Susan Green

It’s bearably hot, but just barely.  Beyond the porch the field reflects sunlight like a great, green mirror.  Max lifts his head to drink and flies scuttle around his head, dipping their legs into the corners of his eyes.  Grandma and I don't move at all, not even for water, we just sit and stare out off the porch while the cicadas scream. 

Dad's car turns in off the main road.  Our heads don't move but our eyes turn to watch it trundle up the driveway, gravel hisses and pops beneath the tires. 

He rolls down his window as he pulls up to the porch. "Whew, it's hot out," he says, peering at the three of us.  Dad makes a smile-like movement with his mouth and says, "Staying cool?" 

Grandma says yeah and Dad gets out, walks around to the back of the car and opens the cooler in his trunk.   

"Here, I got you these," he says.  He tosses a package of hamburger patties to me and I catch it.  They feel good in my hands, cool and firm, slivers of ice flow off the plastic and onto my toes. 

I walk down the porch stairs into the shimmering green yard.  The Weber is over by the telephone pole.  I light a piece of starter wood in its ash-coated bowl and pile charcoal over the starter in a neat pyramid.  The smoke stings my eyes so I sit down in the grass a few feet away.  My legs are prickly and my skin feels sticky-slick like I'd showered in canola.

Sitting there near the Weber, waiting on the coals to catch, I look out across the field of soybeans behind the house.  I can see the Amish boy on the tractor, a small black dot over a larger white spot over a red machine.  On his first day, the boy asked my dad if we had TV in our house.  My dad said yeah and the boy had blinked and nodded slowly.

I can't see his face from here but I'd like to bring him in and turn on MTV or VH1.  Give him a pop.  Maybe wrap him up with that quilt my great-grandmother made, in that bedroom my great-grandfather built.  I'd like to smell that bright white shirt.

The coals have caught and I spread them out before putting the wire grill on and spreading the patties out over its greasy black surface.  I can feel a pimple surfacing through my upper lip.  Once the patties begin to blacken and run clear I will flip the plastic package they came in over, stack the hamburgers on top, and take them into the house.

Inside, Grandma has laid out three paper plates and a bag of Lays.  When I come in she asks me what kind of pop I want and I tell her.  Dad is sitting at the table drinking an orange Crush.  He gives me an orange grin. 

"This old house," Grandma murmurs, her lavender-veined eyes scan the peeling wallpaper, the rusty coal burning stove, the dusty everything.  "I was born in this house," she says.

"You sure were," says dad, enunciating carefully before pushing a palmful of potato chips into his mouth. 

"Maena raised us all in this house, all eight of us, she was like a mother to me.  In fact, when I was little I thought Maena was my mother."

"C'mon, Mama, you knew who your mother was, you knew Maena was your sister," says Dad.  Now he gives her the orange grin. 

"I did too think Maena was my mother."  Grandma's voice is becoming shrill.  "She’s the one that bathed us and cooked for us, got us up in the morning and took care of us and put us to bed.  That's why she didn't never go to school.  I did think Maena was my mother and I miss her more than my mother!"

Dad makes a chuckling sound.  "Okay, okay, alright," he says.  Dad puts his hands up, palms facing forward on either side of his face to say: I'm innocent. 

I think about that bright white shirt.  




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