There's No Business Like Show Business
I am the sun. Plain and simple. No. Not a glowing ball of whatever drifting in the cosmos. I am the sun because people can’t seem to look at me straight, like there is something wrong. If they do, it’s a quick glance with a hard squint. I am the sun because when people see me from far away, I seem nice and warm. The closer you get to me the more you realize I’m a flaming violent ball that will bite you if you get close enough. Okay, I’m not all that bad. But when you look farther away you realize there are far larger stars out there. I’m just a million in a million.
Me and Eric spent more time together after that. Rudder Eric and I would go to the pond about a mile out of town on our rusted bikes. We’d swim out into the middle of the kidney-shaped green water and practice drowning. One of us would thrash while the others would swim as fast as we could to the victim and drag them to shore. I was never the best swimmer, and Eric was practically Olympic. I usually played the victim being dragged into the muddy sand. There was one high rock you could dive off, but if you did anything but cannonball you’d kit your head or feet on the rock bottom. Once we had exhausted ourselves, panting with our skin pleating, we’d climb the tallest thin-branched trees. When the branches got as small as our wrists we could see the town steaming in the distance. I’d breath in and pretend I was enjoying the thick breeze. We’d leap from twenty feet up into the marsh, and drag ourselves to shore by the reeds of cattails and grass. The three of us lay in the shaded sunlight and sizzle. I’d wipe the mud off my face with a muddy hand, and it would spread across my forehead. They’d throw sand on my face because I was always falling asleep first. We slept one night by the pond, and didn’t show up for school the next day. The air was body temperature all night, and the moon was nearly new. The sky reflected into the mirror that was our ocean. We’d float in the center of the pond and watch the sky and the fish glisten in the moonlight below. We were nearly swimming with the stars. We left our shirts and shoes on the shore, and they grew brittle with dust and dry mud. So we didn’t wear them. It was only a day, but it felt as if we were the lords of the flies all in one moment. Our hair was knotted and folded behind our ears. The morning after, two girls showed up. Emmylou Washington was tall and unapologetically confident. Her face was thin and already had smile lines. The other girl was Orla, a girl who came up around Emmylou’s elbows. Her hair was short and had piercings all the way up the edge of her left ear. They were both in bathing suits and had towels in hand. They waved to us from the shore, dropped their towels on the shore and dove in after us. Soon they were swimming with us, getting muddy with us, and drowning with us. Orla taught us how to do a flip into the water, and we’d race around the bend of the pond. When me and Eric were trying to do handstands against trees I surprised myself.
“I might like Orla.” I said into dead air. He laughed, causing him to fall on his head.
“Really? That was fast.”
“No I’ve known her for a while. But she’s cool. I don’t know just a thought.” He responded with okay and pushed himself back into a handstand. That handstand lasted much longer. Eventually we decided to go back to civilization. We all shared the two towels they brought, and began our barefoot walk of shame home. I walked with Orla behind the rest of them.
“I mean I don’t think it’s possible no one was worried that three of you were gone for a whole day and a half.” Her hair was frayed upwards, not with static but with dust and pond water. And she was right. Eric’s mother had spent every moment of the night before until our return searching for him. When she saw him she nearly fainted, her hug nearly knocking him to the ground. Her hair was grey and tied tight enough you could see her skull. Mother wasn’t nearly as shocked.
“Had fun with your friends, Aaron?” She said passively.
“Yes, a lot actually.” I said, pulling clothes out of my drawer for the shower.
“Just make sure you keep your grades up. I can’t have you…” She faltered, realizing where that sentence was going. “Falling behind.” I nodded.
“Yea, totally.” I responded.
Father was a little more angry. “And you just– disappear? For days? Son, we’ve gone through enough recently. And God knows the Walker family can’t afford to lose another kid.” He spoke with an intensity that turned his knuckles white. His face was red but not with sadness or anger. He was just… overwhelmed. He pushed his hair out of his face with his palm, not so sure how to finish his thought. Instead of saying anymore, he walked into his room and locked the door.
Marissa and Avery hugged me when I came downstairs after my shower.
“We were worried about you.” Marissa said as she ruffled my hair.
“It seems even more than your parents.” Avery said raising her eyebrows. Marissa nudged her shoulder and they mouthed a couple things I couldn’t read. If there’s one thing I could never do it was read lips. There’s too much you could misinterpret.
That night the five of us decided to meet up in Orla’s basement. She lived just out of town, all the way on the opposite side of Orlin. I lay on the rumbling window as I took the thirty five minute bus ride. When I got there Emmylou, Eric and Rudder were already there and already drunk. They were dancing around to ‘In The Jungle’ on repeat with Orla. Every time it would come on once again they’d each look at each other excitedly and start telling me how they loved this song so much. Rudder came over to me, rubbed my skull with his knuckles and handed me a red plastic cup full of vodka and apple cider. Soon we were dancing to Orla’s Mother’s record of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’. I spun Orla three times and we waltzed to the upbeat song. It was less of a dance and more stepping on each other’s feet and spilling drinks. She kissed my cheek and I laughed. Soon I realized she was drunk so I stopped laughing. I was tipsy. Not drunk. I pushed her shoulders away.
“You’re drunk.” I told her
“You’re drunk.” She imitated me. I laughed and sat her on the couch. Rudder was lying on the floor watching the ceiling intently. Eric and Emmylou had disappeared into the closet. And that was fine, I thought. Just fine.
I shuddered at the sight of the closet door shutting and turned to Orla. “Do you like me?”
She snickered and poked my nose. “Duh, you’re my buddy.” She said.
I pushed her so she was sitting. “Yea but I mean like me.” She looked at me and pointed a finger at my nose.
“No.” She said, then cackling and falling back onto the couch. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t even disappointed. If anything, I was full of relief.