Readers Report: My Summer’s End

By

A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “My Summer’s End.”

Edited by Susan Clements.

***

I’m thirteen years old, arriving in Newport with my uncle in his Toyota hatchback. It’s 11:30 at night and dark save for our headlights on the pier. I take our lantern and climb down the wooden ladder toward the water. I can see the dark stains the ocean has made on the piling at high tide. About three feet above the waves, I hook the lantern to a nail and scramble back up, having to take a few rungs in complete darkness, far from the lantern I’d left and the flashlight my uncle holds above me. I feel like Jack in the fairytale about the beanstalk in the land of the giant, stealing something which had a value I didn’t fully appreciate yet. But I’m an ordinary girl, and it’s the end of summer, and I’ll return to New York tomorrow.

We’re here to catch squid. We have a refrigerator rack with ninety-six hooks glued to it at the tip of our fishing line. Joon and his father, who join us, have a pole with an old umbrella frame with sixty-six hooks. Dangling our legs over the edge of the dock, Joon and I let our lines down. To catch squid, the lamplight is the bait, so all you have to do is let your hooks sit in the water beneath the light. I see the squid shimmer, a pale ribbon floating towards me. When I pull up the rack, the strand separates into pieces, and the squid twist in unison as if the memory of being one sleek unit was going to sustain them. We drop our catch into orange buckets. A few more times and the buckets are full.

Joon’s father and my uncle talk about opening a calamari stand. Batter-fried squid dipped in Korean hot pepper sauce. Would be a bestseller. Right on the highway to Scarborough Beach, with frozen lemonade. No more worries about being laid off. They have this conversation every weekend.

Joon and I leave them and walk down the pier. He’s my summer crush, though I’ve never seen his face except in shadow. He wears a Red Sox cap, and he’s fourteen, and he tells me about scary movies. But mostly we say nothing. We walk and walk, extending the time we have together, content with being alongside each other, not knowing there is anything better than something as simple as that.

— Jimin Han

squid fishing.flan copy

***

That first summer was a shitty, Craigslist bike with dead brakes, Mr. Softee sprinkles from my main ice-cream man Dino, and across Shore Boulevard, the East River ripping the lights of Manhattan into technicolor shreds. Every day that summer was hot like the sun wanted to make out with the earth, the subway tunnels baking, at night the pavement exhaling solar lust in an endless, humid pant.

Recently, I’d had my heart broken by a boy and my home broken by bedbugs, but at least I still had a shitty job to match my bike. In reality, that bike meant everything—on the days when the sun was particularly coquettish, it was my mobile air-conditioning, but it was also my escape hatch, my wings.

Most evenings after work, I packed a journal and a couple bucks for Dino, hefted that bike down the apartment stairs, and rode out to the avenue where the houses ended and the grey hulk of the ConEd plant began, careening down the hill past storage units with jacked-up cars and old men in lawn chairs, coasting all the way to the park and the river and the lights winking on like geometric stars.

One night, late August, I saw a dark-haired girl riding helmetless back up the boulevard, her white, lacy dress blowing out like a dandelion clock behind a gorgeous, baby-blue fixie. She was fast, but I followed, losing her somewhere among cars but finding her again way ahead of me until she turned towards the storage units, threw the fixie onto the ground, pressed her back to one of the corrugated doors and slid all the way down, her face lost in her hands.

That summer ended as I rode past. I thought of stopping, but what would I say? “Hi. I thought I wanted to be you, but I guess I was wrong.” Still, not wanting to be her didn’t mean wanting to be me. What it meant was that I needed more than an escape. I needed a change.

When my downstairs neighbor moved out and gave me a silver hybrid for free, I hauled my shitty bike downstairs one last time and leaned it unlocked by our stoop. I got a new job. Yellow ginkgo leaves filled our street. Several times, the landlord pointed, saying, “Bike? Yours?” I shook my head. One day, it was gone.

