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Last Summer

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 25, 2011

From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1960 –

Last Summer

by Christie L. Coles and Beth C. Johnson

The day was parched and dust filtered. Leaves and foliage at the side of the gravel road were covered with a thick, gray film. The air was still as a waiting breath.

Mina sat on the dirt-packed bridge and dangled her feet in the plastic-clear stream, wriggling her toes in its coolness. The sunlight stenciled arabesques upon her brown arms.

“Are you really going away, Virginia?” Mina asked her friend who lay flat on her stomach by the stream, cupping water into her hand and catching “skaters” to place on the sand, then watching them hurry back to the water and their endless sliding.

Virginia rolled over on her back, the light struck her fair face, and her voice seemed to lie on the dry air, husky and low, as she said, “Seems as though I’ve been watching these bugs all my life.”

“We have,” Mina murmured softly, “every summer.” Things didn’t seem to change. There were always the celebrations in July, the same hot days, the same coming up here, wading, talking …

As she spoke, Mina had a strange feeling that she was quite invisible, seeing all this with omniscience. She saw her friend’s soft, petulant mouth, and purple-blue eyes, the long, blond braid that lay like a shining rope between her shoulders. An ache went through her for the skinny-legged little girl who used to come here with her and later the bigger girl, when the talk had changed from paper dolls to school to boys.

As though sensing her friend’s thoughts, Virginia jumped up quickly and said in a strained voice, “Let’s go pick some apples.”

Mina jumped to her feet. “Let’s,” she cried.

The two of them made a vivid contrast as they ducked through the nearby fence: Mina, small and dark, with dimples that came and went in her tanned cheeks; Virginia, tall and blonde.

They came back to the stream with their pockets filled with the red fruit, washed the apples in the stream and rubbed them dry.

This is just as it has always been, thought Mina, every motion, the first bite into the crisp apple.

But it wasn’t as crisp as it had seemed once, nor as juicy.

Virginia must have noticed, too, for she said, “These apples don’t taste the same. Do you think the trees are getting old? Maybe they haven’t been pruned as they should have been.”

“What do you know about pruning apple trees?” Mina asked her, leaning against a poplar tree trunk where she could watch the stream, and see her friend.

“Me? Why, I’m the world’s greatest authority, don’t you know?” she laughed, and Mina joined in the laughter, until they were laughing uncontrollably, as they had often laughed over nothing whatever, until they were rolling over on their stomachs, gasping for breath.

For a moment, each of them lay still. Mina saw the brightness in Virginia’s eyes as they gazed briefly up the sandy shore at the clear water, the bushes, the deep foliage. She wondered if it could be only laugh-tears as they called them, or if this girl who had suddenly become almost a stranger, knew an ache similar to the one within herself. why didn’t Virginia answer her question? Why didn’t she tell her?

Papa had heard uptown that her folks were going to move, but Mina had been sure it was a mistake, assuring him, “But Virgie would have told me.”

Finally, knowing Mina’s thoughts, Virginia raised herself to her elbows, and cupped her chin in her hands. She said, softly, “Dad says we’re going … I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t believe it … I still don’t. I thought if I said it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be.”

“You can stay with us,” Mina suggested, brightly, “at least until they’re settled. Oh, please do, Virgie. They won’t mind.”

“Maybe I will, at least till school starts,” her friend said slowly. “Maybe I will. Let’s eat our lunch. I’m starved.”

They washed their hands, dried them on the edge of the dish towel which covered the square, wicker basket, reached for the sandwiches and the hard-boiled eggs; the two bottles of root beer, and began to eat.

“’Member the first picnic we ever took,” Virginia asked, “when we asked the folks if we could come down here, and they said, ‘no,’ and we got a lunch anyway, and took it to the Court House lawn?”

“Yes, I remember. We weren’t more than five, were we? And when they missed us, they had everybody out hunting, and almost dragged the river.”

The story was usually good for a really big laugh, but they only smiled now and went ahead with their eating.

When they had finished, Mina said, “Let’s get some sun.”

“You’re as brown as a nut now,” Virginia told her.

“I know. And you’re just golden. Want some oil?” Mina asked.

“In a minute.”

When they were lying flat, facing the sky, the worn blanket beneath them, neither spoke. It was as though they were already separated, or as though neither dared to speak.

They rolled over, closed their eyes sleepily.

After a while Virginia said, “I guess we’d better go. I’ve got to help Mom pack.”

Mina picked up the cups, aware of the perspiration on her forehead and the dull thudding of her heart. “You will ask them to let you stay?”

Virginia nodded; there was a frown between her eyes. And each knew it would not be so. Virginia leaned against a tree and looked into the distance at the little town where she had spent all sixteen of her summers. Her voice was soft and sad as she murmured, “I’ll miss all this. I’ll miss you most, Mina … I … I …”

Mina didn’t need to wonder about the tears now. She knew they were as real as when Virgie’s dog had died, or when her finest doll had been broken. Tears filled her own eyes. Her inclination was to throw herself back to the familiar sand, to weep, to hang onto the past, the fun, the goodness that seemed passing in this very instant.

She sobbed, “Nothing will ever be the same again. Oh, Virgie.”

For a brief second they clung to each other, then dropped their hands as though aware they were too big for this sort of thing.

Virginia bent and picked up the picnic basket. Mina kicked a pebble, and they started toward the road, the sand rising about their feet.

When they had gone a short distance, a car of boys they knew from school passed. The boys waved, and the girls waved in return. Their steps quickened ever so slightly.



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