Two boys, if not two men with height like that, with Maybes on their lips, Mom making them promise to work instead of flee because they are, after all, near men, but still lost to how a hug once in a while could assure their exits quicker, take her rakes. Two of them, one a little smarter than the other imagines, age being what they don’t share so nose-to-nose, their size being what a passerby, struck by their winsome, back-slapping Maybes, perhaps notes. She halts.
The boys are not close unless innocence and lack thereof is that marker, one the teacher and corrupting, the other apt. Not the way one leaf comes to lie on another, one so slightly older that the tatting wind gets it first while “hanging on,” that from a Sloopy song both are far too young to even groan over their mother’s loud rake-humming Sloopy, no, not that way. The passerby being female and forward yet thickly swathed in shape-concealing down is watched while she crosses the sidewalk. The two boys stop their Maybes mid-May, the one whacking the other rib-high with the unused rake but softly so the girl doesn’t think ill of the correction, this one making the required quarter turn away from Mom who is now hauling leaves on a plastic sheet past them, the sheet pinned in three corners with her arms, who interrupts the girl with no apology—she can’t see her--to mutter, Maples, I hate them.
What great helicopters, the girl says just as Mom’s comment floats in. One boy answers with a face of confusion, the other, in fact the younger, equipped and crippled by girl-terror but so grateful for her speaking, well, not grateful—that would be suggesting a level of maturity--at least he takes two steps more central to her downiness, and smiles.
The girl stares at her boot tips. Two is too many or else she is weighting one for later. Who knows about later? Time, unlike the leaves, has drifted to a stop. She watches a helicopter whirl to the ground.
All along the hedge, see? says the bold younger one, whacking his rake hedge-wise over the head of his brother so the helicopter seedlings pop up from their embeddedness in the hedge branches.
She gathers a handful of whatever. Leaves leave her grip until she shakes free her one seed-bearer. She tosses it up.
Like the earlier, its single wing takes on air current through the bright blue and down, lazily, over the boys and the girl to lodge in the elder’s knit cap.
Two of them stare and laugh while he wrenches, practically screws off his cap. But he plucks the helicopter out of its knit to present it to her, in flourish.
She has green eyes is what the mother notes when the girl accepts this burr of the maple, because they are the color of that copter, immature, destined to cling. She could throw it again, her eyes suggest but she pockets it and turns on her boot heel.
Mom wields her implement down and across, she doesn’t see the girl looking back while she sidewalks herself away from the boys’ so small circle of leaves so fitfully wild in the wind. After an instant of aerobic burst, Mom catches the boys’ bashful downcast-but-not-quite-down-still-watching stasis, and she says, Not your type.
The elder talks about type while the younger beats the leaves instead of pulling them closer, the elders says phenotype R genes are the genes that really define sexual interest.
This shuts her up, the mention of sex, which she herself has had at least twice without regret though now she feels entirely at the mercy of her heat, the whim or flatulence of it. She rakes, they summarily rake in the ardor of silence, the sun lifts and dips, they keep on raking though the helicopters still fall, steadily whir their wily paths down, lodging seeds head first in the scuffed dirt between the grass blades and leaves, to sprout and await weeding.
After some hesitation—does commendation discourage notions of duty?--Mom commends both boys and abandons—at last—her frontal attack of raking for cooking, more because she has a blister than that the leaves or their copters have been taken.
The boys go on raking just as she hopes, watching for the down-filled girl who will surely drift past.
Two goofs, not a Smith-Barney internship between them, but they are more than adequate, happy most of the time but so sad so often these days the post in post adolescent wobbles. Driving between all the roadside flags, so many stripes and stars their flutter makes them feel funny, they pull over at the sign up spot not drunk not even stoned, and put their names on the list and get uniforms not right away like a costume but three weeks later when they should’ve known better and gotten out of it, but they go. What the hell.
Only as far as Chicago where they basic-train, group humiliation is what it is, nothing they aren’t already used to, with high school behind them and cousins they duck and fathers related in their sharp tonguedness, and mothers who loved with their spatulas three times a day, both mothers only love-limb. They stay with an uncle of one of them who relays all the mom-worry gruffly and warns them away from the girl cousins, lest the capriciousness of their signing up overcome them. They are fed there, and the dying dog lets them pat him before he tries to bite at their new uniforms.
