May 17, 2010
The summer has cracked. Illiya can feel it sizzling down at him as he surfaces from Okanogan Lake. This means the people have cracked, too. Sunburnt skin covers the blood-orange strip of Penticton City Beach, families fresh out of winter hiding baking on beach towels in low SPF, parents half-watching their children alongside other half-watching parents, their beer disguised in insulated neon glasses. Illiya dives back under the lake’s surface in a long lunge, the cool water a slap in the face. Underneath, beyond the muffled screams of playing kids, the swarms of criss-crossing boats, the reverberating clash of pumping beats from the train of trucks on Lakeshore Drive – everyone exploding into their summer selves, Illiya wades further out, the sand trailing off under his feet. In the winter, there is hardly any snow in the Canadian desert. No bad storms, the Okanogan valley sheltered by the massive Rockies further north, hardly even much frost, but still everything dies for most of the year. Everyone. They lose themselves when the valley drifts away from the sun. Surfacing past the buoys, the bare red mountains rising up with him the way they do when they come up with the dawn – arid and hovering, layers of the unknown rippling through their cores, a heaviness drains through Illiya like the liquid concrete he pours into the foundations of houses – thick, slothful, and grey. It was last September when Ivy first rubbed those firm circles against his scalp, tipped his head back against the cool ledge of the sink and doused it with that perfect push of warm water. She gave him a discount on his haircut, said she liked his hair short, liked the sideburns, the curl. ‘Almost like a black guy,’ she scrunched a fistful. Not one of those words or touches were real. Illiya floats on his back and looks into the vacant blue sky. Leave you when the summer comes rolling…
A football splashes Illiya to his right. ‘Ill,’ he hears his name.
Illiya squints to see Jer from Summerland wading out to retrieve the football, a girl in a bright red bikini taped to his waist. Jer, an old hockey buddy with a knuckle-crushing handshake, drove his truck off a small cliff last June on his way home from a bush party in Naramata, drunk off the early summer sun and maybe too much whisky. As he approaches, Illiya sees that Jer’s drunk now at only four o’clock.
‘What are you doin’ out here, Ill?’ Jer asks, his eyes sloppy in their focus as he squints through the sun.
The girl in the red bikini looks at Illiya with an unpained smile, her wet hair red like Ivy’s, but her labret, pierced with a silver stud, nothing like the smooth curve of Ivy’s chin.
‘In for a dip,’ Illiya says.
‘Where’s your hot girlfriend?’
Jer nods half understanding, twirling the football and then dropping it. It smacks the water’s surface.
‘Come to the bush party tonight,’ Jer invites Illiya, drawing the girl in the red bikini back in close.
Used to be Illiya couldn’t wait to lose himself in the Canadian night air. Couldn’t wait to press his mouth against the cold, white teeth of some girl beside a barely controllable bonfire, digging through her layers to get to her warm skin.
‘Maybe,’ Illiya says.
‘Better see you there.’ Jer and the girl drift towards the shore.
The desert heat presses against Illiya’s face like the palm of a hand. But this year it’s just heat, the happiness siphoned from it. He imagines her taking a red and white straw to the sky and sucking the sun right through it like an egg yolk. Emerging from the water and stepping onto the hot sand, red like clay and thin as dust, the sun dries Illiya’s skin in seconds. He slides on his warm, dirty work jeans. Funny how they call the town blue collar – he’s never worn a collar to work in his life. Walking home, a thin wind rattles the leaves on the sparse line of trees along the beach, a small relief from the pressing heat. Along the strip of party motels people sit on patios and balconies drinking beer, worries burned up, moods melted by the sun, as though this is where they really live – in summer. As though they’re all okay year round. The smell of exhaust from the busy Lakeshore Drive pollutes their joy, blows their cover. What they really are, or what they’ll soon be: drunk and in debt with more kids on the way. Illiya walks down Main Street against the traffic, the long one way street the town’s strategy to churn the tourists through quickly: get em in, get em out, so they don’t overcrowd the already tainted Okanogan paradise. Don’t tell them that Penticton means ‘a place to stay forever.’
Shrieking inside the old white house. A broken plate on the porch, shattered pieces of blueberry pie. Illiya can hear his sister, Angelica, crying inside. The fights have been happening since Angelica started smoking Marlboroughs, wearing tube tops and platforms, and coming home late or not at all, her summer job at Dairy Queen the shame of her new glamorous life. ‘Another victim of the devil’s playground,’ Illiya’s mother has been saying. But Angelica is like a cat – she doesn’t come for anyone.
