This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.

Summer of 1983 - Home


I am nine. Time is so unbearably slow. It's hot. It's summer.

Not a lot of hot days in Walden, Montana. Mom says no more planting my butt in front of the TV for cartoons. She says use up the warm days while I can.

There is war. There is always war, but it's far away and we are winning. America is good.

Mom is beautiful and always there for me and my sisters. Dad sells tractors to old people and women for their farms. Most men are in the war. Dad was in the war. He's big and healthy. He says it was a different war. I don't know which one.

Heather is at a friend's house and Tara is riding her bicycle. They are both older than me. Tara doesn't like to ride bikes with me because I'm not fast enough.

I get my bike and I pedal under the sycamores lining the street. It is morning and still a little cool. Mom said wear a jacket, but I pretended not to hear. The sun going through the leaves makes patterns on my arms. It will be hot soon.

Tommy and Sean Turley are not allowed to play. I pedal on to Windy's house. He's got asthma, but he's fun to talk to and he knows everything about the frogs and bugs in the pond.

Windy says he can't go away to play. His dad is coming back from the war. Windy is pudgy and has thick plastic glasses. I never call him four eyes. We play with some sticks and then throw a ball. It's so boring. I tell him to come over after his dad gets home.

I ride my bike to the pond all by myself. It's almost lunch time, but mom does not mind if I am home late. The pond is just a drainage pool. In the hot days of summer it shrinks to an ugly, stinking swamp. It is still full of spring rain.

I kick off my shoes and socks into the grass along the banks. Millions of tiny water plants cover the surface of the pond. They fill it and are left on the rocks by the receding waters, like a green cape draped over a puddle.

I wade out into the pond. The water is cool around my legs. The floating green plants stick to my arms and fingers. They part in my wake.

The water seems black. When I cup some in my hand it is the color of Mom's sun tea. A few painted turtles slide into the water as I approach. The bullfrogs like to hide along the high bank. They are quiet now, but I know where to find them.

The insects and birds are loud in the trees around me. They are invigorated by summer and basking in the heat. I splash and play in the water. I catch two turtles and three frogs. A shame I left my bucket at home. Windy and Tommy would have been impressed with my haul.

While searching for a water snake I step on a sharp rock. The surprise of pain nearly trips me up. I fight back tears and stagger to the shore. My blood is leaking out of my toe at an alarming rate. I hear a clink of glass and I remember that Mrs. Harding lives behind pine trees on the other side of the pond.

She is a friendly old lady who teaches grade seven at the middle school. He husband is dead. I think he died in a war a long time ago. Before the things we're not supposed to talk about came here.

I pick up my shoes and socks and hop awkwardly through the grass towards her house. She'll have a bandage. She'll pour peroxide on my cut and give me a sandwich and milk. I follow along the pine trees towards the back gate to her yard.

Just before I reach the gate I notice that I can no longer hear the cicadas. Or the birds.

There is just a soft sound like a mouse crawling in the grass. I lean on the fence and wonder what it is.

I don't want to take the next step and turn to face the gate. There is something in her back yard, by her garden. It does not see me yet. I do not want to see it.

I do not want to see it.

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