— Erin Calabria

***

poison ivy.schaberg copyThe worst part of poison ivy is not knowing if you have it, but thinking you might. The nights extend when you notice an itching coming from (maybe) the same part of the body, repeatedly. Then the mind wanders back to the beaver pond that you hiked to earlier that day, a remote pool of water surrounded by dead cedars and wild grapevines as thick as your wrist. You went there to fly-fish, and you were so focused on your back cast and not getting hung up in the upper canopy of leaves that you didn’t notice the mass of Toxicodendron radicans that you’d stepped into—not until you were stripping your piled-up fly line and it snapped the stems, which spurted their milky juice, the toxic urushiol that stains black on clothes when heated up in the washing machine. Yes, it was there on the ground, then on your line, then on your hands, then—well, then anywhere is possible.

And now here you are at 1:42 in the morning, trying to stay still so as not to rustle the covers and wake your lightly sleeping toddler across the cabin, not to mention your partner in bed next to you, and meanwhile itching terribly all around your waist. You can envision the trail of red dots starting to puff up, and you wish it were morning so you could take a shower with harsh Dial soap and dry out the rash. That’s when another series of itches occur, down by your ankles. Maybe just mosquito bites? Anything would be better than the poison ivy, which last summer got you so bad that one of your thighs inflated to the diameter and tautness of a volleyball. Even the hornets that you stumbled into last week while collecting wild blackberries, and for which you received four nasty stings—even those are preferable. They hurt bad, but then they just leave you feeling slightly euphoric and numb. But the poison ivy gets in your head. Especially at night. It makes for long hours wondering if you got it, how bad, how widespread, and when and where exactly did you get it? Were you with any of your crew, and did they get it too? It’s itching again, somewhere new. It could be the worst yet. Or it could be nothing.

— Christopher Schaberg

 ***

There’s nothing to do here, so I get in my car and drive. I improvise, even though there’s nowhere to go, and I end up at the Midnight Sun getting a burger and pretending I’m on a road trip in the middle of a much bigger country—a continent, even. I try and imagine Australia or Alaska or wherever it is that the sun sometimes stays up until midnight. I know the menu will tell me, but the waiter hasn’t brought me one yet, and I can’t remember the story from the last time I read it. The waiter’s not busy doing anything. He just stands there staring out into space.

I sit and wait. I don’t care that I’m the only customer. I’m happy to be alone out here without anyone knowing where I am. I look outside at the deserted promenade, no tourists, the palm trees on the beach not even bothering to move their leaves. Everything is stilted like the inside of a snow globe begging to be shaken.

“Does anything ever happen here?” I want to scream. This isn’t a place for the young. The only adventure you can have here is in your mind. So I pretend that I’m on the road of a vast unknown country. When the waiter finally comes over, I practice my part: “What’s good here? What do you recommend? What do the locals order?”

He makes a face as if he wants to be exasperated with me but gives up halfway through. “The Midnight Sun burger,” he says. “It’s our special.”

As he talks, I notice a badly drawn moose on the wall behind him—or is it a deer?—and stare at it until it makes even less sense than when I first noticed it.

I wait. The waiter brings the burger and I eat like a maniac: I’m dying of hunger, I can’t eat, I quit halfway. He returns to his default spot by the counter, doesn’t even blink as I get up and walk away.

Then I get in my car and drive the half hour back to where I came from with the windows down and the midday air on my face. It’s neither cold nor warm, that room-temperature time of the year, and I understand how it feels to be where nothing ever changes, the bright light of day shining impossibly all through the night, the sun still up even at midnight.

— Ioanna Mavrou

 * * *

What follows abrupt ends?

What follows doesn’t flow.

The disrupted flow follows

to meet the end.

Also what ends

is normal.

What follows

is new normal.

New normal is not normal.

It follows an abnormal flow.

— Shivani Sen

***

We stand near the ice chest, so everyone jovially scrapes their crotches or butts against us as they pass through the crowd, their breath and sweat like a dank underground organism. They hold their arms out baby-like, reaching for someone they know to put a beer in their hands. My best friend grabs a piece of ice and rubs it over the deep golden rise of her neck and chest. “Want some?” she gestures to me and slips a piece of ice over my clavicle and down the dark arches of my breasts, over one side of my neck and around to the other. Her face is close to my face. Our noses almost touching the way we do sometimes, and I think, People think we’re going to kiss, and then, Let’s kiss.