They videogame their last weekend with fierce electricity, doing battles endless by design and hard to get out of so they miss the dinner the uncle puts forward and have to find pizza that is decorated with a swastika of anchovies. Okay, they’re old enough, they tell the uncle, no problem.
The next day is the plane that will take them to two different camps. They have split camps once before, in grade school when one went remedial and the other basketball. No one tells them they could bail here too, that the law, such as it is in these moments of lockdown lifespan, allows for negotiation. They go forward instead, they go out and buy jeans like they will have weekends off and swing their stuffed bags high over and around their heads as if they are kids and not clothes. But when they return and walk up the uncle’s walkway one of them remembers they have no key and there they are, outside the place with all their stuff except jeans inside, with only an hour before plane take off.
The longer-limbed stretches himself around a half-jambed door without avail. The pudgy-where-basic training-doesn’t-touch shoves hard but nothing gives. They cell phone but the uncle is too far away, he can’t get to the unlocked door before the planes are due to leave.
Hell. The longer-limbed one throws a brick into a window and they climb in and collect their sausages of clothes, their shaving this and that, leaving the wet washrag dripping, and a condom blank slipped out by accident for the girl cousins to find on the floor beside the dying dog whose tail still thumps.
Lesson Learned, says one to the other the way they’ve heard they do in the military, and they shake hands with each other after the taxi reaches the airport, each of them turning away, going off with the imprint of the other’s fingers that gets smeared when the planes lift into the clouds, each of them taking their life into their hands instead, something they didn’t know they had before, each his own.
Miss Cool offers the movie-making boyfriend as if on a stick. They’ve been “abroad.”
The way she says it, you’d think it was a contact sport. Bert slurps his drink, hard to do with beer. Celery-eaters. He offers Alison a primped stalk.
She fishes for a sweet on her person and shares it too. Bert unwraps it so slowly Miss Cool blinks at him across the room. When he lifts it from his palm with his tongue, she checks the time.
Alison paws at a paperback that matches the sofa. People at the party pretend to go, the ratio of goodbye slowly greater than hello. Alison wave/smiles at each as they back out. Twenty minutes trying to park, bemoans Bert, taking up the new sofa space, is twenty minutes I could be at you.
Alison sucks her sweet but Bert isn’t derailed. He scopes out more beer, only half-washing-out a cig-steeped cup, then backs Alison into the bathroom because it locks.
That’s evil, says Alison about his drink.
I met her in kindergarten says Bert, in a sort of bathroom explainer mode. Her parents tried to kill each other and my parents felt an obligation.
Can’t be too psychotic or too thin. Alison takes a seat on the seat and Bert comfies himself into the tub, lights up.
Come on out, begs Miss Cool We didn’t talk old times.
I’m too old, shouts Bert. It’s too late.
They hear the B-friend say he’s got to go.
As in go? Or leave? asks Alison very upbeat. If she had a cigarette she would stay the night, she says and Bert hands over the pack.
Miss Cool is crying, the loud kind. Who do you think you are?
Guests? says Alison.
I’m calling the cops, swears Miss Cool, and the B-friend pees under the door. The color is right, the rush.
I’ll catch cold, screams Bert, watching the water flood in. My feet will get wet and I’ll sue.
The music outside gets turned off.
Maybe they’re humping, says Bert, cocking an ear.
Too boring, too—“abroad,” says Alison.
Shall we? says Bert.
They try not to hit the Hot faucet with their feet.
Darn, it’s dawn says Alison about a minute later. Bert agrees with a nipple pluck. They cantilever, assemble, wade through the pee, and open the door. We’re home!
Miss Cool is panty-less, picking up napkins while the B-friend dozes. She holds a big handful of the more hummus-smeared then puts them on top of his face, one by one.
In Turkey, says Miss Cool. The women look like black slugs. Like you, she says, in black.
I’m a butterfly, shouts Alison, arms spread.
Bert says, We really N-joyed your party. And kindergarten with you was great.
The three of them look at the B-friend snoring under the napkins and start to laugh. The napkins flutter around Miss Cool’s undies caught over his ears.
Taste, says Bert. It makes all the difference.