Someone is talking to me but all I can see is their teeth, so round and yellow they look like cooked corn. We are sitting on the parking lot outside of my apartment, the black tar heating under us and turning our insides to mush. The asphalt has been running a tiff with the sun for hours now, finally reaching a fever pitch as the sun lets loose its rays in a constant barrage against the stubborn pavement. It refuses to surrender its stance, though it has remained solely on the defense. All I can feel is its warmth heating the undersides of my outstretched legs. I am an egg incubating under its mother. All I can see is Someone’s yellow corn-teeth biting at each other, reminding me of other summers, other suns.
I remember I went to summer camp when I turned nine. We ate yellow sweetcorn soaked in syrup on Styrofoam plates. The syrup would escape the corn, trickling to other parts of the plate as it ate a path away from its captives. It was an unwilling warden at a prison camp. I was an unwilling captive at a prison camp.
There were other foods there; biscuits with our gravy, sausages, pieces of pig curled up in woolen rolls. I didn’t eat much the first few days. I was sick to my stomach after having seen the way they poured eggs from plastic pouches and served them with straight faces promising health and long lives. Most of the girls my age boycotted the yellow masses permeating other unwanted foods on their flimsy plates. Most of the boys ate them without complaint, believing the large women in clear caps when they pointed to the older boys’ arms and swore they consisted mostly of pouch-eggs.
There were four cabins in total. Two for the girls, two for the boys. All four cabins looked the same on the outside, but never on the inside. Two were stifling, or so I heard, smelling of wet towels and blankets piled over unwashed bodies. The other two smelled of gossip and toothbrushes and bracelet-making. We were always making bracelets, finding new ways to stack beads in patterns we could claim had meaning. Smiling as we made them for boys who would only suspect friendship and grimace when we included pink.
Two times a week we went to the pool. It was crowded and sat in a little valley surrounded by a metal fence. We filed through the gate in a line that made us look like penguins in our inflatable muscles and flipper-feet. Once inside, we were instructed to swim in more lines so the lifeguards could determine our buoyancy. We prayed we wouldn’t be confined to the shallow end and added salt to the water when we were. Boys splashed girls who could only suspect ill-will. Girls dove to stand on their hands and inquire behind pruned fingers if so-and-so had seen. If you looked on from above, you would see that we all looked like insects, legs treading air when we were flipped upside down. Arms flailing wildly as we swam to the nearest group of friends. We were falcons when we dove. We were prey for the bottom of the pool when we saw the three-foot warning and dove anyway.
Three times a week we trekked to the zip-line. It was intimidating from the ground, even more so from the tower. We climbed stairs that were more like ladders to lock wide eyes with counselors who told the boys ‘One at a time,’ and the girls how to climb back down the steps without stepping on anybody’s hands. Some of us noticed the boys smiled at the brave girls and so held hands until it was our turn. Heights are only scary if you imagine how many of you would fill the distance to the ground. Stacked on top of each other. Heights are only scary if you whisper this three times to your nearest friend.
At night we played games like Kiss, Marry, Kill. The older boys were found twice as desirable when compared with those who grew armpit-hair on their upper lips. When compared with those who got pouch-eggs stuck in their mustaches and didn’t think to notify each other when this happened. There was that boy who ate salt straight because he liked it and another who spoke out of the side of his mouth but still helped Suzy when her towel fell in the mud on the way to the pool. There was the boy who was smaller than the others. He died a thousand deaths. There was the boy the girls called a man, who committed polygamy and was never tried. He was excused for eating pouch-eggs. He was the one the lunch-ladies pointed to when the little ones refused.
We ate, drank and breathed bug spray. It was the duct-tape of the forest. Our ankles, our wrists, our arms, the shower water at the end of the day. It was an aroma that never escaped. Some of us showed the boys the swollen red splotches we sustained on the parts we forgot to spray. We searched diligently for ticks on our scalps and gasped hastily when we encountered a freckle or mole.
The last day of camp was always the hardest. This was the day best friends were separated. Those of us without phones exchanged slips of notebook paper with addresses printed neatly in tight lines like cornrows. Those of us who could, signed the boys’ shirts in our best cursive. Treasured were the words exchanged as little hands took sharpies to cheap cotton. Treasured were the smiling faces added to the end of so-and-so’s name or shortened, abbreviated nickname.
The sun is not-so-high in the sky, and Someone has left me for another who will maybe listen. The asphalt has cooled, now, and I push myself up with my arms, wobbling on mush-legs as I make my way back into my apartment. The sun settles red on the back of my neck as I push the door open, lending a golden hue to the wooden floor. There is a plate on the counter when I reach the kitchen, unrinsed, left there by my husband. I sigh as I turn on the sink and let warm water run over the remains of his dinner. Sigh as I think of the man most likely sleeping even as the sky turns blue with dusk. The man who was never afraid of the zipline. The man who still eats pouch-eggs.