The guys we’re with stop chatting and look at us like we are a video game, mouths slightly open, blinking hard. I let a little moan float into the open space between us, and she leans over to slather each of them with the same tiny glacier, now dripping in a steady stream down her forearm.

“That feels great, but I like watching you ice her down better,” the taller one says, his tone not so much pervy as matter-of-fact, as if comparing one brand of paper towel to another. I feel safe and sticky.

From the patio, we look through a large window into the house where the other half of the party is trying to find the right song to dance to. Hall and Oates comes on, and we pour back in. One guy peels off to leave and the other finds a corner and moves his arms wildly. We’re all dancing like people in their thirties do—old enough to no longer be afraid and still keen on gyration.

I notice I am the thickest women on the makeshift dance floor and close my eyes to remember the edge of ice dulling against me, the way I was held in a clear square of desire just moments before, the others’ bodies and cigarette smoke reworking the boundaries of this last hot night. In here, in the dark, I am aware of who is moving against whom and that I am large and alone in this beat.

Then, her hands hold to my hips. She leans into my back and our frames fit against one another. We move like that, mouthing the words, Whoa, here she comes.

— Sarah Pape

***

bee pinata.waring copy

It is the time of summer

where all the flowers are dying.

But still bright. Tiny sunsets bowing offstage.

 

It is the time of summer

where trees are dropping their unpicked fruit

to the ground. Bees—

 

Bees love this time.

It is still hot but the nights are cool.

It is that time.

 

When I meet you, you tell me

that one of your knees

used to belong to a man named Hans.

 

You are very tall. You say

that it still doesn’t work very well

but it’s better then your first one.

 

I think maybe you could use my heart if you want.

I don’t think I’ve been using it correctly.

I’ve been picturing it lately as a dirty lacrosse ball,

hard but bouncy. And maybe it would make a good knee.

 

If I keep smiling in this way

my teeth may pop out. I do not know if this will happen

one by one, like bee stingers. Into the things I bite.

Apples, or corn, or a new mouth, maybe. Maybe, soon.

 

Or if they are gong to come out all together,

one bang, like the final hit of a piñata.

 

This time of summer is the final hit of a piñata.

 

When people ask me if I like it here yet

the only thing I know to say is we have a yellow teapot.

And it’s the time of summer where the iced coffee

I make in the yellow teapot might be able to soften

my kneecap of a heart.

 

Maybe.

— Megan W.

***

My summer ends when there are no more watermelons available in the Kandy market for my brother to bring home, wrapped in polyethylene bags and stuffed carefully into his new backpack, weighing down on his shoulders as he hangs on for dear life at the back of the bus.

One thing I never understood was sibling rivalry.

How could you consider that person, born of the same flesh and blood as you, a product of the same womb, a rival?

no more watermelons.cooray copyBack in school, he was always my shadow, small, insignificant and sickly, having to claw for his inhaler every time he ran and played like a normal kid his age would.

They did not know him, unless he was my brother.

They knew him only as my brother, not an individual, just the other child of the parents that bore me.

If that had been me, I would have advocated sibling rivalry.

I would have watched me, rising to the top, seemingly indestructible, horrendously pompous and self-centered, and I would have sworn that one day I would beat me at everything. That I would be the best.

But he was, instead, my biggest fan.

And he did not want revenge. He did not want out of my shadow.

He stood there, he watched me, and he was proud!

He was a support I did not want until I realized he was all I had.

But today, I remain at home, eking a living from my words, selling blood to vampires, while he has risen to the pinnacle, above and beyond the targets I had set for him.

There is no bitterness. I’m the one who stands in the shadows now, watching with blurry eyes. I’m the one who is proud, and I just want to watch him fly higher and higher.

