Sample text for The summer after June / Ashley Warlick.
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Their last night, he told her how leavings have
This is the way it will be, he said.
Come morning and her driving, the sun will
warm her fingertips on the wheel of that big car and
it'll be as if he's there, inside that sun, inside
her fingertips. He'll take up in the thinnest parts
of her, and he told her to name those parts: the beds
of her nails, the roots of her hairs, the vessels,
the bones. He told her he'd run that space like it
was all his own, and he'd keep running until she felt
it, until she shivered and swelled just a bit bigger
to be full with him.
Their last night, he told her he would always
be with her, whether she was here or there or not.
I'll make it easy for you, he said. This is
Orrin has come to her this way every morning
since she left him, every morning for three in a row.
He's steadfast about his promises, and she's been
made to feel it, made to be grateful and trusting in
sweeter, higher things. She drives I-10 with the sun
rising in her windows, trimming the Gulf Coast
deltas, she and the baby. This is the last span of
highway they'll need to be on for a while, and she
wonders how Orrin will come to her when she's not
behind the wheel of this car, when she has no need
for travel in the early hours of the day.
In Galveston he said, You'll think of me in
morning times most often, and she said, Yes, I will,
but that's not been true. She thinks of him all the
time, or not at all, the way your brain thinks to
beat your heart or breathe air into your lungs
without your knowing it. There's the feather he
tucked beneath the visor in her car, a green feather,
from one of his birds. So many little things bring
They still talk inside her head,
conversations quiet and simple in the coolness. It's
enough to keep her driving long into the distance so
as to listen and to speak.
He'll say, I know how it would be if you hit
the water from a height, like if you fell, or dove
from a cliff.
Then she'll say, How would that be, and
she'll whisper, as if he's just so close to her, as
if he could hear her think those words, and maybe
back in Galveston he can.
He'll say, You'd be falling and falling and
all drawn up in yourself and ready to hit that water
like it was a brick wall, and then you'd just keep
falling, your skin stinging and crawling off your
bones, and you just falling, your lungs filled up
with water instead of air.
And she'll say, That's what you think?
And he'll answer, That's how it would happen
to you. Me, I'm a different story.
She'll laugh to herself, and maybe later
they'll talk about another thing. There are moments
she can feel his hand in hers, along her thigh and at
the hollow where her neck becomes her shoulders. She
hears his voice; feels his touch. She does not miss
him yet, and this is why.
She has always had a high threshold for pain.
Sometimes it may be hours before she realizes she's
hurt herself. She has learned there is no pain out
there that could bring her to her knees, that could
cut her or bruise her, so she would stop what she was
doing and lie down and not get up again. Pain is
always loose and free and available. It will wait
until she wants it.
She drives with the window of her big car
rolled down, an old Loretta Lynn song turned up on
the radio. The breeze is warm and sugared with early
Alabama fall. She sings for the baby, his silent,
sleeping company, and she thinks how soon he'll be
waking up, wanting her. That's what she'll fix on
until he goes to sleep again.
She is twenty-five, a quarter of something
she has yet to figure out. She has been to college.
She's had scientific training and knows the chemistry
of common things. She moved from her parents' house
when it still belonged to both of them, had a job
back in Charlotte in a medical center, held a place
in the solid, everyday world. Her life was coarse and
complicated to her, beginning and ending so much.
These things about her have not changed since
she left home. She still knows what she's always
known, but added to that is Orrin, what he told her
about herself. He had young, awkward things to say at
first, how she was smart and strong and good and
pretty, but from him she wanted to hear what she'd
never heard before. So then he told her how she had a
woven step, the inside of her calf brushing the back
of the other like her steps were plaiting themselves
to the ground, and they began walking everywhere
together. He loved her. She knew it. But he said it
would be just once upon a time when she went home
She's been gone from Charlotte since the
spring, west to the Gulf of Mexico. She has not seen
her fiancé, Cott, her parents, her job, or anyone she
knows from home since March, and now it's fall. They
all think her to be missing, to have been taken or
murdered or hit over the head so hard she may not be
herself anymore, but she is fine and well, and has
been for the longest time. She didn't believe she
would ever go back, but Orrin told her differently.
Now she treasures all the things Orrin said as tiny
nascent truths, waiting for the space to become full,
to become themselves.
She drives through the night so that the baby
will sleep. During the day, they take rooms in pink
hotels with swimming pools and ceiling fans and
laundered sheets cool from the air conditioner. She
remembers the time she and Orrin brought air
conditioners to her grandmother's house so they could
be lovers in winter times and colder places,
December, Montreal, Juneau. Now she thinks that if
she reached out, he would be beside her, his head on
the pillow, his body in the sheets. It's only a spell
they've chosen not to break.
This carefulness with spells is the way
they've always been with each other, but what they
call always is just the stretch of summer out behind
them. Time has passed differently. She often forgets
they knew each other as children, forgets they knew
each other before they were lovers, when Orrin was
polite and she was desperate. Now the thing between
them has grown up. She has the feeling it will be
okay without her.
She takes the baby to the pool when the maid
comes around. They float, she on her back and the
baby pulled up on her chest, his cheek to her lips.
She whispers to him how she and her sister loved
their lake back home, and he trails his long toes in
the water. There are often other children in the
pool, boys in striped trunks with beach balls and
rafts and pails they fill with water and dump on the
concrete. There are women with books and sunglasses
perched beneath lone umbrellas. The baby sees all
this, and she's almost sure he feels no part of it.
That's fine. He will be different from other boys,
other men, and such is life. Such is what she's made
Night comes, and they drive again. When she
gets tired, she makes a point to find water - the
ocean, a lake, a slow thin river good for swimming.
She does it like an animal tucking in for winter, an
insect spinning its cocoon. She straps the baby into
his seat on the shore, skins off her clothes to pile
on the sand. Distant headlights catch her whiteness,
the crown of her head, the spread of her bare
shoulders in the otherwise dark.
She takes to the water all at once. There is
breathlessness and late summer cold, but she dives
and surfaces, swims out and back. She sees Orrin in
the ghosts of things beneath the surface, just beyond
her reach in that spellbound way. It's in the water
she feels closest to him, because it's true that all
water is connected and flows around the earth in
circles, and someday, she thinks, he could have this
water on himself. Then, in her mind, she's connected
to all the water she ever swam in, all the people she
ever loved and was a part of. It is enough to make
her do this every night.
When she returns to the shore and the baby,
she dresses wet, wrings the water from her hair into
her T-shirt, and lets her skirt cling to her legs.
She takes her time. She's waiting for Orrin's
sunlight to rise and take up in her the way strength
might, or goodness or beauty. Then she'll gather the
two of them back into the car and continue on her way.
Her name is Lindy Jain. She has left the Gulf
Coast for the city of Charlotte, where she grew up,
left one man she loves for another who came before
him. It is not an easy thing to explain. She knows
there are parts of her mind that don't necessarily
meet, one thing not always leading to another. She
trusts this, that our means need no present end, that
sometimes you can do only for yourself. It is how she
can love the man she is leaving and still leave, how
she could once leave the man she was to marry and
still go back now.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Ashley Warlick. Reprinted by
permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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