Jenny squeezed the book against her side and tried to look bored. She wanted to avoid her mother’s gaze, lest she be marked as idle and pressed into further service. It was one of those days when Mom had a seemingly endless list of household projects, made more annoying by her personal enthusiasm for them. “Jenny, I have another project for you,” she would call in that sing-song voice. And Jenny would suffer another hour or two in misery, cleaning something in the kitchen or reorganizing a closet somewhere or, worst of all, battling the natural order of things in the basement.
Not today. She just couldn’t do it today. She had finished her chores and cleaned her room. She had even cleaned under her bed, and in the process discovered lost treasure. Her cherished copy of Little Women lay there, amid dust balls, dog hair, and dirty socks, apparently having no idea she had felt so lost without it. Her discovery was made sweeter by the fact that she hadn’t even been looking for the book–it had just popped up naturally, the way Amy March had found Laurie–and lasting love–halfway across the world, in Europe.
And now, as long as she wasn’t captured and chained to another exciting household project, nothing but pure summer afternoon stretched before her. Her best defense was escaping her mother’s notice; her backup was a slightly occupied, completely miserable look that could never be interpreted as a prelude to fun.
Last week, she had finally started her archaeological excavation of the backyard and had made good progress, actually unearthing some bits of glass and a lid to an old Mason jar. She knew that was only the very tip of what she might find–but that project could wait. The March sisters were calling, and she wouldn’t enjoy her freedom for long if she were having fun well within view of the kitchen window.
It was a beautiful day, and the house was alive with the sound of the vacuum cleaner. So today she would realize her long-cherished dream of lying back in the summer grass, hidden by its blades, listening to the gentle birds and breezes, and reading until the retreating sun told her it was time for supper.
So, still squeezing the book to her side, she listened to be sure the vacuum wasn’t approaching, then she rounded a corner and slipped into the kitchen. She quickly grabbed a box of crackers and filled a jug with cold water. Then, knowing she looked suspicious with her provisions, she made for the front door.
Careful not to let the door slam behind her, she ran down the driveway toward the road. At the end of the driveway, she turned and stopped where the trees would hide her from view of the house. It’s a good thing I live in the country, she thought. I don’t know how those city kids manage. She was surrounded by grass, trees, fields, and sky. The perfect setting for a reader’s romantic dream.
I’m only missing one thing, she thought. A fishing pole. She briefly considered running back home for string she could tie to a nice straight stick, but the creek was farther than she wanted to walk today, and she didn’t really know how to catch fish. So she decided to stick closer to home.
Now for the perfect spot. She wanted a place with some shade, where the grass was tall enough to hide her. She didn’t want to be seen from the road; she craved that delicious feeling of invisibility. Plus, she was a realist: repeated sunburns had taught her the sun’s rays were exuberant and merciless toward people like her.
She chose a spot in the shade and sat down. The ground was nice and cool . . . and wet. She jumped back up. This was a problem she hadn’t considered. If only she had brought a towel . . . but no, she couldn’t go back now and jeopardize her hard-won freedom.
Maybe the sunnier spots are dry. She felt the ground in a few places. Yes, the unshaded ground was warm and dry. So she chose a spot where she thought the grass might block the sun, and she settled in.
In all the pictures she had seen of people doing this very same thing, they usually reclined or lay on their backs. So Jenny did too, basking in having achieved a romantic ideal. She opened her book and prepared to travel that well-worn mental path back to Christmastime and life during the Civil War.
At first it was a minor annoyance. Though the grass did partially block the sun, it also swayed in the breeze, creating a strobe-like effect on her face. As it grew more disruptive, she blocked it with the book, but she had to hold it at an awkward angle, and her arms were getting tired.
Soon she heard a vehicle approaching. She grinned. They’ll have no idea I’m here, she told herself. The sense of invisibility was delicious, and she savored it. The world was carrying on around her, and she found herself outside the stream, undetected, like a superhero or a ghost. She anticipated the moment when the car would pass and move on, its occupants never knowing they had passed an unseen observer, so close and yet unaffected by their presence.
It was not a car. And she was not unaffected by its presence.
On the gravel road, the speeding truck threw a billowing dust cloud in every direction. It slammed right into Jenny’s face, forcing its way into her eyes and nose, bringing her upright with a series of violent coughs. Her eyes watering, she stood and brushed the dirt off her hair. She coughed a few more times, then she lay back down.
That’s when she noticed the itching. And she started sneezing. And wheezing.
She sat up again. Of course, she thought. Allergies.
As she often did, in her excitement she had forgotten the effect grass, and almost everything else outside, had on her body, especially her respiratory system. She looked at her bare arms and legs. Angry red patches were developing. And now her asthma was angry as well, her breath growing thicker and noisier.
She looked down at her book. She glanced at the jug of water and the box of crackers she hadn’t even opened yet. She watched a bug crawl across the open book, stopping briefly on the word instead. She felt another bug bite her ankle, and she brushed it away. Another bug buzzed next to her ear, and realized she had seen and heard no other sounds of wildlife. Not a squirrel, not a singing bird. Just bugs. And now she heard the sound of another approaching vehicle.
She let out a wheezy sigh and stood.
She picked up her book, her water, and her crackers. She trudged back toward home and her inhaler. She was a little wiser, a little less enchanted with the world, one dream lighter. And itchy.
© 2013 Amy Simpson.