My summer ends when I realize that my summer ended a long time ago.

My summer ends when my brother goes back to school, leaving me alone in this house in between loneliness and solitude.

— Dash Cooray

 

***

I can’t wait for winter with you, I think in the last synapse before falling asleep, my forehead to his. I sleep easily and deeply, surprisingly comfortable that way, breathing dreams like dragons back and forth into each other’s mouths. In the morning, my face is flushed with heat.

We’ve gotten to know each other in rooms with no air flow, on days with no breeze, nights where the skin sticks wherever it touches and beads of sweat have already formed on my chest by the time he takes off my shirt. We’ve drenched sheets.

In the still after the sweat, even when the last thing I want is to be touched, I’ve felt my body pulled to his like sleepwalking, slow and senseless, but intentional. I’ve wanted to curl up in his lap on the bench in his grandmother’s backyard, even when nighttime feels like high noon, when the air is so hot it burns to breathe.

I’ve hungered for another person before, yes, but I’ve never had much appetite for anything when it’s this hot out. This August the air was heavy and wet, a breed of heat stronger than lust, and so I can’t help but think this must be the other thing.

I can’t wait for winter with him. I kick the covers off my feet and dream about keeping each other warm instead of trying to stay cool, about the steam that rises from coffee and December morning mouths, I see us curled under heavy brown fleece watching as the sky shatters and the world goes to hell outside the window. It feels like a jinx to make plans, to not look at your happiness slant-eyed and suspicious, but I fall asleep to his smile and wake up to my own, and in between I dream about the turning of the weather, the turning of the leaves, the turning of this into what it has the potential to be.

My summer was sweet, but I’m craving the crisp bite of autumn inhale. In every exhale, thank you, goodbye, good riddance is already on its way out of my mouth.

— Josiane Curtis

***

According to my father, my summer ends on September 19: “None of this maybe the 20th or maybe the 21st, or wait, are we talking meteorology, here? Astronomy? You’re going to get a different answer, you know. Which is probably why we’re all just happy to go by whatever some hack at Hallmark thinks goes best with a picture of a goddamned covered bridge.”

When I was five years old, my dad read an essay by Isaac Asimov that outlined a new way of counting time: a year divided into four seasons, each 13 weeks, or 91 days, long. It’s called the world season calendar even though it does away with the traditional descriptions of winter, spring, summer and fall in favour of A, B, C and D. The year begins on December 21 (A-01). So C, or what people who are not my father refer to as “summer,” ends on September 19 (C-91) in a common (non-leap) year.

I honest to God don’t know how years are managed—if adherents follow the Gregorian standard or start over at year 0 at some as-yet-undetermined point in time when this calendar achieves widespread adoption. I want to know, but I don’t want to ask, just in case it turns out he’s abandoned Asimov’s original proposal in favor of something of his own creation. I know John Stuart Mill drew a straight line between eccentricity and strength of character, but where Mill had Jeremy Bentham, my dad had Sister Mary Leonard. So, you know.

Growing up, he let my sister and I use the regular calendaring system. “You’ll decide what makes sense when you’re old enough to have some,” he said. In letters to my children, he writes both dates, prefacing one with “TUW” for “the usual way,” and one with “TRW” for “the right way.” He does that for me, because he knows I’ll see it and be forced to explain what they mean.

If you get a cheque from him, though, you’d never know he was thinking “B-84” when he wrote “June 13.” “I might think Pope Gregory XIII was an arsehole,” he’ll say, “but not a big enough one to fuck with my credit.”

— Jeni Armstrong

 ***

At the beginning, we were always riding our bikes against the hot night, lights making movies on the Chicago River, sweat running down my neck as we blazed down Damen to the dust of a kickball game and those orange streetlights. “It’s going to be all right, David, it’s going to be all right,” I said with so many smiles, his heat hovering over me. Several of these nights, burning hot like charcoal, growing cold like clocks.

We spent my lunch breaks downtown, roaming around, like tourists on the lot of some perfect movie. Running across stones and streets, and “Where should we eat?” How could I stay lost, how could I be gone, nothing felt wrong…just wanted him in my head, like a good shitty song.

