Summer Vacation

by Peter Grandbois

We rise to the spongy heat of summer, throw off our sheets and run downstairs to fill our bowls to the brim, cool milk spilling over.

It’s nine o’clock as we finish our cereal. Already, the thick air slows us. Outside, we grab the hose and pull it to the plastic pool. Dirt and leaves swirl about the Daddy Long-Leg at the center, its legs curled under. We stand knee deep in the cold water, pretending to slip and fall.

When Zach says he’s bored, we ignore him, but soon Billy agrees, then Sam. Douglas says it’s too hot; he’d like to go back inside. We don’t let him. We pull him to the garage where we inflate tires flat with disuse.
Zach speeds down the driveway. Sam follows. We screw on the valve caps, then wipe sweat from our eyes as we try to keep up. Douglas can’t even work the pump nozzle.

Zach rides no handed. Sam stands on his frame as he races downhill. Douglas struggles far behind. We pedal faster, but it’s no use. We are no longer sure where we are going or why we are out in this heat. Zach stops his bike, and Sam nearly crashes into him. They face off, each waiting to see who will make the first move. Then Gary spots the 7-11 on the horizon.

Only two of us have any money. We pass the small cup around, timing each sip, trying to forget about the disappointment of the pool and the bike ride. But then Gary won’t let go of the cup. He steals another chug. Zach and Sam yank it from him, but it’s too late. There’s not enough for everyone. Zach throws the cup against the side of the dumpster. The remaining juice slides down the side, cherry-red pooling on the tar.

The ride home takes three times as long. We push through the syrupy heat, stumbling into the house. Sam crawls to the freezer and sticks his head in. We are saved.

We remove the frozen pizzas and tortellini, throw out the freezer burned packages of peas and edamame beans to make room for the small body. Can we do it? Douglas asks. We must do it, we reply, knowing it’s true.

The freezer is cleared. Zach tries to step inside, but the rest of us stop him. He wont’ fit. Who’s the smallest? We pull Douglas to the front. He looks for an escape, not understanding how we need him.

We shove the sliding freezer door closed, but it keeps catching on the small of his back. Squish in farther, we yell. Sam pushes him in. Still, his back catches. Zach grabs the broom from the pantry and uses the handle to prod him down. When Douglas lifts his head, Zach bashes it with the handle. Douglas begins to cry, and the day seems as if it will escape. Zach pins him down with the broom handle while the rest of us slam the door shut. We dance around the kitchen, Zach leading the way, working the broomstick like a conductor’s baton.

It’s cooler. We’re sure of it.

Peter Grandbois is the author of The Gravedigger, The Arsenic Lobster: A Hybrid Memoir, and Nahoonkara. His essays and short fiction have been shortlisted for both the Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays. He teaches at Denison University in Ohio and can be reached at www.brothersgrandbois.com.

Quick word association: summer vacation. What flashes through your mind? “Scrub Day.” When I was growing up, the last day of the year in elementary school was called “Scrub Day.” It signaled summer vacation. It was basically a form of innocent hazing. We wore our worst clothes on that day because the goal was to “scrub” each other in any kind of gross and disgusting material you could find. We egged each other and shot shaving cream and whipped cream on each other. We drew all over each other, painted each other, etc. I believe the seed of “scrub day” lies within the story “Summer Vacation.”

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