his suitcase away from the departing bus into the shade of the depot,
blinded by the bright sun of a new summer, it’s light radiating
off the whitewashed side of the building. The depot was a simple
old shack tucked off to the side of the road along the shoulder.
A tattered awning flapped in the wind. He was the only passenger
In the space of a minute the door had clunked shut and the bus
moved on, leaving behind it a thick cloud of dust. Until silence
returned to this sleepy, desolate place, he sat still, finally picking
up his suitcase and moving off the road to the path through the
tall grass he followed every summer. He knew this was the fifth
year he would spend with his aunt and uncle, but it seemed like
something he’d done his whole life. These were the only six
weeks he really lived for.
By nature, they weren’t pleasant or fun people in any special
way. Just plain folks who lived a simple country life, away from
the city and the swelter his mother wished for him to avoid. These
folks, his mother’s sister and her husband, had no children
of their own. His mission now, as it had always been, was to fill
a void; to keep them company and involve them with a family before
inundating them with the attention they disdained.
Although the house was nice and their farm quiet, Arthur had, for
the last two summers, looked forward to seeing Emma than anything
She had red hair and freckles, squinty eyes and bony arms. In the
city she would have been called a tomboy, but out here she was free
from that convention and could be herself. She was taller than Arthur;
strong and strong-willed. Her father was a quiet man with a farm
of his own. Arthur had only seen him from a distance, while doing
chores at dawn. He never spoke, nor did he smile, but stared past
the edges of his field, looking across the landscape as though waiting
for something that never came. Arthur found him uneasy, and hoped
he would never have to speak to him.
The gabled roof of his aunt and uncle’s house peeked above
the top of the hill, just over the tall grass that lined this dusty
path. His suitcase sagged in his arm and he set it down in the dust,
sitting on it like a stool. Cicadas buzzed in the tall grass and
in the trees and Arthur held his breath to listen. Far off in the
distance, he heard an engine – maybe the bus – winding
its way along the road beyond to the next stop.
He picked up the case and moved on toward the house, lugging its
weight behind him and thinking of what he would say to Emma. What
would she look like and when would he see her? His heart beat faster
and his legs moved quicker. Something was happening below his belt
in his shorts that was new and strange and not wholly unpleasant.
The mist from a field sprinkler caught him in the face, cool and
wet under the intensity of the sun. In the distance, a bony scarecrow
of a man rode a tractor in rows up and down the field, his eyes
shaded from the glare of this day.
And then before him, as though by magic, Emma was there. She was
lithe and beautiful, her skin freckly and pale, her red hair blowing
in the breeze that carried the mist of the field sprinkler across
their faces. Arthur was awestruck, surprised by the bevy of emotion
that erupted from within him. He felt faint, his knees weak and
wobbly, a sudden uncontrollable tenderness in his jaw muscles. Her
radiance touched him in ways he’d never imagined, exposed
him to feelings he hadn’t known could be felt.
“You’re early,” she said, “Ya beat me to
it. I was gonna surprise you.”
He managed a shrug; barely aware his jaw was still hanging a little.
She giggled a little and asked him about the bus ride. He said it
was fine, amazed he managed that, and lugged his suitcase toward
the house with her at his side.
Aware now more than ever in his life of his left hand, swinging
out from his body a little, perhaps intentionally so, he felt her
fingers intertwine with his and got chills. And in that moment he
wanted nothing more than to protect her from the world, from father
or anyone else who would harm her. He thought of the kids at school
who had teased him, of the people at the bus who had looked at him
wondering where someone so young was traveling to all by themselves
and of his aunt and uncle. He thought of them and cursed himself
for ever having thought badly of them, for ever having wished harm
on them or feeling superior to them. He cursed himself because this
new emotion that grew in his heart, radiating outward into the world
and back along his interlaced fingers was sweeter and more powerful
than anything else he’d ever known. He supposed it was love
and wondered how he had never felt like this before and why he didn’t
feel that way toward the rest of the world and everyone in it.
And without realizing it, the weight of his suitcase had vanished,
the handle in his right hand light as a feather.