These are the nights I lie in bed and not sleep. The house is quiet, junebugs tap-tap-tap against the screen, the magnolia tree blows its perfumed breath into my room. A bullfrog serenades in his baritone of true love found and the air carries his song through the trees and across the yard. A choir of crickets joins on the chorus and the junebugs keep the staccato percussion time.
The full moon spotlights the performers and the magnolia rustles in applause. I lie and listen, lie and wait until the audience clamor dies down and the next song begins. It sounds much like the first but it is different, a tune of love lost, of heartache and loneliness.
My hair carries the magnolia’s scent into the day and the boys pause their sandlot game when I walk by to savor my fragrance. They play every summer afternoon and the dust sticks to their sweaty foreheads so they remove their caps and wipe their brows with their sleeves. Each boy has a number and a name on the back of his jersey – names like Banks and Aparicio and Clemente.
The tallest boy wears Koufax on his jersey. He wipes the muddy sweat on his sleeve and stares at the catcher and shakes his head once, twice, then nods his approval and rocks back into position. His name is David. All the other boys call him Davey but I call him David because his mother calls him that when he doesn’t come home for dinner on time. We’re in extra innings he says as if she will respond Oh why didn’t you say so? I’ll keep your plate warm.
I never call him Davey. I lie bathing in magnolia blooms and whisper his name. David. David.
Today is the day, after the game, I stretch on my tiptoes to lift his cap and with a clean tissue wipe the sweat from his face before it drips into his eyes. I brush his hair back with my fingers and slip the cap into place but not quite right so he adjusts it when he thinks I’m not looking.
We walk toward his home but hesitate when we reach the corner where I turn. He invites me to dinner with him and his mother where we eat fried bologna and macaroni and cheese from a box and we both call him David and he blushes but doesn’t protest.
Today is the day we stop at the corner and he leans in fast, the way he pitches a three-two count low and inside, a change-up to a gentle kiss on my cheek and he blushes through the streaks of dust lining his face. I walk home with an ache to scream David kissed me David kissed me.
I lie in bed and the bullfrog and crickets go quiet. The sun replaces the moon and the old banty rooster takes the stage. A tractor in the distance tap-tap-taps against the screen. The junebugs go where junebugs go in the daylight.
Today is the day, like any other, on my way to the store to get a bottle of milk and a fresh-baked loaf of bread, I walk by the lot where the boys play their games. Today is the day, unlike any other, as I pass by I call out Great pitch, David. The other boys snicker. She smells of summer nights and love songs David says as he drops his glove and abandons his team. He walks me to the store and recites a poem he learned in school to impress me. I pretend not to be impressed. He waits outside the store so his cleats won’t leave marks on the linoleum flooring. He carries the bag with the milk all the way to my front door and hands it to my mother Here this belongs to you. My mother thanks him for being such a gentleman and invites him in for lemonade. You must be thirsty from playing those games boys play. Don’t mind your shoes. You can’t hurt these old floors.
He clicks across the wood Thank you, ma’am, and drinks long with cool satisfaction. The grime from his hand leaves streaks in the sweat of the Mason jar. Mother makes an excuse to leave the room when David says Goodbye so he can give me another kiss on the cheek before he returns to his game with my scent embedded in every breath he takes. His friends are angry with him but what can they do but let him join in again as he’s the tallest and the best and the most handsome of all the boys.
These are the mornings I lie in bed and feel his lips, warm under the icy droplets of his last sip and his breath of lemon brushes my face. I reach to touch the spot but stop so as not to wipe away the echo of his kiss. I leave it there as I lie in bed, inhale the magnolia and hum a summer night’s ballad.
I leave it there as I rise and pull on my jeans and boots and ignore the stiffness in my back to head to the coop to gather the eggs. I toss some dried corn on the ground for the birds and put away last night’s dinner plate and glass and fork from the rack where they dried overnight. Today, like any other day, I tie the faded flag on the pole beside the front door. My fingers ache more than usual. I drive to the supermarket for milk in a plastic jug and sliced bread baked in a factory this week. I pass the office building on the lot where sweaty boys no longer play.
David’s mother kisses me and her tear falls on my cheek, icy cold as lemonade. I start to touch it but decide to leave it there. She hands the crisp tri-folded flag to me Here this belongs to you.