Summer Storm Coming by Edie Rylander

Editor Colin Farstad, Fiction, July 1st, 2014

"...that last breath wasn’t breathing in and it wasn’t breathing out either..."

edie rylander summer storm coming nailed
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In the yellow light that falls like sulfur around the bleached gray cedar chips of the playground I am chasing frogs. Dirt is a smear on the hem of my pink dress. I will get beat for this later, a black belt striking across pale legs leaving bruises like grape halves in cream, but at this moment, I don’t know, and at this moment, I am alive in nighttime joy, and aloneness.

Church had let out with a humid sigh an hour before, the congregants milling into the quickening Talahassee darkness like gnats, vibrating towards their Oldsmobiles and Chevys, their own destinations of a late supper, maybe a movie appearing to me like stars next to stars; disappearing if I think about them hard enough, but clear if I don’t think about them at all. When the cars skid from the gravel parking lot, spitting bits of splayed stone they are gone, and I have stayed. My parents are inside, talking to the pastor about Rickie.

I chase frogs. I get dirt on my dress.

There is the growling buzz of the watchful streetlight and the groaning of hundreds of cicadas, brown molts like scabs stuck to trees, in low tangles of hanging spanish moss. Despite the vibrations of pulsing sound that cover my footsteps, I narrow my body against playground equipment. I am hunting in the only way I know how, like Elmer Fudd–I must be very, very quiet. I exaggerate my tip-toes in white Sunday shoes. My palms are raised before me. This is how it looks to chase frogs. Big, fat frogs like animated stones, medium sized frogs with fussy old-lady jumps. Tiny frogs like chocolate chips that are cute, but not worth a catch.

If Rickie were here, he’d be scrambling like a Great Dane puppy over cedar chips, his excitement over the frogs messing up any chance of catching one. He’d shriek in the way five year olds do, and in the wisdom of my own seven years I’d hush him, then giggle, then hush him, then get mad. I’d get so mad.

Instead, I stretch my arms into the freedom of the night, of the way space expands around me, and horizons could end up anywhere in the dark.The humid air is wet sweater thick, the tiny hairs of my arms and legs raise with each low rumble in the distance. My world has condensed to this heat and electric noise, to the sharp metallic scent of the oncoming storm and the nothingness that lies beyond the illumination of the streetlight. My small chest feels full with the possibility of so much open emptiness.

Angled in orange glow I spy the biggest frog I have ever seen. He is fat, he is a king of playground frogs. I look around for someone to show, my first instinct, eyes darting around the empty brown and yellow playground equipment. The parking lot between the playground and church is just as barren; our Nova sits adjacent to the small church that is completely dark save two squares of light that sit like markers, signifying where my parents are. My impatience overcomes the desire to show off this prize. I am going to catch this frog.

My Sunday shoes clatter over resigned wooden chips as I press the flat of my feet forward towards him. The frog freezes at my oncoming assault, then attempts to leap away into the night. I am prepared for this; my legs brace out and my dress slides up, revealing striped Care Bear underwear and bruises. Just as the frog begins arcing up and away I reach for him, tiny hands clasping around skin as thin as eyelids. I crow laughter, triumphant bumps and warts firm under my thumbs. My rough fingers grasp soft frog belly, intestines and organs slide under my eagerness. I am standing, feet splayed, directly under the yellow streetlight, holding the frog that is struggling against my grip. A moment later, the frog lets loose with a splash of hot urine, a warm mossy stream of defense. He lifts his hind legs in an attempt to push himself free, but I tighten my hold, piss ringing my fingers. He is mine, and we are both fiercely and savagely alive. Each, determined.

Dirt from the playground mingles with the urine on my hands creating streaks of sticky grit on my palms and up the length of my arms. Instinctively I hold the frog up and away from my dress, but it doesn’t matter: drops of grass-scented frog pee dot the skirt.

I don’t realize how hard I am gripping the frog until he lets out a plastic sounding squeak, then relaxes in my fingers. I gasp, skinning knees to the ground, chips poking splinters into my legs. I set the frog before me — but do not yet let him go. How can I let him go? He is too big, too much of a win to release. I cannot, I cannot. He looks at me with eyes like green glass in mud. Under my clumsy hands I feel his heartbeat, a tremble of muscle. We are surrounded in cicada chorus.

For a moment he sits, breathing, and I think of Rickie, how he was breathing until he wasn’t breathing any more, and how that last breath wasn’t breathing in and it wasn’t breathing out either. How I kept waiting, and waiting, for one or the other until I was sent from the room and now, each night on my pillow I don’t breathe in and I don’t breathe out and I try to find that moment.

Over and over, my face red with effort and crying I hold my lungs still and try to reach where Rickie is. Every successive night he seems farther away. I can feel him slipping. I can the feel the frog slipping, the frog is pushing from me, he is loose, he is jumping away in one leap that seems to me in all my heart to take him over the playground, over the streetlight, over crying rust red swings, and into the dark.

The church door pries a slice of light into the parking lot as my parents come out. I smell the summer storm breaking. It is the last time I will chase frogs; this electric summer night under God’s own eyes. I walk to meet my parents at the car, the house a clear destination in my mind. And tonight, newly bruised and scrubbed clean from any indication of the frog, I will hold my breath. My mother, bent over her Bible at the kitchen table will hold her breath. My father in the dark living room will hold his breath.

Our car grips gravel and spins into the night. Crackling heat lightning illuminates scrub pines, sending bony pointing fingers of shadow through endless leaping frogs.

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edie rylander fiction nailed magazineEdie Rylander’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Think Jam, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, and Gobshite Quarterly. She studies word crafting at Portland State University and is a co-editor for the online literary press, The Gravity of the Thing.

 

 

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Colin Farstad

Colin Farstad's work has most recently appeared in Spilt Infinitive, Analekta Anthology, and Coal City Review. He is the editor of the short story anthology The Frozen Moment : Contemporary Writers on the Choices that Change Our Lives (Publication Studios, 2011). Colin has been a teacher, editor, writer, event coordinator and connoisseur of classic cocktails for years. Currently he's living in Brooklyn, hard at work writing a novel tentatively titled It's Never Over and working at the literary agency DeFiore and Company.