A Storyby Erin Rose Belair
I am thirteen and full around the middle with bird legs and no chest, stuck halfway between child and girl. It is a summer of relentless heat. It comes on early and stays through the night—forces us to sleep in ragged fits with a washcloth pressed to our bellies. I am in the backyard of the Tavern with a pail, picking up cigarette butts. My mother runs the Tavern, and in the summer months it is my job to sweep the decks and clear the yard. Every morning I can hear her voice carrying out the open windows as she sings Carly Simon and washes glasses. And every afternoon Andy and I slip away to swim and fish and hike until the sun sinks down.
The morning shadows have retreated and I am sweating through my tank top, my brown hair knotted on top of my head. Andy comes walking down the long dirt drive like he does every day in the summer. He calls “Poppy” from so far down the road I swear I could hear him in my sleep. Andy is the one who’s shown me our whole world up here in the Yaak, and every time he stands on the edge of a river or the lip of a canyon, he looks out over all of it and tells me it’s God’s country. He says that’s because there isn’t anything up here besides what God made, and although we haven’t got much, we have a lot more than anyone else: in these rivers and larch and mountains. And maybe it’s the rest of the world that’s got it backward.
I cannot say when I met Andy because there never is much meeting people in the Yaak. People just are. But the thing about growing up alongside someone is, as you grow the spaces between you have a way of changing. And, just recently, I can see my thirteen to his fifteen, or my being a girl to his being a boy, or perhaps all the above, as obvious differences. What has always felt like an even keel now has swells and falls and mysterious new gaps to explore. I will know this young man for a very long time and our stories ripple out from this one afternoon.