"A Cool Dry Place"—part 4

read part 1read part 2 read part 3

She never has to see any of the girls during summer.

It is only Mandy, Lara and Mom on summer days. Mandy knows the other girls see each other during summer vacation. They have sleepovers and spend days together. Mandy is never upset when they don’t include her during the summer, even though she is during the school year. When it is summer it is as though they do not exist.

Because there is nothing better than summer at the beach as it has always been—Mandy, Lara and Mom. Nothing is missing.

At the beach, they follow the boardwalk over the rise of the dunes and as they descend, the ocean comes into view.

The first moment of a day on the beach is a good, hope-filled one.

She becomes unaware of time and unconscious of herself in a way that frees her.

And this day becomes some variation of all the days they have ever spent at the beach. Hours pass until the best part of the day arrives—the time when the light begins to slant.

ocean_sun The sun on the other side of its arc, angled across the surface of the water. Bright beads of light ride on top of the waves up to the shore. Fingers taste of salt.

Now they will walk down the shore in all that liminal light. This walk is like all the other walks of every summer day. And better, because it is this time.

It is summer, and summer is light.

The summer after seventh grade. In two weeks, Mandy will be back in school. In three, she will be thirteen.


It is winter.

frosty_patterns During winter, the family goes out for supper every Friday night. Friendly's or pizza at one of the Italian places. Sometimes Chinese—fried butterfly shrimp dipped in sweet sauce.

In winter, Mandy, Lara and Mom clean the house when they get home from school on Friday afternoons. Friday cleaning is one of Mom's things.

"This way we can all just relax for the weekend," Mom says.

This has never made much sense to Mandy. For one thing, she herself would relax just fine if the house were dirty or not. And for the other thing, Mom never really seems to relax all that much ever.

Every Friday, the girls have a snack right after school, then they dawdle as much as possible to avoid cleaning. They poke around the idea of cleaning until Mom begins to lose her patience.

“Let’s get going, girls. The sooner we do it, the sooner it’ll be done. Then when Dad gets home, we can go out to eat.”

First, they each clean their own room. Tidy the clutter, dust the furniture, dust-mop the hardwood floor. Then they’re both supposed to clean either the kitchen or the bathroom, alternating weeks. But instead, they do the rooms together. Mom says it’s okay; she doesn’t care as long as it gets done.

As they clean, the winter sun lowers and the sky darkens. They finish just before Dad’s headlights turn into the driveway. Then they bundle up and go out to eat.


In the summer, they clean the house on Friday mornings.

“Before we can go to the beach, we’ve got to get this house cleaned,” Mom pronounces first thing every Friday morning. She folds clothes at the kitchen counter. Her back to the girls.

Lara rolls her eyes at Mandy across their French toast.

“Duh,” Mandy mouths.

They giggle.

“After breakfast, you girls get going on the cleaning. I have to run a couple errands. Then when we’re done, we’ll pack up and head to the beach.”

After Mom is gone, Lara begins to complain about cleaning.

“I am so sick of cleaning cleaning cleaning,” she says and flops onto Mandy’s bed.

“Me, too,” Mandy says as she clears clutter into its right places. She sprays furniture polish on a rag—one of Dad’s old undershirts. It’s the lemony kind of furniture polish, which is what the linen closet where they store it smells like. She runs the cloth over her furniture, moves items, lifts them and replaces them, runs the cloth over the dust. There’s not much dust to wipe up since Mom makes them do this every week. Sometimes Mandy thinks it’s kind of pointless, but suspects Mom would know if they skimped.

“I don’t want to clean!” Lara’s muffled voice comes from under the pillow.

Mandy swipes the pillow off Lara’s head. “Get up. I have to make my bed.”

“Fine.” Lara slaps her feet onto the floor, stands up heavily.

“Lara. Just get your room done so we can do the other rooms and get it over with. You know we have to.”

“I know.” She shuffles to her room. Her head hangs back, her mouth gaping, her shoulders pulled to her ears. Mandy sighs noisily.

Mandy makes her bed. She runs the dust mop over the floor quickly—under the bed, over the open areas around the bureau, nightstand, bookshelf—then goes to the back door to shake it out.

She watches big dust balls fly off the mop first then finer and finer particles float away on the breeze. She watches as they go floating away on the same air in which the sunbeams sit. Watches it all float away. Watches the air clear it until all that is in front of her, all that is left, is the blue blue blueness of the sky. The green lushness of the big old trees that line the back of the yard and stretch into woods up against the highway.

sunbeams She is still and wonders where all that dust settles.