At night, I would write across his bare back, draw invisible pictures on his pale palate, and make him guess the shape. I would kiss the blades while we slept. I would smell his hair and the organic shampoo he forced me to use. I would make his noise my own, and nine months later let it haunt the hallways of a terrible rental we left our roommates for. A temporary home so cold we always needed more blankets.

At the end, when he came by my new apartment, the light hadn’t looked like that all summer. The ivy had grown over the window, shooting a green hue against the table where I waited. The corners of the leaves were turning tan, and I could feel the dry ache of fall approaching at a maddening rate. Summer had slipped away quietly, like me from a bar when I drink tequila. We had been in different apartments for four months, and I still had his shit. He sat on the steps, and said: “Your life . . . it seems better.” He got an apartment, ten blocks away, but we never said hi.

He is gone, and he is a cold stare. We won’t remember how we each breathe. I hope we can conceive of some territory—some space—some small memory that I can meet him at. Can we meet there? Because no one prefers me, Caleb, it was only you. All my best friends have other best friends, and my parents and siblings like me in digestible chunks. I am no one’s favorite, and no one’s default. A shitty email I don’t send, inside a better apartment.

— David Perez

* * *

The end of summer brought a heat wave to Los Angeles. Ghostly steam emanated from sidewalks, sweat beaded on foreheads, the air was an overheated, rotten mix of smog and jasmine.

Restless nights were spent unable to sleep, partially because of the heat, but mostly because of him. He faded away like a fever dream.

I spent the end of summer on my back. Afternoon meetings where the sweat pooling in my clavicle—partially from the heat of the stifling room—a mix of my own and from my dutifully thrusting partner’s dripping hair which I pushed off his brow. Collapsing in a sweating, sticky mass on the floor next to me, one lone hand grazing my hipbone.

I thought about how he had gleamed.

At night, the sweat turned into a cold, wet blanket, sixty-five degrees feeling like an icy subzero extreme compared to the heaving oppression of the day. Night gnawed at my loneliness. All the moves were right: hands gingerly around my throat, entangled in the nest of my hair, grasping my ribcage. As I looked at the smooth, tan back facing me, the dull roar of the air conditioner pricked at my skin, pimpled with cold.

I thought how I’d be lying in his freckled arms. How I had lain in those arms.

Driving home the next morning, the palm trees began to sweat at the crest of Normandie. The orange wedge would later set in a blaze of pink fire echoing the heat of the day into the midnight cold and empty wanting of the evening.

Despite the sweat, the chill, the sex, I couldn’t rid my summer of him.

— Kerensa Cardenas

***

thank god its over.klapper copy

I used to know what summer smelled like. I knew what it weighed. Summer sat heavy and sticky on the shoulders. When sun bled away, the heat lifted, only to be replaced by whining mosquitoes and bites that swelled into lumps, turning familiar skin to mountainous alien terrain. The wide-mouthed moon rose, dropping a curtain of cold on its way up. The air was sharp. I always wanted to go exploring at night. In the mornings, I would see water rising from the ground, disappointed in myself for surrendering to sleep. That was summer in the North Country. Even now, I fail to accept the validity of anything other than a northern summer. The unending heat of other climates is not a season; it’s purgatory.

Then again, summer is purgatory for most children who are happier and safer at school than they are at home, maybe even after they grow up.

In adulthood, my summers have sent me scissoring viciously through relationships, budgets, and goals. I started one summer dropping out of graduate school via fax from Alexandria, Egypt, and ended it sitting in an employment orientation at Social Services, after helping my mother apply for food stamps.

This summer started with a phone call that my oldest little brother, the one people said was “most like” me, had been hospitalized for urgent psychiatric care. I curled into a ball that took more and more effort to unfurl, even as my brother improved, left the hospital, made new plans. I won’t remember most of this summer because most of it did not exist; I wished and wasted it away buying expensive nail polish and reading serious, intense books.