Illiya climbs the porch steps, its white wooden posts peeling like sunburnt skin, and he nods at Nate up on the ladder, odd guy around Illiya’s age from down the street hired by Illiya’s mother to repaint the house, always silent, smoking, strange grey halos around his irises that Illiya had never seen on anyone before. Made it hard to look Nate in the eye, literal bull’s eyes drawn around them, he didn’t want to stare. Nate offers a nod, his cigarette smoke wafting down.
Inside, Angelica is yelling, her voice sugary like cotton candy even when she screams. ‘Why are you such a bitch to me?’
‘You read Revelations,’ Illiya’s mother screams back. ‘Illiya,’ she notices him as she removes a steaming hot glass dish out of the oven. ‘Take your runners off.’
Looking around for broken dishes, Illiya does.
It’s the wallpaper that gives the kitchen its crazy feel, red and white checks with different aproned old maids in each white square staring out at you like they blame you for their trapped, wasted lives. At the kitchen table – dark oak covered in a red doily – Angelica holds a bloody paper towel over her foot, her legs wrapped around herself, toasty brown from months of preparatory tanning. Illiya’s younger sister, Kiara, sits beside her cross-legged, a bowl of cherries and an Archie comic sprawled in front of her. ‘Revelations is a crapload,’ Kiara says to no one, twisting a cherry stem in her mouth.
Kiara used the Bible their mother gave her for her twelfth birthday as paper mache for a piñata in the shape of a pink cow, which their mother unknowingly smashed to pieces on Mother’s Day.
‘We’ll see who’s laughing when the sky starts to fall,’ Illiya’s mother slices the casserole with the hack of an axe.
‘Will you be laughing then?’ Kiara asks. ‘Really, Mom?’
Illiya hovers in the kitchen doorway, his mother’s mind like a factory home – an unsturdy frame built from a pre-packaged blueprint, no use even trying to renovate.
‘Only Jehova can read hearts,’ his mother tells Kiara, her stock non-answer to difficult questions.
It was Illiya’s mother’s Seasonal Affective Disorder that got her hating blood transfusions and independent thinking like Jehova himself. Got her handing out pamphlets of people petting lions to her poor ex-league mates at Sun Country Bowl. But even with Jehova, she still spent winter days curled up in bed, the dishes piling up in the sink. Even with the special sunlamps given to her by church elders propped up on desktops and cabinets she still some days couldn’t speak to her own kids. Her SAD lights, she calls them – ten times the brightness of normal lights. Lights as close as possible to the sun, built to drown out any darkness, inside and out. Above the kitchen table, in a stained-red glass pizza parlour fixture, one of them gleams down now – bright as an eclipse.
‘You’re grounded,’ Illiya’s mother tells Angelica with her knife.
‘What?’ Angelica cries. ‘It’s finally decent out and you want to lock me inside this hellhole?’
‘Mom found crystal in Gel’s purse,’ Kiara reveals.
Angelica sobs under the hood of her pink sweatshirt, the smell of hot broccoli casserole braiding the room.
‘What is crystal anyway?’ Kiara asks, delighted. ‘Speed, right?’
‘Shut up, Kiara,’ Angelica shrieks.
‘The devil’s poison,’ Illiya’s mother scowls.
The SAD light burns down on them in technicolor, the wash of light against the sun outside somehow making the room somehow darker. When Illiya was in high school there were budding alcoholics, burnouts, even some cokeheads among the orchard owner’s kids, but meth was new – the poor man’s coke, a fraction of the price for a dirtier high that grinds your jaw. ‘Why don’t you just smoke weed or something, Gel?’ Illiya suggests.
‘Fuck you, Illiya!’ Angelica shrieks through her smudged mascara. ‘I’m not even doing it anymore!’
‘I can see it in your face,’ Illiya’s mother spits. ‘You’re ruining your beauty.’ She slams the casserole down on the table. ‘Illiya. Sit.’
Blood seeps through Angelica’s paper towel in the thick kitchen heat, the cherry rim around Kiara’s mouth like badly drawn on lipstick. The day’s sweat gathers at the base of Illiya’s neck. ‘I’m going out,’ he mumbles. Chucking his hat on the banister, Illiya disappears into the basement and steps into the shower, its droplets prickling his face like tears. Ivy never cried. Physically shrugged him off when he wanted to know her reasons, just like a dude. Illiya lathers the bar of soap in his hands like he’s lighting a fire and scrubs his face with it even though it burns his eyes. Ivy wants her summer. With no boundaries. Like that house he’s working on down in Keremeos – no line between its backyard and the bush. Under the hot drizzle of water, Illiya can feel the metallic grit of her scissors skimming his ears.
