by Guilie Castillo-Oriard
Even the spiky leaves of the aloe plants are turning a bluish brown. The heat has baked the yard into fine, fine dust, and steamed all the blue out of the sky. The longest days of the year blur into a blistering glare so dense it flattens anything that breathes, anything with the minutest will to exist.
Incomprehensibly untouched by the riot of heat, my diffident, melancholy mother has chosen this merciless summer to find happiness. She radiates it like a fucking furnace, and everything else—our quiet routines, our painstaking truces, our slow existence á deux—melts in its presence.
“He’s a dream.” She stretches out next to me on the veranda. The Portuguese tiles beneath us retain only a trace of the night’s cooler temperatures.
“I’m happy for you, Mama.”
She smiles like she can’t hear the sarcasm and leans over to kiss my forehead. “This is the real thing, baby. I can feel it.”
“You seeing him again tonight?”
“Just dinner after work. I’ll be home by nine.”
Her footsteps crunch halfway down the gravel path, then stop. “What are you doing today?”
She’s standing half in sunlight, half in the shade of the old kenepa tree. She can’t suspect; her cup-runneth-over state keeps her insulated.
I hold up the textbook. “Study. SATs are in October.”
She shakes her head, hands on hips, a movie smile of pride on her lips. “My baby, off to college at sixteen.”
I smile back, but the effort is wasted; she’s already turned the corner. A jangle of keys, a squawk of metal from the car door, the roar of the engine, and she’s gone. The same breeze that soothes the air she left so inflamed with her high hopes washes away the whiff of exhaust in her wake, too.
~ * ~
He calls me things he probably uses with Mama too, and some I know he doesn’t, if for no other reason that what I bring to him—things that shove his fear and his principles under the shag carpet of lust and out of the way—those things my poor Mama, bent at the knee in gratitude for his attention, can never give.
In the mirror, the golden skin of my breasts glows with the light of late afternoon as I pull the t-shirt on. He’s watching from the bed, my cigarette between his fingers, so I make it slow, this strip-tease in reverse, and watch the bedsheet twitch at his groin. A+ for stamina, Geezer.
He looks away, though, and I sigh. Here it comes. His weekly This has to stop crisis-of-conscience bullshit (he knows I know it’s bullshit).
Instead he says, “Why haven’t you told her?”
Which throws me only for a moment. “Why haven’t you?”
He finds my gaze in the mirror, holds it. “I love her.”
I love her, too.
* * * * *
"Summer Love" was first published in Summer: Pure Slush, Vol. 12 (August 2016)