The best time of day is when the sun sets. It’s then that memories become real once again.
Three months prior when Spring had arrived, clocks had been moved forward in accordance with social custom. The ground and trees lit up with bright blossoms. The change brought a promise of something new. That maybe this time, as the world changed, people would change too.
Now, in June, the sunlight had caught up and the days lasted longer. The grass in the front yards was a faded green, tipped with cool drops of water from the sprinklers, put on in a futile attempt at battling the dry heat. From the summer heat there came a heaviness that filled the air, and through the open windows of neighborhood houses it was delivered by a sparse breeze. The promise had gone away. Some grass had been scorched yellow by the sunlight. The blossoms had wilted, and leaves hung limp in the oppression of the afternoon heat. Through the neighboring streets all moved slowly, for laziness had become the way of life.
Summer had arrived.
Prissy Bell sat upon her father’s porch. She had an ice cream cone in hand, the vanilla swirl melting fast as she licked it ravenously with loud lip smacking sounds in between her words. The ice cream felt nice upon her face, and in her twelve-year-old mind she saw herself with painted glossy lips – a truly attractive visage. Yet, in the afternoon heat the ice cream dried sticky on her sweaty and swollen face.
“Privilege, Steven,” she snapped, dropping ice cream on her new white dress that Mr. Bell had bought her as a “just cause” present the other day. “Don’t you know what privilege is?”
Steven Cade sat beside her on the step looking longingly at the ice cream. His light brown hair hung limp. He shook his head as he moved his worn tennis shoes away from the dripping ice cream.
“It’s something made up,” Prissy said proudly as she shifted on the step, her painted toenails lifting in her white sandals. She was happy to know something Steven didn’t. Above the two of them hung a swirl of vines, which wrapped around the porch banister like it was strangling it, the paint cracking from the grip as the vine took possession of the space. From the oppression it caused, the vine flourished as two white blossoms opened towards the sun.
“Daddy said he was at this social meeting, for diversity or something, and these fools were up there complaining about their lives, asking for handouts. That’s what Daddy calls them, handouts. My daddy says our life is hard too, that we aren’t getting no handouts, we also don’t have any privilege. He says there isn’t such a thing as privilege, just hard work. Daddy said he was especially angry at that one group of guys, what are they called?”
“Guys?” Steven asked.
“Yes Steven! Those, um… faggots! That’s it, that’s what Daddy calls them. Says they want more privilege to be with other men. My Daddy says they are disgusting.” She took a large lick of her ice cream. Her tongue smacked about battling the cold, and her face scrunched up in a disgusting frown.
“Speaking of boys,” she began, “I like Johnny across the street. Susan says he likes me too. I told her I might go over there and ask him out.” Prissy turned toward Steven with a wide grin, “She also told me there is someone you like.”
Steven turned red. His mind flashed to Susan Little standing among her group of girls in science class. They each had worksheets in front of them, but the girls were all leaning onto Steven’s table looking at him intently. Susan had leaned in close, her eyes piercing as she snapped,
“You must like someone. What are you gay?”
The word gay came out of her mouth like she spat. It had become customary for this to be the follow up question whenever a boy didn’t answer right away about liking one of the girls.
“No!” Steven had said a bit too quickly. Grins spread across all the girls’ faces as though he had said yes. Quickly he recovered, “I like Brenda Miller.” The girls all shrieked and giggled for they now thought they knew Steven’s secret.
Prissy was looking at him with the same piercing look that Susan had.
“Who is it?” she demanded. “Susan wouldn’t tell me.”
“It’s a secret,” Steven mumbled.
“A what?” Prissy was not amused. “I am your best friend. You have to tell me!”
Prissy Bell loved to believe that everyone she talked to was her best friend, especially Steven who lived next door. Yet, her loyalty to the title only lasted as long as there wasn’t someone better or more important to be friends with. Steven lasted longer than anyone because he helped to get rid of the boredom she felt sitting on the porch alone, and because he stayed quiet while she talked.
“You’ll have to guess, just like Susan did.”
“Guess?” Prissy was not used to working this hard with Steven. She didn’t like to work hard; she liked things right away otherwise she grew bored.
“Yes, I’ll describe her, and you guess.”
Prissy scoffed, and then yawned before taking another lick of her ice cream.
The roar of an engine broke the silence of the summer afternoon as a large Mercedes Benz drove up the street.
“Daddy’s back!” Prissy cried leaping off the porch towards the car in the street. The window rolled down and Mr. Bell smiled at his daughter. Steven could hear his deep voice as he called her “my little angel.”