As the sun lowers itself into the sheer screen of red mountain, Illiya backs his truck out of the driveway, the holographic bumper sticker on his mother’s hatchback flashing in the falling sun: ‘Choose Life, Your Mom Did.’ Stopping at a gas station on Main Street to fill his tank, the attendant slips him his chips and change under the hard plastic window, the town’s transient nature a perfect anonymous setting for lapses in honesty, sanity. Illiya drives through the town centre, one of the storefront shop windows smashed but still hanging in delicate web of glass. Lapse.
The black night air is mild and glazed with salty grease from the French fry truck on Orchard Lane. Across the street, a girl with a perfect body wearing a skirt just short enough to make her look pitiful roams past the lined-up clubs. Lately, the bush parties had been dying out, Illiya’s friends figuring they were grown up now and should be getting dressed up and going to the town bars. A revolving beat thumps into the street as Illiya drives past the waiting girls in white dresses and sandals, guys in white collars and dark jeans. Ivy’s in there now, probably. This is what she wanted. To be in the centre of the things. Illiya lets the one-way lead him out of town.
Each jutting rock on the mountain road clinks together the beer bottles in the back of Illiya’s truck. At the site, fifteen or twenty cars line the dirt road that trails off into the large open field, another ring of trucks further out circling a tall fire of things that probably shouldn’t be burned in the black expanse of night. Illiya parks, grabs his beer, and walks out to the fire, loud, hard, sad rock playing from someone’s fuzzy truck speakers. He kicks the case under the wheel of a truck and breathes in the tannin dry night air.
‘Ill,’ Jer thumps him on the back. ‘Sweet that you came.’
Jer has sobered up since this afternoon. Illiya recognizes that look of paranoia in Jer’s eyes, the look of things falling apart – why Jer drinks in the first place. Why most guys do. If they can get there, to that place where they can pretend it’s all good, it almost is. Illiya’s buddies greet him with half-hugs and handshakes dodging the sparks popping up from the fire. The smell of campfire smoke used to make everything make sense to Illiya, gave him a sense that life was happening. Tonight it stings his throat.
‘You look nice tonight, Illiya.’ A girl named Jade slides into the crook of his arm. ‘Same as always, but nice with that white hat of yours. The only clean thing on you, as usual.’
‘Huh,’ Illiya manages, removing his arm to pull his hat down.
‘You’re always tugging at that thing,’ Jade re-hooks herself into his arm, her waxy perfume too much. ‘Kind of cowboy-like. I like it. I do.’
Illiya removes his arm again to take a swig of beer. In the blur of the fire everything looks as it always has except tonight it’s as though someone has turned the lights on. Exposed them all out here for what they really are – just a bunch of kids drunk in a field.
‘You’re quiet tonight,’ Jade says. ‘Don’t think too hard, baby.’ She brushes his arm as she walks away.
‘Yo, Illiya,’ Jer cups his shoulder, the girl in the red bikini now replaced by a typical Penticton girl – skin cancer tan, lit cigarette hovering between fluorescent-white tipped fingers. Jer looks across the fire.
Through the fire, Ivy sits in the back of an open truck bed, her hair falling over one shoulder like a foxtail. Dark red like cherry wood. She looks at Illiya, her eyelashes blinking their relaxed bat, then looks away. He doesn’t exist. He’s been shut out of his own life. Illiya walks away from the fire, kicking his beer bottle out into the field, and heads over to the shack at the edge of the tree line that burnt down when he was in high school. He unzips his fly and goes, looking over its scorched Blair Witch walls. He didn’t burn it down, but he did watch it burn. The wind jostles the trees with that same beaded shake as earlier, except this time it sounds like shhh… Like they’re telling him to shut the fuck up.
He can’t help but picture her naked. You can feel it when someone is beside you seeing things how you see them.
Back at the fire, a joint is being passed around. It swirls with the beer in Illiya’s head, blurs his thoughts. He chugs beer after beer. Lets the lukewarm poison numb his insides, lets it dissolve his misery like peroxide on a wound.