The bright spots are already logged in a mental album I will later use to rewrite this summer: the birth of my nephew (via a friend) and every day I spent with him, watching my friend grow into motherhood; the times my sister visited and ennobled my regime of novels and Netflix by sharing it.

In the end, I grabbed the only lifeline I knew of. I invoked fall. I became a person I recognized: a student. Through Farsi lessons and a syllabus of autobiographies, I gave myself a new beginning. I look back at summer now like someone who has climbed a mountain, or just crawled up out of a particularly icky pool. Summer is over, and I am relieved.

— Jessamy Klapper

 

***

In the winter, you swim in the indoor pool and stretch your tired old corpse into the lean young thing it was in the spring. So that the following year, you can again mow the cover crops and till and see heaps of hope in your poky brown swatch. So that in summer you can cultivate the crops and harvest the crops and perhaps sell them, too.

But all this, under the breezy heat of eastern Washington, pulls the body down. Your fingertips acquire sandpaper and your lungs fill with the neighbors’ dust and chaff. Your neck and shoulders, hard and tight, count each tote of cabbage and cucumbers as it leaves the field. Your back can stoop no more, which, in a failure of the mind, encourages more stooping.

By the end of August, when the sun gracefully rises after six, the soreness-that-is-not-as-quickly-being-added-to, admits a moment of reflection, and you realize, actually, that it will soon be over. Soon you won’t write such crabby things. Soon you’ll be biking to the pool, cursing the cold.

We age like trees, with new growth yearly. But when is the growth, in the labor or the rest? Can the modern mind and suburban body withstand these expansions and contractions? Is this scale of balance even possible, each year a day, each morning and evening the rise and fall of a breath? Can I feel the breathtaking chill of the pool while picking tomatoes at 4pm in July? Can I feel the frenzy of succession planting when all I have time for is harvesting, but in January, when I have a whole day with nothing to do but read and talk? Can I talk with that much joy? When will I understand time—its cyclicality and its linearity, and the storms that wash the world clean?

The plan, the only plan I can come up with, is that it will all sort itself out or I’ll write The Email That Saves The World. Probably, I’ll soon be too old and over-it to work all that hard, so I won’t need to rest all that deep, and by then I’ll somehow miraculously own the land I farm and my worries will go year-round.

 “Ye get so soon old and yet so late schmart,” a little plaque says, at my grandparents’ house.

— Vince Booth

 * * *

I know summer’s over because I’ve gotten dates in the mail: Marianas and Black Sphinx. D grows dates in the Coachella Valley. He sends his dates across the country to those who crave the pleasure of pure sweetness, the anodyne of holding one on your tongue, dissolving one in your tea. My apartment in Providence might be the farthest his dates travel this year. “What could be farther?” the whole taut country between us seems to ask. I wrap one strand in brown paper and send it back across the country to Eastern Washington, where my boyfriend is picking cucumbers, making pickles, turning twenty-nine.

I’m learning to use an iPad, my first ever Apple product. When I close my eyes, I can imagine toggling back and forth between my then-life and my now-life, swiping right or left with four fingers minimum. Nothing makes for as clean a break as moving across the country and starting medical school. Everything I touch in Providence speaks of this slick plastic future; nothing I touch speaks of human bodies and their resilience and decay.

After the first test, I take a bus to visit a friend upstate. I have to delete old text messages to receive new ones about where to meet her parents in the city. Because I’m not only a Luddite, but nostalgic, too, deleting messages cannot be done in one decisive “delete all.” I have to sift through my inbox, saving the ones that make me feel something. My voicemail is similarly cluttered. I re-save the chosen few when prompted like they’ll protect me. Like pleasure hushes pain.

When I see my upstate friend walk out into the steamy night promising thunderstorms, her hair wrapped in a towel, her hands held out to greet family and friends, I feel the hurt of what’s been missing in my new life, my now life. I want to touch everything. I get an impossible cold, a hundred mosquito bites. We talk about money and purpose; we talk about love. Her boyfriend drives me to the bus in Albany on his way home to Montreal. It’s everything and nothing I wanted. I want.

