasn’t a warning signal, but more of a happy sound. The sound of tires coming up the drive alerted me to the fact Summer was back. I folded the paper back up the best I could and set it down where I found it. Getting up, I went down the hallway to my bedroom and sat down at the desk. I got some pen and paper out the drawer and pretended to be writing a letter home. I made it through a cheery ‘Hello everyone,’when I heard the kitchen door open and close, followed by Summer’s voice.
“Hey matt, you home?”
I acted like I didn’t hear her and kept writing my letter to no one. I had maybe made it through a sentence when I heard her in the bedroom doorway.
“Hey there, guy,” she said. “I bought us some hot dogs. Hope you like chili.”
“Yeah chili is..”, I turned to face her and was stunned by the sight. “Fine,” I finished in a mumble that must have told her I thought she looked fine herself. She was wearing form fitting slacks that seemed to hug her frame like a second skin. A silky black tank top lightly covered by a stylish sweater completed her outfit. The tank top revealed her figure in a way I had not seen until now, yet hiding enough of her with the sweater to make a guy wonder just where the curves started or ended.
She smiled as if she knew this already. Maybe I had that certain look on my face guys get when they are realizing peach trees in bloom are not the most beautiful things they will see all day. “Well, come on, dogs are getting cold then,” she said, and left the doorway for the kitchen. I felt embarrassed for letting her catch me off guard like that. I was prepared for her coming back to Orchard House, but I guess I just thought she was all blue jeans and an ‘I love nerds’ t-shirt.
She was sitting at the kitchen table already biting into a hot dog when I got there. “I waited like one starving fool waits for another,” she giggled.
“That’s okay. You’ve probably been up much longer than I have. Thanks for the food.” I took one of the hot dogs and bit into it. “Where did you get these?”
“Little store on the main road. Same place I got the peach ice cream.”
“Peach ice cream?”
“Yep. I put it in the freezer already. Figured we might want some later. Nothing like ice cream on a warm night. Heard on the news the humidity is going to be terrible tonight.”
“We have an air conditioner in some of the rooms I think.”
She smiled. “What fun is that? Sweating is good for you, gets all the impurities off your skin.”
I didn’t want to tell her it would make me uncomfortable to see her sweating, impurities or not.
“So, what did you do today?” she asked.
“Nothing really. Just walked through the orchard down to the store.”
She looked up at me. “Yeah I stopped there on the way out. They were just opening. Helen’s a nice lady.”
“Yeah, she said you were, too.”
“I knew you’d go down there and tell them,” she said.
“And how did you know that?”
“You’ve got an honest face. I knew you’d want them to know. Did you ask for your money back?”
I looked at her and shook my head. “No, I did not.”
“Good. Neither did I.” she finished up her hot dog, and grabbed another. “I’m going to be fat one day.”
I laughed. “I can’t see that happening.”
“Oh, it will one day. My fat clock is ticking.”
“Mine must have already tocked,” I confessed, and patted my t-shirt covered belly.
She leaned up off her stool and peered over the kitchen bar. “Oh, that’s not too bad. Fat looks better on guys than it does on girls anyway.”
“Speaking of fat, how much do I owe you for the hot dogs?”
“I don’t know. That sounds kind of steep.”
She smirked. “Don’t make me come over there and poke you, fatty.”
I laughed so hard it took me some time to stop. Seeing me laugh like that must have been infectious because she soon found herself laughing right along.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.