‘Hey man, you want to come quadding tomorrow?’ Jer is asking.
‘Yeah…’ Illiya can hear himself answering. He tries to grab onto this feeling of actually wanting to do something but the feeling dissipates into nothing like the rising ashes swirling above the fire. In the firelight, Illiya catches a flash of Ivy, a guy in a sweater standing too close to her smoking. She hates cigarettes.
The guy touches her face then slides a hand down her ass.
Illiya feels himself jumping through the fire. Feels his fists melding into steel.
‘Get him off!’ people are yelling as hands lift him off the ground.
Illiya looks down at his fists covered in blood.
Did he really jump through it? It felt like he did.
‘What was that?’ Ivy is screaming in his face. ‘What the fuck are you doing, Illiya?’
Illiya takes his hat off, leaving a red handprint along its white brim, the blood swelling to his knuckles. He backs away from her, spitting blood onto the ground, her skin glowing petal pink in the fire.
‘I don’t belong to you, Illiya. I never did.’
A few people stand and watch, the bloodied guy gone, dragged away.
‘I don’t want you anymore, Illiya. If that’s what you need to hear. I. Don’t. Want. You.’
The words echo into his pulsating knuckles as the fire lashes at her face. He knows why she said it this way. He can see her looking around for who’s looking, the words meant more for them.
It was the winter, not the summer, that ruined everything. So used to being unhappy, Illiya let himself worship Ivy in place of the sun, saw her as these few perfect images he couldn’t let go of. Pulling the covers over her soft shoulders, the way she would slide her hand up his leg when they were driving. Illiya lies on his basement cot, grateful for its damp chill against his wounds, his stomach ill from the bumpy ride home in the back of someone’s truck. His mind spins like a stuck tire. The guy’s face who he attacked lingers in a red blur. He messed him up. Badly. He’s pretty sure. He’s become a guy who hurts people. An attacker. He feels it hard now, this version of himself, and it hurts. Not the regret, the unchangeable fact of the man he’s grown into. Common. Unedcuated. A regular hothead. People say your personality is who you are most of the time. But the people here, they save themselves all year for summer. When you save yourself up long enough you’re bound to crack.
Illiya’s swollen fists bleed through the white towels wrapped around them, but his nerve endings have been shot for awhile. Falling into a thick sleep, Illiya wakes up to a crack at the window.
Ivy sliding down through the window like she used to, her ankles cracking as her feet hit the floor like bonfire sparks.
‘Illiya,’ she stands over him. She climbs into bed beside him, peach coolers on her breath, her hair musky with campfire. And he lets her lie there and hold his bandaged hand. She plays with his hair, puts a hand on his forehead.
‘You’re no good for me,’ she says.
Saturday and the desert blazes, the temperature a full 43 degrees by eight in the morning. Hardly any shade in the wide Penticton basin. Nowhere to hide. Turns people skittish like ants under a magnifying glass. Illiya drives Angelica to work for her early shift, stealing side glances to look for grey meth patches on her face, forgetting he’s the one who has wounds to cover up, Ivy’s scent still on his skin.
‘Happened to you last night?’ Angelica asks.
Illiya keeps quiet, knowing she won’t press it given the free ride. At this hour, only the old people are up, the snowbirds – southern desert in the winter, northern in the summer. They graze the donut window in the air-conditioning of Tim Horton’s, their faces fermented like wine, aged more by their religions than the sun, all that stored spite that they might end before the world, unlike what they’d been told for so long.
‘You gonna stop doing crystal?’ Illiya takes his eyes off the road.
‘I told you, Illiya, I’m not doing it anymore!’ Angelica stares at herself in the side mirror, her tanned arms crossed over her Dairy Queen t-shirt – white with a red heart made of the words: I LUV DQ I LUV DQ I LUV DQ…
At dawn Ivy left the way she came, kissing Illiya on the lips before hoisting herself back up the concrete wall.
‘I don’t trust you,’ Illiya tells his sister, turning into the Dairy Queen parking lot. Pulling into a space, he gives her the two-eyes-on-you gesture. ‘Now get out,’ he says.
‘Wait,’ Angelica jumps out of the truck. ‘Just wait a sec.’ She runs inside the store and returns with a large Oreo blizzard. ‘Thanks for the ride.’ She leans on the window frame. ‘Only a few months of summer and I’m stuck inside Winter Wonderland all day.’ She canters back inside taking a quick look to see if anyone has seen her go in. It’s the transition she doesn’t want them to see – the link between this self and the other.
