Monday, June 4th, 2007
Jamie stared up at his creation, his eyes squinting under the simmering sun, the summer heat a blanket over his sleepy afternoon. He wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his shirt, but the effort proved fruitless; dirt smears worsened on both surfaces through his attempts.
Jamie turned from his work and squinted some more, this time trying to read the clock in the kitchen from across the backyard. His feet shifted him forward, the grass scratching skinny ankles unfavorably, and yet the digital numbers evaded his gaze. Annoyed, Jamie made the trek to the sliding doors and, taking care not to smudge the glass, went inside.
Sweet relief in the form of air conditioning hit Jamie in full blast, and for a moment he let the coolness lessen the red on his face and neck. He slipped off his well-loved sneakers and placed them into the bin by the door, basking in the temperature drop.
Then the phone began to ring, interrupting his tranquility. He ignored the blaring sounds, instead dragging a stool across the woodwork to a spotless counter, enjoying the screeeeeeeech it made as it moved; his parents hated the noise, but they weren't here right now, were they?
While grabbing a cup from its boarding place, he heard his mother's recorded voice coming from the speaker, and then old Mrs. Leereigh was speaking. "Hello? Hellooo? Benjamin?"
Jamie hopped off the counter, prize in hand, wincing only slightly upon impact; he swiped the phone from the island and held it up to his ear. "Wickman residence, Jamie speaking," he recited obediently into the mouthpiece that was a bit too far away from said mouth.
"Yes! Hello, Benjamin," the woman answered. "You shouldn't keep someone waiting on the phone like that. Bad manners..."
Jamie nodded, then realized she couldn't see that. "Yes, Mrs. Leereigh," he said.
"Your mother asked us folk to keep an eye on you while she's working and you're not in school," she said for what seemed to Jamie to be the 1,347th time. "Ray and Melinda stopped by earlier, yes?"
"Yes," he affirmed.
"Good. Did they leave anything? I gotta have a word with Mel. How was her knee?" Jamie tried to answer, but she kept talking. "Reminds me of Sandy Pope. Fell down the stairs and shattered her kneecap, the poor thing. Wonder how she's doing. That was 20 years ago, mind. Hmm."
She seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, until, "Shaundra should be back soon, so I needn't send anyone else over. I was only calling to check up on you. Do you need anything? Maybe I should get Gary to-"
"No!" he blurted, a bit too quickly. "I mean...I promise to stay in the backyard until mom- Shaundra- gets home."
A sigh from Mrs. Leereigh. "A nice boy, aren't you, Benjamin? Ooo-kay. I'll talk to you tomorrow. G’bye!"
"Bye," Jamie mumbled, world-weary as ever, and hung up.
It wasn't that Jamie didn't like Mrs. Leereigh; it was just that they had the same conversation every day, and she was boring--in a sweet, old lady-like way.
What he wouldn’t do for a neighbor his own size, he thought, towing the stool back to (approximately) where it had been before. The fridge hummed as filled his cup with chilled water; the boy didn’t dare touch anything inside the monstrous white appliance.
After his drink was sufficiently sipped, he placed his cup in the dishwasher, stuffed his feet back inside his shoes, and re-entered his backyard.
The giant dust ball sat where he had left it, large as ever.
Of course, the moment he touched the thing, it exploded.
A shout out to my young nephew, who wrote the skeleton of this story with me on a summer day much like this one.