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From my first floor bedroom window, I can see the lamplight in Cindy and Vickie’s room across Fair Oaks Drive. Cindy, a year older than me, is my best friend, though I’m afraid that will end in September when she starts high school and I am left behind at Tigrett Junior High School. Vickie just graduated Jackson High and, in her quiet way, is calculating her next move.
Cindy and I are together all day, every day this lazy Tennessee summer. Our days go like this: I wake up at 10 or 11 and carefully avoid my sisters and my mother, lest I be dragged into babysitting or cramped hours bent over the paper doll city at the top of the stairs, pretending to be Debbie Reynolds or one of the Lennon Sisters.
I eat breakfast at Cindy’s where there is no mother hovering, just a pantry full of cereal and a radio tuned to Memphis Top 40 as loud as we want it. Cindy’s mother, Mona, works at a factory and her dad, George, sells cars by day. When they get home from work late in the afternoon, look out because they will make out right in front of you, rubbing their hands over each other’s tired places, slowly shedding shoes, a shirt, a blouse, while their children look on, embarrassed and secretly thrilled.
Cindy babysits her little brother Tim most of the day and Vickie works somewhere in town. Since Tim is most often out in the neighborhood with the other little boys, building forts and launching pinecone bombs, Cindy and I spend a good part of the day walking. Our dogs, Pixie and Trixie, trail behind us. Some days we sneak into houses under construction in the new section of the neighborhood and write our names on the asphalt and tarry rooftops with broken sections of chalky dry wall. Most days we stalk through someone’s rotating sprinkler, cooling off ourselves and the dogs. Then we go home and Cindy talks to her boyfriend on the phone while I wait for Vickie’s arrival.
Vickie has shiny, swingy brown hair that hangs down to the bottom of her butt. She has a knob on her long nose from breaking it in girl’s basketball sophomore year. She is composed, almost secretive in her apparent comfort with herself. I admire her straight white teeth, her strange health food diet, her worn hip-hugger jeans and her lacey underwire push-up bras in which she strides around the house getting ready for a date. At Cindy and Vicky’s house, bras and panties the colors of tropical flowers hang from doorknobs and towel racks, peek out from drawers, and pour out of overflowing laundry baskets.
Lately, Vickie has been seeing a new guy, Isaac, four years older than her and eight years older than me, which makes him ancient. He visits his grandparents here in Jackson where they are famous; my school is named after them. But we are more impressed with the family’s collection of Corvette Sting-Rays. Isaac drives a different Corvette over every afternoon and leans against it smoking, while all the neighborhood boys congregate across the street, staring, their mouths gaping. Then out comes Vickie, her navel showing on her flat, brown belly between the bottom of her peasant blouse and the top of her jeans. The engine swells and roars as they drive away.
Cindy and I hang out with the neighborhood kids until well past dark, playing hiding and running games in darkened back yards. One night, a boy named Harry hides with me beneath a cherry tree in my back yard, our bare feet stained and sticky from the fallen fruit. We hear our names being called, as if from the mouth of a cave, and without warning he kisses me. He has soft new whiskers on his upper lip. I wander through the back door in a daze and fall into bed fully clothed. Through the window I can see the headlights of Isaac’s Corvette as he drops off Vickie.
Four years later, a senior in high school sixty miles down the road in Memphis, I hear that Isaac Tigrett has opened a new kind of restaurant in London, the Hard Rock Café. George has died of a massive head injury, a motorcycle accident, and Vickie has become a forest ranger. Cindy and I drifted apart when she started high school and I moved to Memphis, but when summer comes she often enters my dreams. All around us, the sweet scent of ripe cherries.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.