The Elements of Summer

by Laura Stallard Petza Read author interview September 15, 2005

Celie calls me Lime Jell-O and I deck her. Then she calls me a dyke and I deck her again. Stupid Celie. What the hell does she know about anything. She just stands there, looking retarded, while Daddy and I drag the pool from the shed. The bike pump is impossible. I try first, and then Daddy tries and his armpits get copper with sweat. Celie says she wants to try and we laugh. I mean it, she says, and we laugh again. She’s so dumb and prissy—with her press-on nails and her bow-tie sandals. Daddy puts a hand on her shoulder. She wants to call me fatass—I can feel it—but instead she gives the pump a push. Jesus, I whisper, when she doesn’t even get the handle halfway down, and Daddy says, It’s okay, honey, this old thing’s rusty and hard to work. Celie shrugs and asks Mom for lemonade. Mom, she’s cutting celery for tuna because it’s too hot even to barbeque. She’s watching Oprah on a little portable TV and chewing a piece of Celie’s banana gum. The pool hisses from a hole in its side. I remember what the hole is from—a stick fight Celie and I had last year—but I say nothing. Daddy looks pissed. Mom is blowing a monster bubble. It’s the color of smog, of mayonnaise. We all watch it get bigger and bigger. When it pops, Celie screams. Stupid Celie. The pool lies dead on the patio.

***

It’s scary-dark. Celie is spraying the hose and I’m running through it. I’m freezing but I don’t want her to stop. Finally I get so cold that I have to run inside for a minute. The kitchen is hot and smells of tomatoes. Moths cling to the screen like snowflakes. I eat the last pretzel stick so Celie can’t have it. When I get back outside, she’s asleep in the lawn chair. I think about spraying her but I don’t. Way, way out, lightning is flickering like a channel that doesn’t quite come in. It’s silver and a thousand miles away.

***

We’re at the graveyard. I want to stand up straight, for Mom, but my skirt is too tight. Celie is crying. She has big purple welts under her eyes. Last night she told me that I didn’t know Grampa like she did, because I never went with him and Gramma to Skyline Drive. She went to Skyline Drive with them once, like 10 years ago, when I was just a baby. Last month when we went to visit Grampa she whined in the car that he smelled like old shoes. I want to cry about Grampa, but the tears won’t come. I try to think about sad stuff—like bad things happening to Mom and Daddy—but still I don’t cry. Maybe I’m evil. On the way home, Celie freaks out when she spills Dr. Pepper on her new Forenza skirt. Mom turns around and slaps her. Daddy says, Jesus Christ, Carol, and Mom tells him to stop the car. Just let me out, she says, but Daddy doesn’t. When we get home, Mom goes up to her room and Daddy orders pizza. I change into my cleats and kick a ball around the yard.

***

Celie gets her first period at Stoneleigh Pool. She calls Mom and is hysterical so Mom has to go pick her up. I find a lighter on the kitchen table and start playing with it. At first I can’t make anything happen, but then there’s a little flame and then a bigger flame and then the tablecloth’s on fire. Luckily there’s a vase right there and I toss it—flowers and all—in the direction of the glow. The whole thing’s over in three or four seconds. I throw the tablecloth in the outside trashcan and wait in the yard for Mom to find out and ground me. Ten minutes later, Celie slinks out of the car in a beach towel. I follow her up to her room and she slams the door in my face. I listen outside the door but nothing about her sounds any different. She just turns on Sting, like always.

For dinner, we have barbeque. Daddy grills burgers and hot dogs and Mom makes potato salad. Celie doesn’t eat much, says she’s not hungry. When I lift up my plate for seconds, I see that we’re using the burnt tablecloth. Mom puts her hand on Celie’s hand, smiles at me. Nothing’s different. Nothing’s different.

About the Author:

A native of Baltimore, Laura Stallard Petza still enjoys thunderstorms and sky-blue sno-balls with marshmallow, just as she did in all of the summers of her childhood. She lives with her husband, Thomas; her two small children, Elyse and Felix; and her two woefully neglected cats.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.