Heading to work, balancing the cold cup against the steering wheel, Illiya leaves the windows down to let in the sauna-dry breeze, a hint of a faraway forest fire lacing the wind’s current – the scent of burned possibilities. He can’t picture Ivy in his bed last night, can’t indulge in that thought. Ivy’s like the pinnacle of summer, no matter what you do it always slips away.
The days get hotter, the town flattened by the sun, and no word from her. From the shore, in the white morning light, Illiya watches a young couple suntanning on the floating dock in their underwear, the only ones on the beach so early in the morning as the beach tractor combs the sand. Illiya walks over the freshly raked ridges, his wounds from that night thick and leathery with dried blood from not taking care of them, swollen, probably infected. Yesterday, in the river that runs the edge of town where people line up to float down in tubes and dingys, a body was fished from the water. One depressed winter body from months back. A few of them every year. Illiya pictures its grey, clammy skin covered in leaf mulch, limp like a dead fish. He walks down to the East side of the beach, the water scummy and green from the giant beached paddlewheel in the reeds. He used to wonder about the girl painted on its side, waving to another incoming paddlewheel from Sicamous in her old-fashioned bathing suit that covered her elbows and knees. He used to wonder if it wasn’t as hot back then for her to be so covered up. If it didn’t get a little hotter every year.
Jer, Brody, and Emery pull the boat around. Illiya gets into the water, still cold from night, and swims out to meet them, open beer cans already in the cupholders to drink off last night’s hangovers. After high school, Illiya slowed down but they all kept going, drinking five nights a week, their hockey six-packs padded with solid layers of gut now, their hairlines receding like the summer. Brody rips the boat across the lake. It lashes the water in hard slaps, its motor like a chainsaw. Brody Wooley used to wear wool sweaters to school almost every day in high school, the kind with the red rim around the collar like Levi’s socks. Proof of pre-destination, Illiya was convinced. Last summer, they worked together on an A frame house in Peachland, the hotter the day the less chance Brody would show, his dad’s boat too much temptation. Illiya usually wouldn’t let himself go. Last summer there was a sense in the breeze that something was going to happen. Illiya worked hard in the frame of that still roofless house under the hot sun almost every day, and at the end of summer when nothing out of the ordinary had happened he began to feel the disappointment – he’d waited too long. But then there were her white fingers stimulating every tip of his nerves through his scalp.
As the sun hits the top of the sky, the guys take turns on the wakeboard, lacerating the water along the boat’s choppy wake.
‘Heard you got in a tussle with Brett Holmes last weekend,’ Emery yells to Illiya over the wind, tossing him a beer from the bow of the boat. ‘Heard you messed up his face pretty bad.’
‘I lost it,’ Illiya admits.
Emery’s own record is far from clean, a pink scar across his right eye from a knife fight on Skaha beach last summer.
‘What is it with you and that girl?’ Emery shakes his head.
The way she never looks right at you.
The way she fits his body like a missing limb.
‘She’s not worth it,’ Jer cracks open a can of beer in the captain’s seat. ‘She’s fucking with you, man.’
‘That chick will fuck anything,’ Emery adds.
Laughter around the boat as Jer cuts the engine so Brody can pull himself in.
Illiya feels the blood pumping to his fists. The boat drifts parallel to the shore.
‘Now those chicks…’ Emery points to some faraway girls.
The beach by now has had enough time to form into its speckled mess of bright brand new plastic store-bought poppable things.
Illiya looks at the girls in their bikinis. It’s like eating ice. Nothing. Just nothing. He really doesn’t need the summer. He may have at one point, but he doesn’t anymore. The seasons are just a backdrop, just detail.
Buzzed from the sun off the water, Brody whips the boat around in figure eights, the boys yelling for him to go harder ‘until someone falls out.’
On the porch steps – white, but not the white they were before – greyer, a cloud white, Illiya trips over an empty Dairy Queen cup.
‘Nate gone for the day?’ he asks Kiara who swings on the white bench in a pile of Archies.
‘Gone,’ she says, clearing some Archies off the bench for Illiya to sit.
‘Strange guy.’ Illiya sits, taking off his hat, his hair knotted like rope from the boat ride.
‘He’s just depressed,’ Kiara says.
‘What do you know about depression?’ Illiya laughs.
What would his twelve year old sister know about sadness not worth expressing?
‘Where’s mom?’ Illiya asks.