Back in the Murphy bed in Providence, my dates have ripened. I pass my test, the iPad reports. My cold turns to a cough. I walk between pockets of sweetness. All I know about healing a body is having one.

— Nell Baldwin

 ***

I meet Kari on the plane from Iceland to London in late June. We are both traveling alone. We meet a few weeks later in Budapest, sharing dessert at the top of a castle, posing questions for ourselves at each other. She has been in Paris, then Prague. I have been in Nice, then Barcelona. But all we can talk about is this: Why did you decide to do this? Why alone? We have answers—my heart, my job, my ex, my bones—but neither of us admits to knowing. When I tell her that I have cried without tears over a dozen times this trip, she says, “Me too. I know.”

There will be a moment after Kari leaves, when I am still in Budapest, when four weeks of traveling has passed and I am mentally and physically exhausted from all of the sites and foreign foods and currencies, when I feel as though I cannot apologize again for my English or lack of phone, where I will ask myself the one question I couldn’t pose to her. As I count the waves next to me in the Danube River, my cheeks are soaked the entire walk back to my rented home.

I learn the phrase “Hetzen lass ich mich nict” in Vienna. I don’t let myself be pushed. I know I will take this back with me, to the city I do not love. I meet two German men in Berlin who compliment me on not having too American of an accent. In Amsterdam, I accidentally stumble into the Red Light District and am surprised to see a few-weeks-old baby slung over a mother’s shoulder, strolling along. I see thirteen countries in total. This summer of new places feels as if it will never reach a conclusion. I tell myself I have seen too much, been too many places to ever feel home again.

But my summer’s end arrives. Not when the immigration officer recites the stamps in my passport or as the plane departs or when I complete my Customs Declaration form. It ends with the captain’s direction to look at ice caps below. Everyone cranes his or her neck. We all want to see what we have not seen before.

The answer to “Why did I run?” is clear then: because going to a new place is often the only way to face home.

— Amanda Oliver

***

You’re pumping gas at the filling station next to the neighborhood panadería. It’s California, an afternoon in late August. The smell of burnt sugar and cinnamon is like a warm blanket. Your wife is sitting in the car. She’s on the phone with her mother making arrangements to see family in Toronto this October. You’ve put off planning for this trip all summer, telling her it’s a long way off, but as you watch the numbers on the machine click and climb, you realize it isn’t anymore. It’ll be fall soon ,and the kids’ summer clothes will be packed away, replaced with backpacks, Pink Pearl erasers, shoes with Velcro (or maybe laces this year).

Today, they’re with your parents, dutifully slathered with sunscreen and building sand castles at the beach for one last weekend. Your wife has carefully laid out towels over the backseat in anticipation of picking them up, but you know as well as she does that there will be sand everywhere—in the lining of the seats and under the cushions in the hard to reach spaces where loose change disappears for good. Your son and daughter will be wired on sugar but tired from the sun, a mixture that spells a particular kind of trouble. But they will also be telling stories, funny and fantastic, about Grandma and Grandpa and dolphins that fetch and dogs that can swim. Some will be brand new and some you’ll have heard before, with slight revisions.

It’s a busy intersection. Traffic is coursing through, everyone heading toward the freeway and other responsibilities. Down the street, you see a teenage boy riding a small trick bike, peddling every once in a while then standing and letting the thing just cruise, eyes closed. He’s wearing an oversized shirt that catches the wind and billows out. The cool carelessness of him is awe-inspiring. It echoes in your chest. What did that feel like? you think, because you know you must have done that, too. Some other summer, another life. The pump chokes and sputters off in your hand. The sweet air is tinged with gasoline.

Your wife is off the phone now, ready to fill you in. October isn’t so bad. The kids will love the piles of fallen leaves, the colors and crunch of somewhere with changing seasons. For all you know, Toronto is a strange and beautiful city.

— Alex Peterson

***

Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.

You can find Susan Clements at her website and follow her on Twitter.