Featured story from the
May/June 2009 issue
Hear the author read her story
see the illustrations for this story
“That one looks like a ship,” I say, pointing my finger to a large cloud. I can almost see Captain Hook swaggering on the deck, but then my fantasy just evaporates into another fat cloud. I turn my head and see a herd of elephants parading through the sky. They stampede through the clouds, and I say nothing, waiting for them to disappear into a daydream. I imagine the sun shining on the elephants in Africa.
“Eliza?” Jamie asks, breaking my trance.
“What? Sorry … wasn’t listening,” I say.
“We noticed,” Hazen snorts.
“Hey now!” I say, sitting up.
“You are so out of it, Liza.”
“Speak for yourself,” I shoot back to Hazen.
“Look!” Jamie says, breaking our friendly bickering. Two huge clouds are going toward each other. I’m confused. The wind should be pushing them in the same direction.
“They’re on different planes,” explains Jamie.
“Thank you for enlightening us, boy super-genius,” Hazen says, but I marvel at the clouds as they hover above us, going toward each other faster than the average clouds. But when the two clouds meet, nothing happens. They just go by. Are we like that? Do we not even know it when something incredible just passes us by?
“Huh,” is all I have to say.
We all lie back down, staining the backs of our shirts with wet grass, to watch the clouds.
“This is what summer is meant to be,” says Hazen lazily. I nod wholeheartedly.
“Yeah,” agrees Jamie. “Hey, look! That one looks like an E,” he says.
“Yeah, it does,” I say. “I wonder if the cloud gods are trying to tell me something?” I wiggle my eyebrows, and Hazen cracks up.
“Let’s go!” Hazen says, jumping up. I follow her, knowing exactly what she means.
“Where are we supposed to go?” asks Jamie, not yet caught on.
“Anywhere! Everywhere!” I say, and start running. Hazen flies by me. Jamie soon catches up. We sprint through the infinity of green fields. My feet get covered in dewy mowed grass, but who cares?
I run with the wind. With the ground beneath my feet, and the sun shining for us high above. Something about this carefree feeling is better than anything else.
When school starts, these times are gone, so I savor the thundering noise of my feet hitting the ground, and the wind pushing my hair into my face, and sun hurting my eyes. The three of us run until we collapse.
My heart is beating way too fast, but I’m still in energy mode.
“Chicken,” I say.
“Low,” Jamie responds immediately.
“Tree!” I shout. It is my favorite game.
“Stare.” I wonder how long this game could go. It is nothing. You shout words until someone pauses. But it is the best game in the entire world.
“Um, guys, what’s going on?” asks Hazen. Jamie and I keep shouting. Finally I point to Hazen, and say one word.
“You.” And just like that, she has joined the endless game.
After a while Jamie stops, and Hazen drains out, too. Now I am the only one screaming. I must sound like a lunatic.
One last word. “Champion!” I yell, laughing.
“Hey, look over there!” says Hazen.
A huge rock bulges out in the meadow. It is covered in ivy, moss, and prickles, and surrounded by high grass filled with thorns and milkweed. “Let’s climb it!” I say. Jamie and Hazen look reluctant. “Oh c’mon!” Hazen follows me, but Jamie stays. “Please, Jamie?” He shakes his head.
“No prickles for me,” he says.
“Fine,” says Hazen, and we jog over to the unmowed weeds around the rock.
“OK, here we go,” I say, and start fighting my way through the jungle that reaches my belly button. “Ow!” My first thorn—with many to follow, I’m sure—scratches my leg.
I hear an almost responding “Ow!” behind me from Hazen. We forge on.
When we’re halfway there, I hear a voice not belonging to Hazen. “Ouch!”
“Jamie!” I turn. “Thanks for coming.” We wait for him to catch up, and then continue.
After many prickles, scratches, and pauses for tick checks, we reach the top. I look around the rock. I see the same things but from a higher perspective. “Well, this is a disappointment,” Hazen says. I kind of agree with her, but don’t want to admit it.
“It’s cool,” says Jamie.
“Look at the mountains!” Hazen says. They seem to have risen out from the horizon. The clouds around them are pinkish from the reflected sun.
“Wow wow,” I say.
“Let’s go,” says Jamie.
“OK,” I say. “Wasted effort …”
“Your idea,” points out Hazen.
“Fine. Last one down is a wasted effort!” I say, already sprinting through the thorns. They ignore me, slowly picking their way through the prickles. When they reach the bottom, we compare scratches.
“Thank God for long shorts,” says Hazen.
“Yeah,” says Jamie.
I look at my shorter shorts and notice I have twice as many scratches as each of them. “Oh well,” I sigh.
We stand in silence.
“Whadda you want to do now?” asks Jamie.
“Blah,” says Hazen, a twinkle in her eye, and the game starts up again.
We shout and scream, and act like little kids. How nice it is to pretend, just for one day, that we’ve gone back in time, and there is nothing more important in the world than us having fun. Carefree. If you know that there is reason to care, then there is no such thing as being free of that reason. Maybe that’s why it’s impossible to really pretend to be young again, back when you didn’t know that reason existed.
After a while we are back on the grass above Hazen’s house again. I have one last favor to ask of this perfect carefree day. I stand up and start spinning in circles, just like I used to for hours when I was six.
“What are you doing?” asks Jamie.
“Spinning. Join me!” Both of my friends stand and join me enthusiastically. I stop spinning and look down the hill. I’m pretty sure there’s a devilish glint in my eye. I look at Hazen. My silly idea has been reinforced. Hazen looks at Jamie, and he nods. “Three, two, one … GO!” We start spinning wildly, faster, faster, and faster still, until we’re going wildly out of control, sprinting and twirling down the hill. I start running when I can’t spin anymore. Trying to run straight is out of the question. This way, that way, careening crazily, I’m too dizzy to even see properly. Finally I fall down. Splat! I’ve fallen in a mud pile! I burst out laughing, and stand to run to my friends.
“How bad is it?”
They wince. “Your entire back is covered in mud.”
I involuntarily frown, and then smile again. “Anyone want a hug?” They run away screaming.
When I catch up to them I give them two big mucky hugs, and say, “Let’s do it again!” So again and again we spin down the hill, until it is unavoidable that we have to go indoors soon. The mud on my back is caked dry.
“One more time,” says Hazen. We run up the hill. “Three … two … one …” she says as slowly as possible.
The silence is annoying instead of peaceful. “Go!” I scream and we start off. Hazen and Jamie are already zooming down the hill, spinning uncontrollably.
I want to
Frozen in time,
Smiles upon their faces
On a bright green hill,
Waiting for me to reach them.
Then I start
I see the sky
Swirling in circles.
I see my feet
Swirling in circles.
One step, two steps.
I quicken the pace
Of my circle dance,
Until it is too fast to count.
I can’t see
My feet are drums,
Slamming the earth.
A rhythm like an
Out of control,
It’s impossible to
I hear the wind and my heart,
I am an
Out of Order sign,
Too scrambled to fix.
I can’t remember
When I was in order.
I am so lost,
So out of
The limits that
But I feel so
So at one with
Like that Zen
I have always made fun of.
When you have lost
Everything that ever made
You realize just how much
You have always had.
I remember every second of
That I enjoyed as a child.
Why did I forget it all
I don’t know,
I just enjoy the
Being a child,
Being an adult,
Are all limits set before you are born.
But you know what?
I can be a little kid
Whenever I want!
I start sprinting.
The wind screeches in my ears.
Such a perfect moment.
I hit the
But you look up.
And see the sky,
I stand up, and my friends join me. “Let’s go home,” I say, and the three of us walk home, savoring a day of complete carefree.