‘At the Elvis festival in town. I tried to tell her about worshipping false idols. Told her she’ll lose her reservation in the 144 000 witnesses going to Heaven.’
Illiya grabs his sister’s head and messes up her already greasy, tangled hair. ‘What’s that?’ he asks.
On Kiara’s lower stomach is a red raised scar, the word NO etched into her skin.
Kiara pulls her shirt down. ‘It was a dare,’ she says. ‘My friends and I.”
‘Why NO?’ Illiya asks.
‘Just… no. You know… Like ‘fuck it’. Refusal. Defiance.’
‘Don’t do that to yourself anymore,’ Illiya tells her. ‘Don’t wreck your body.’
‘Look at you, trainwreck,’ Kiara looks down at Illiya’s destroyed knuckles. ‘My poor sad brother…’ She shakes his hand as if they’re meeting for the first time.
‘You’re twelve,’ Illiya reminds his sister.
‘I’m a person,’ she says. ‘Just like you.’
Illiya goes down to take a shower, having agreed to meet the guys for pints at the dreaded Nite Moves – girls doing body shots off each other in front of guys with muscle cleavage. But tonight anything is better than himself. Illiya makes a point of putting on his same dirty work clothes, smelling them to make sure they’re halfway decent, then puts on his white hat out of the dishwasher – four trips to rinse out the blood.
‘I don’t want to hear it!’ The backdoor opens, his mother carrying a full load of groceries, Kiara trailing behind.
‘Funny,’ Kiara says, her feet black with dirt, ‘how all the messiahs since ancient Egypt were born of a virgin, died on the cross, then resurrected for three days.’
‘Kiara, get out of my hair and go sweep the floor. By the looks of your feet, it needs it.’
Kiara gets the broom. ‘Fine. I like sweeping,’ she says. ‘It makes me feel like a peasant girl.’
‘Illiya,’ his mother spots him. ‘I need you to mow the lawn. I’m having a Kingdom Hall meeting here on Wednesday…’
‘Later,’ Illiya says.
‘It would be nice if you’d come.’ His mother unloads a bag of tomatoes. ‘If you accepted His word you wouldn’t be so down all the time.’
Kiara sticks out her tongue and clamps it with her teeth.
‘I’d rather learn from life,’ Illiya says.
‘What you’ve learned is in the past,’ his mother reaches into the fridge. ‘The future is yet to come, Illiya.’
‘You mean the mass floods and the slaughter of anyone who doesn’t go to your church?’ Kiara blurts out.
‘You have no faith,’ his mother says. ‘Neither of you.’
How can you have faith when you live in a place of ups and downs, highs and lows, hots and colds? A place of no consistency. Untrustworthy.
A rainbow of lights assaults Illiya’s white hat among shouted, beat-fuelled conversations. At a stand-up table, Illiya’s buddies shell out twenties on rounds of Jaggerbombs, Jer swaying like a sawed Douglas fir.
‘That’s what I’m talking about…’ Emery leans back to check out a passing girl’s ass.
Illiya turns to face the dancefloor, letting his full beer bottle sweat on the table. As much as he’d like to think he sees through this town, the truth is he rarely thinks beyond it, the sun sedating his imagination, the mountains blocking him from looking too far. The deafening music does its job of drowning out any incoming thoughts, like he hoped it would. He looks around – the same bright brand new colours of City Beach glowing blue in the orb of the black lights. Gyrating, vodka-guzzling kids trying to squeeze every last drop out of their summers. Their summers, they really see it this way. Across the dancefloor, among the girls grinding up against each other, Illiya spots Ivy, her head tipped against another girl’s. They’re kissing. Eyes closed, hoop earrings colliding under the relentless thud of the beat.
Illiya sits back. It’s possible that everything he knows about the seasons is wrong. The season can change at any moment – each entirely different than the next, the slate clearing with each breath. Clear. Clear… Illiya’s head flings forward from a hard pound on the back.
‘Wake up kid!’ Jer puts his arm around Illiya. ‘Drink your beer, queer.’
They haven’t seen Ivy. They’re too drunk. Illiya looks back at her, a group of guys gathered around her now, getting in on the action. This was all for them. Wasn’t it? ’I'm out,’ Illiya stands, raising a hand to the guys.
‘It’s midnight,’ Jer blocks him with his barrel chest.
‘Well, I’m peacing out.’
