They come always at the end of spring, the glimmering red stain of their convertible streaking our narrow roads, idling in the parking lot outside the Fresh Mart; their beautiful son and beautiful daughter silk-smooth beside our dull disappointment-children. They come from the city at the tip of the state, blooming with the perennials and pansies, another bright in the re-membering of spring, a throaty echo that rattles our windows and fillings—our composite fillings, our resin fillings, our not-gold fillings so unlike those that shimmer in the perky mouth’s of their sugar-children. They come like snakes, beautiful snakes with cream sweaters, leaving the sweet scent of unpronounceable French perfumes tickling our noses.
We wait for them, watching the trees undress and the flowers split like exit wounds. Some years, after we’ve finished our winter planning, we pray for the cold to linger. We come together in the backroom of the church in late March and sit and pray. We ask the Lord that the frost stay for another month, push into May. But it hardly does. And even those years they come, only later, with their sweaters knotted stupidly around their swimmer’s shoulders. Some years we mark our calendars by the shade of their tan.
Their house—the summer behemoth they had special designed, special built by a special artist with a special name—sits just off the softest stretch of beach on the south end of town, off White Cap Circle, where the sun lingers warm and late. They own half the bay: a mile and three quarters of shoreline, a crescent swath of our softest soil.
In the first days after they leave in the fall the house sits cold and dark and we hunt the forest and bonfire that perfect stretch of sand, dancing ourselves into the bluest hours, into naked convulsions, celebratory. But when the grey settles fully, when the winter takes hold, it’s hard to feel so elated. For the severity of these highs and lows we hate them.
It is important that we say that we are not beasts. We do not just hate them for the theft of our favorite swimming hole where we horseplayed and skinny-dipped, lost our virginity summer after summer. Really, we hate them in the way you hate your husband, your wife, your dull children. We hate them for their cherry convertible and their blonde hair—so blonde that it is blonde at the roots, blonde in their underwear, some of us say, swear on the lord we have seen and touched and licked. Most simply, we hate them because they are a part of us, an unruly appendage, a beautiful growth, sprouting from our ribs that will soon outshine us, will then outgrow us, leave us sunless and withering. The younger of us, in education, have come to say that it is a hate born of jealousy, that they are everything we could be but are not. (It must also be noted that this same generation dislikes the use of the word “hate” and is in the processes of seeking out a new word, though we all know that “hate” is the word we want, the word that tastes best when we paint fresco portraits of them across our walls.)
It is usually in late December, after the holiday has passed, that we talk of burning them (always at first burning them because we cannot help but imagine huddling around the warmth of their smoldering marrow), house and husband and wife, children and all, of stealing those pretty gold fillings from their ashy mouths. We have drafted detailed plans and bought long-range rifles from the Internet. Most of our New Year’s resolutions involve the fulfillment of their demise, and most of our early months are spent almost entirely on revising these plans, on devising departures specific to the gentle of their curves—local schools have come to see this tradition as a sort of extended holiday.
We cannot ever bring ourselves to follow through with these plans. We have come so close as to smell the honeysuckle of their tropical-coconut-vacation-recreation shampoo. Not because we are afraid of the law, or retribution from our God—for 200 miles we are the law and our God, we know, wants only for us to be happy. No, we do not murder them with axes because they have brought us together. And if we are being honest, the only thing they have worth stealing is their existence, and it is beyond saying, but without them there would be a hollow in us. After all, we do not hate them for their 14k gold fillings—it is our children who do not deserve such reward—and we do not hate their beauty—we have our own beautiful creases and folds.
We have boiled it down to something similar to a birthright; an affirmation fed to us, that we feed to our children (as regularly as our famous split pea soup), we are not, will not, should not, and cannot, and they are. In fact, without them there is no are, and without are there is no not, and without not no us.
It is with this truth that we simmer through the moist months of their exotic coastal vacation, our whole bodies engulfed in flame.
* * *
In the fall they leave. Their little bags, their little car. This year, more than ever, we saw their smiles deflate, as though their faces had grown too heavy, and we could not help but think that maybe, with a little more time, they could have become us, with their sunburned grins and their granite cheeks, they could have stayed. But then the first chill comes, rattling through the pines, and they are shifting their throaty stain out of their driveway, their faces washed and new and weightless and we hate them, we burn to life, warm enough for the full of all the winter ahead.
Gary Joshua Garrison is a Prose Editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his wife in Arizona. They spend their time competing for the affections of their doggish cat, Widget.