48. Things I Can Shoot: A U-Turn

It’s topped 90 degrees. The last storm howled through only day before yesterday, but summer couldn’t care less. She just strode in, popped open her beach chair, and planted herself for the duration.

Six days left of school.

As the mercury rises and the countdown quickens, restraint flags. When I pick up Bug at the end of the day, the whole class is prickling. It’s as if the entire second grade has raced to the ragged wall of the calendar and slammed into it. They stand there chafing as the rest of us catch up. Every kid wilts in a 3-day-old T-shirt. Every kid marinates in last week’s sweat.

Today I arrive in time to catch the end of a nipping contest among a group of first and second graders. Who-said-what-when-how? In the four minutes I’m in the classroom, the alliances shift twice.

Buckling ourselves into the car, I ask Bug about his day. I barely get the question out.

“Will you STOP THAT!?” he roars.

“Stop what?”

“THAT! Just doing that TALKING!”

His response is so beyond rude that I actually laugh, which makes him shove the dog out of his lap and set his jaw.

“Wow, Bud. You’re having quite a day.”

A long pause. Very quietly from a ducked head in the back seat: “Can I stay at my dad’s tonight?”

Keep it light, lady. I put a smile in my voice. “Sorry, kiddo. Tonight you’re with me.”

“Well, can we at least make some lemonade and sit on the balcony?”

Where did this come from? We’ve never once made lemonade, and we brought the chairs in from outside weeks ago. Who would want to park it out there? Given the choice, even the garden would trade places. The pepper plants have shrunk to husks and the basil’s given up entirely. You can almost see the ambient poison that earned this afternoon its Code Orange.

“Geez,” I say. “We don’t even have lemons at home. How about orange juice? Or maybe I have a packet of Kool-Aid?” Someone was handing out rainbow envelopes of the stuff at the Pride parade last year. I think one is still crammed somewhere in a cabinet.

Bug just sags. “Lemonade is better,” he mutters.

If I don’t do something here, this kid is going to start crying. Which actually means screaming at me because in my kid’s 8-year-old world, that’s a more satisfying way to manage the misery eating at him.

It’s been a long damned year.

I snap on the blinker and pull into the nearest driveway, which happens to be directly across from ours. I swing around and watch as the neighborhood pool, the air conditioning, and the pile of books on the living room couch recede behind me. Those comforts may work for me, but my boy needs a different pacifier tonight.

“Where are we going?” He asks.

“To the supermarket.”

He perks up. “For lemons?”

“Yep.”

I can almost hear the energy buzzing back into his weary body. This is good. I’ll take a hit off him when I have to thread my way through the pack of rabid drivers at the intersection that stands between us and the store.

“Okay,” he says. “Only lemons, right? Nothing else? We won’t even get a basket, okay?”

“You’ve got it.”

But we do get a basket — the kind you carry — and we pick out a dozen small lemons that perfume our hands. The eastern peaches are just too cheap and cute, so we fill a bag. Bug dives into one in the car on the ride home. The flesh is hard but sweet, and he devours it down to the stone.

In our kitchen, we rinse the lime green pitcher and force the lemons inside-out. Bug ladles in sugar and sloshes in water, then stirs with a wooden spoon. He pours just enough for a taste. A pucker, a blink, more sugar, then we get it right and fill our cups for outside.

Only now it’s not balcony. It’s swim trunks and floaties, and we walk to the pool loaded with travel mugs and soft towels and plastic rings and chat-chat-chat, “Mom, look at this! See this?” He’s rolling the inner tube along the sidewalk, lemonade splashing, face bright and grinning. Then we hear voices, the trill and clang of children popping, slapping, fizzing. They call out, call to him, holler Bug’s name. They cling to the fence in a jumbled line, all the now-familiar faces. They jostle wet curls, flash neon swimsuits, bounce shouts off concrete.

Come on, come on!
The lifeguard just called a break!
Where have you been?
Hey look, he has pool stuff.
You brought pool stuff!
Come on!

My boy picks up his pace and speeds through the changing room, and the group of children swallows him up. The parents listen to my lemon saga because they all want to know where we’ve been. Hearing me, Bug takes a dramatic sip from his cup and grins. Then the kids cluster around and listen again about the lemons because they want to know too.

Where were you? Why weren’t you here?

As if they all knew to show up here at the pool on this very afternoon, and expected us too. As if someone called the opening meeting of some secret society.

As if our membership is a given.

As if this is exactly where we are supposed to be.

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