At the same moment the garage door opened across the street and Johnny Curtis came out. He was wearing cargo shorts and a black t-shirt. His dark brown hair gleamed in the sunlight and his smile could be seen from across the street.
Prissy waved at him and raced over.
Steven could see them talking from across the street. Johnny’s smile came and went as he listened to Prissy talking. Then she grabbed his hand and together they disappeared into Johnny’s backyard through the wooden gate.
Words, like memories, play in the mind like a recording, though they may never be heard.
“The girl I like has dark brown hair that falls straight against her forehead in fine strands that become soft when they dry in the summer heat.”
The fences were the one commonality of the houses around the neighborhood. They cut through the uneven land and formed the new man-made streets. There were at times two sets: one for the backyard and one for the front yard. Each was shut with a metal latch to keep people out, but mainly to keep people in. The open windows listened for the cling of metal and the creaking of wood. There was an expectation that the boundaries of the neighborhood, which meant the boundaries of society, were where the fences began and where they ended. It was never expected that anyone in the community would pass them, let alone want to. Following the line of fences through the neighborhood led everyone down a straight path.
“She has rich brown eyes, which seem to light up whenever she becomes excited or happy. There is a glimmer there unique to anyone else I have met.”
If a front yard fence is passed, permission must be granted to continue across the street. This permission also meant acceptance of one’s decision on breaking the boundaries. Yet, it was not so simple as gaining permission from only the window of one house. Every window from every house had gazing eyes. Voices could echo loudly across the street, off the side of houses, and off the steaming asphalt during a quiet summer afternoon. The sparse breeze through the open windows could carry secrets. Four simple words could change an entire life.
“She has a smile that can light up her whole face, and it seems almost strange how much she changes when she smiles. It’s almost like she becomes a different person, and it is there that I wonder if I could truly be safe.”
If a front yard fence is passed without the gazing windows noticing, courage surges through the bloodstream. The thought that runs through the mind is, if the location is unknown, the secret will also be unknown. There will be no connection of crossed boundaries to a conversation across the street and no change in identity. He will be the same rule-abiding boy with the sweet smile.
“She has long thin fingers that rest at her side. The fingernails are always full of dirt from the backyard where she digs. I want to touch the tips of my fingers to hers and feel the comforting embrace of her palm against mine confirming that it’s ok. She likes me too.”
Across the street lies a land uncharted. Through it is a hope of a front yard without a fence, and where the gazing eyes of the windows become a person. There through the window is a warm smile upon a mother’s face. She is seated upon a couch with the TV on. It’s a land where the backyard is no longer a mystery but a place where the holes dug in the garden bed are yours. The once ominous house has now become a place where you belong. The warm smile that has been in your dreams is now smiling at you. Yet, it is there above the smile that there are two eyes, and they like the windows gaze at you. They have an understanding of who you are. Four simple words would break that conclusion. Four simple words and it no longer matters how you view yourself, but only how they view you. The secret might not be heard, but it could be shared.
“She minus the s.”
There are categories used by a neighborhood, talked about in innocent ways such as “We are only trying to understand.” Yet, it’s an understanding based upon their own rules and their own boundaries. The mouth of the person in question has been taped shut from the beginning, by the fences, and by the gazing eyes. No one asks, “How can we understand you better?” They simply hand out the prepackaged understanding, as though one size fits all. All traces of who you truly are are now erased.
“He has short hair, short brown hair, and brown eyes. He has a smile that lights up a room, and long thin fingers.”
Steven walked back to his own yard and peered across the street at Johnny Curtis’s backyard fence. He imagined for a moment how the backyard might look and wondered what Prissy looked like standing there. He imagined what he might look like standing there.
The sun began to set as the evening came, and still he stood there, silent.
“I like you, Johnny.”
He was called back into the house from the wide gazing open window.
The best time of day is when the sun sets. It’s then that memories become real once again.
About the Author: J.P.Auliveld is a Nevada born and raised writer and storyteller. He has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Nevada Reno. J.P.Auliveld’s goals as a writer centers on bringing awareness to minority groups and their struggles with discrimination. It his desire to bring representation to groups such as the LGBT community in hopes of creating a more caring and understanding world. His work covers a wide range of genres including; fantasy, science fiction, fairytales, folklore and poetry. Aside from writing, J.P.Auliveld has also performed stories orally and is currently working on creating his own storytelling group. He currently lives in Sparks, NV where he is working on his first children’s book and a collection of new fairytales.
For more information please follow his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/J.P.Auliveld/