‘Being a good boy?’ Jer asks, that look of paranoia coming through his eyes despite the full day of drinking, so drunk he’s looped back around to sober. ‘You think you’re better than us, bro?’
If it wasn’t for Ivy leaving him, Illiya would never have been able to see how similar to the people here he’d become.
‘You’re wasted,’ Illiya walks away. Head down, hands in his pockets, he exits the lined-up club, Jer too drunk to trail him. Main Street is abuzz with drunk kids singing loudly and smoking, parked cop cars waiting for the bars to close so they can snag the drunkest of the drunk. Outside the entrance, Ivy leans against the wall pressed against some guy. She’s cloned, everywhere at once like in a dream. The guy has a thick arm around her waist, a tattoo rising from the white collar of his shirt. A diamond stud from his earlobe gleams under the Nite Moves sign.
Illiya keeps walking.
Ivy calls his name.
He keeps walking.
She slips away from and starts walking after him.
‘Look, I get it, okay?’ he keeps his pace. ‘Anyone except me. I get it.’
‘I don’t want to hurt you, babe…’ Ivy drunkenly warbles, her unthinkable beauty dimmed by her generic words.
Illiya looks both ways before crossing the one-way street. No main street can only go one way, he decides. The whole notion of gathering, mulling – one-way streets can’t provide this. This town was built with no centre.
On the street corner, Ivy touches his shoulder. ‘I do want you,’ she wavers into him.
He looks into her eyes, speckled like Olive Lake, a lake the deepest shade of green that no one can swim in. Stepping onto the crosswalk, he leaves her standing in the street.
The sidewalks chug like train tracks under Illiya’s large steps, radiating the day’s heat back up to him. ‘Thank God it’s over,’ he says to himself, quietly. But around here, it’s never really over. There is no point at which you can stop and relax. Always a winter coming, just breaks in between.
In the dark, the old house shines white against the starlit sky, though Nate has only finished one side, the white just a false front. Illiya quietly unlocks the door to not wake anyone up, but a light is on in the kitchen. Pieces of a broken lemonade glass lie shattered down the hall like thrown jacks. Illiya crunches over the glass. At the oak table Illiya’s mother and his sisters sit in the kitchen’s blinding light, a sheen across their foreheads from the hot night, a pathetic fan in the corner spreading the heat, the empty brown paper grocery bags piled at their feet like boulders from Frank Slide.
‘Your sister’s pregnant,’ his mother says, a sour exhaustion across her face.
Illiya looks at Angelica, black tracks of mascara running down her California girl cheeks.
‘When the fall comes, you’ll have to put your shoes on,’ his mother’s eyes lie in slits. ‘Then it won’t be so funny anymore.’
Illiya looks at Angelica’s feet, toes painted pink to match her flip flops, the blueberry pie plate cut across her baby toe. Kiara tucks her dirty feet under her chair, a band of red along her nose and cheeks.
‘I will kill that man,’ his mother slaps the table, swivelling the cherry bowl. ‘You’ll have to fish his body from the river.’
‘It’s not his fault,’ Kiara says, her eyes shaky against her mother’s.
The NO on Kiara’s stomach: Nate Olsen.
‘You’ll get rid of it,’ Illiya’s mother stands, knocking back her chair.
‘What – and stop a beating heart? A living soul?’
‘What have I done to my children?’ Illiya’s mother rubs her face.
‘Leave me out of it.’ Angelica runs upstairs.
‘You’re addicted to that junk!’ Illiya’s mother calls after her.
‘It helps me get stuff done!’ Angelica slams the door to her room.
Illiya looks at Kiara, her face and hands so small at the large wooden table.
The back door slams as his mother storms off, swinging back open behind her like an entering ghost.
‘Did he rape you?’ Illiya stares down his sister.
‘No,’ Kiara says. ‘It was a mistake, Illiya. I don’t love him or anything.’
‘So what are you gonna do, Ki?’ He sits down at the table. ‘Soon it’ll be fall and you’ll have to go back to school. What are you gonna do then?’
Kiara twists a cherry stem in her mouth, tying it into a knot and spitting it into her palm. She stares at it, then stares into the sour wisdomless faces of the beheaded old maids. ‘I’ll kill it,’ she decides. ‘Before it becomes a person.’
In the muggy kitchen, crane flies from the open back door buzz up near the SAD light unable to fight the urge to immolate themselves against its brightness, and Illiya sits with his sister in the muggy kitchen before fall infuses the air and time is up.