Other than the days where it was rained so hard that we were sure it would never stop, rain that sounded like someone was dancing on the roof of the house, all the days were the same. It was always Saturday, always July, even when it was Wednesday or August.
I fell asleep, then, to the sound of low southern train whistles and soft voices, in the bed that had been my mother’s decades before. The room was green and the furniture yellow and there were no overhead florescent lights, just the soft glow of lamps and the long windows that let me stare into the flower bushes that grew wild outside the window. It was so unlike my house, a full time zone away, but I knew it as intimately as I knew the wrinkles and curves of my grandfather’s face, which as a child I would trace with my fingers.
My family and my mother’s sibling’s families had all come to our grandparents’ backyard, the central point of congregation. There in the backyard, it always smelled of sunscreen and moonflowers, which grew across the wall that shielded us from the long fields of rural Arkansas. We spent all day out there in the heat of things. When we poked our heads over the wall, we would see a small white church that stood with a cross the color of clouds against the sky which was always the same blue as the pool we spent our days in.
We still believed in God then, and the church was a place of comfort – it said yes, this is a holy place, and this flat land is holy and jumping off the diving board is your morning baptism into a world that is both familiar and not, a space and time that exists both as yours and not- yours and it is good.
The pool was where I learned to swim and dive as my mother did before me, where I discovered more than anything in the world, I loved floating in the water. For hours we would lay across blow up rafts, welcoming the heat that laid across us so heavy it would dip into our bodies and under our skin, and creeping its way through our bones, making us sluggish and sleepy. It didn’t matter. It was summer and we had nothing to do except becoming sluggish and sleepy; we had no responsibilities, no requirements on our time, no desires to consider other than our own.
Our lazy ears would occasionally pick up the sounds of our parents, mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles talking about adult matters, items of unimportance. They laughed and joked because no one they had ever really loved was dead yet; everyone was still someone’s child and every parent had all their children living and breathing and swimming.
The parents sat outside to make sure we didn’t drown, and their voices were the only piece of familiarity in this home that was once their home, which was so far from our home. They had all spent their summers at the ocean the same way we did in the pool. It was the blood and water, the way we were all bound to each other then. Some part of us thought it would always be this way – swimming in love and in summer.
When day turned to dusk and the mosquitos awoke, we would finally leave. Our skin would be pink and freckled by then, our bodies changed by the day. Though the house was sold over a decade ago, the pool swallowed by concrete, and the church knocked down, I still remember following the smell of bananas, which were a yellow the same color as the inside of the moonflowers, which we picked from the wall to put behind our ears, the skin of our skulls young and pink and smelling of summer sunscreen. It was then I would finally fall asleep, to the sound of low southern train whistles and soft voices, who reminded me of my place in the family of things.
Kirsten Reneau is a writer in New Orleans. Her work has been featured in The Threepenny Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, and others. She has been nominated for various writing awards and won a few. She is the author of chapbooks “Meeting Gods in Basement Bars and Other Ways to Find Forgiveness” (Ethel Press) and “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weirder” (Bullshit Lit), both out in 2023. She’s online at www.kirstenreneau.com.