by Virginia Laurie
We were too busy enjoying the dregs of our summer, the last August of adolescence, to pay much mind to the cloaked figure in the corner. We had eyes only for the sediments of childhood, mud pies caked in our chubby palms and long fingers. We were too busy finger-painting dust off the banister to feel threatened by the bills by the ashtray. We were too busy turning our lungs to dust to care what it might mean for breathing one day. We were too young to feel old (though we sometimes did) and too sunburnt to imagine discomfort past the present. We felt it, of course, distantly, the swollen, stubbled face of responsibility and real adulthood, the What now? And how? But we were busy playing, minds stretched to their limits, their happy limits, like saltwater taffy left on pavement, mouths stretched to their salty, happy limits, too wide and bright to do anything but savor. They told us to make plans, and we did; Every night we planned something magic and mundane and perfectly, sacredly, religiously unproductive. We knew though, of course, what was coming.
We’d seen shuttered faces, heard talk of aching bones, aching homes. We knew it wouldn’t always be shiny because, of course, it already hadn’t been. We’d done work, had to, to make things bright again. We worked around the modern world to feel something. Because we weren’t children, not anymore, and not for a longtime, and we might’ve been the last children to ever exist, but we were trying to fashion a new kind of childhood out of the time spent between. We were trying to cover ourselves with duvets of frivolity, to bundle up against the storms. We saw the bombings, on the TV, after all, plastic faces and suicides in our garden, the unrest and tension. The unprecedented. We saw how some of us had not made it this far. When we cobbled together a childhood again, we did it for them. We drank for them and smoked for them and tried not to let our teeth grind, seeing how sawed off our elders’ jaws were. We wanted to be better, or if nothing else, not worse. We wanted to make a childhood that could survive the storms and images of storms and the storms that were only our own. We saw the trench-coat figure in the corner. We brought him water and took his coat. We invited him to dig worms from the rain-troughed backyard, by the flowers planted with a spoon (we had no garden spade), to eat grilled cheese off napkins (two dishes, both dirty), and sit for a while in our speckled, dusty sun. We invited the reaper in, our very own Charon, who would ferry us from this side to that of the river. The river was polluted, and we’d already dipped our toes in, but no further.
We spent whole days in search of clearer waters, a better path to cross, but our ponds were small and discrete. We studied his ferryman face as he studied ours, then we told him to relax. We turned our backs to him, but not our minds. We just started dinner, Would you like something to drink? Don’t mind the cats now, or the lack of dining room table. The more the merrier, we said and meant it. We were bigger children, tall and storm-taught. We were not alone, would not be. We faced the figure together. Take a load off, Sir, We’ll be with you soon.
Virginia Laurie is an English major at Washington and Lee University whose work has been published/is forthcoming in Apricity, LandLocked, Phantom Kangaroo, Cathexis Northwest Press, and more. https://virginialaurie.com/