We wear matching straw cowboy hats and red bandannas, call each other pardner, and yell, Don’t squat with your spurs on! as we race past the beauty salon, the barber shop with the candy cane pole, and the old metal utility building that was turned into the American Legion. We never slow down long enough for the old ladies’ finger waggings and In my day, we controlled our children cluckings.
We are already disappointments to our parents. We know this without being told, but told we are. Stop that racket! Can’t you find anyone more suitable to play with? Summer doesn’t last forever, and neither do friends, you mark my words.
Our homes, only three blocks away but it feels like galaxies, are for sleeping, for forgetting how much we hate our young lives already. We fantasize about leaving when we’re older, say eighteen, maybe down to Denver where there’s a little bungalow we call our own, ferns lined along the porch, our calico cat curled up on the braided rug in front of the door we paint yellow, ears twitching in its slumber. Our neighbors will like us, invite us over for hamburgers on the grill.
Okay, this is my fantasy. But I’m an oddball like that. You’re the worrisome one, always higher, faster, more more more, furiously trying to fill yourself up with excess.
We’re like little monkeys, climbing and hanging from the trees along the creek bed, daring each other to drop into the muddy water. Then all arms and legs tangled when we reach the sandy bank, laughing, with our wrestling moves we’ve seen on WWE, we give each other twisters and scrambling up, and you fall to the dirt, legs and arms splayed, and you point to a cloud that looks like two faces pressed together, noses tip to tip. That’s us, you whisper. Forever and ever.
We dig holes in the mud, plopping crawdads in as we go. They’re happy in their little holes, all the room in the world to burrow and settle, but some want to see what’s on the other side, crawling out, sinking down into a neighbor’s home. We watch them fight, their pinchers snapping each other, little legs rearing and waving like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, until one finally wears down and crawls out. We have matching plastic six-shooters we tuck in the waistband of our shorts. You pull yours out. Bang! Bang! Bang! But we can’t tell if you shoot the original or the interloper.
Okay, this is what I remember, as I stand off by myself, looking at the backs of people’s heads, behind pink and white peony bushes that always seem to be in places like this. I trace your name in the air, big block letters. I inhale, feeling you fill my stomach, my ribs, circling my heart, until there’s nothing left to swallow, and I deflate. But we pinky swore.