5/8/08

Summer Story: Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

On the last day of school, I watch him jump from the top step of the canary yellow bus and land, both feet flat and dust flying, in the gravel road in front of our house. He stays with his knees bent for a moment, concentrating hard on something in the rocks beside his feet. No doubt a dead bug or snake or something equally unappealing. He picks it up, whatever it is, and still stooping slightly, he examines it, one hand cradling his treasure in his palm, the index finger of the other hand poking and prodding.

He slowly straightens, his head tilting back to peruse the summer sky, then nodding forward again to the thing in his hand. While he stands there bobbing between earth and sky, I ponder this boy of mine.

Royal blue baseball cap pushed back on caramel brown hair so short you can see bits of pinky white scalp peeking through. He can’t stand the feel of hair on his neck, especially in warm weather. Although I can’t see them, I know his eyes are warm and chocolate-brown. The olive skin on his round face provides more safety from the sun than the cap on his head.

The bottom hem of the ocean blue and emerald green striped polo shirt that had been neatly tucked when he left this morning, now hangs over the waist of his pants—the right side fully escaped, the left side still trapped but sagging. It looks like the right side has been pulled and twisted. I wonder, did someone grab his shirt while they were playing tag? Or did he do it himself, forgetting that shirttails were not designed to be hand towels?

His jeans hang loose and baggy. Worse than hair on his neck, he can’t abide the rubbing of fabric against his legs. It’s only in the last year that he’s been willing to wear jeans at all. Before then, it was shorts or sweats. Nothing else.

His sneakers are untied. Of course they are. Why would I have imagined they might not be? I can’t see it from here, but I know that there are holes in the heels and the toes flap open. It’s not that we can’t afford new shoes. These are only a month old. There isn’t a shoe on earth that can stand up for long when used as a brake for a skateboard.

He hadn’t seen me standing there in the doorway watching him as he watched his treasure. But he looks up now and his cheeks bunch up in a smile. He shoves the whatever-it-was into the front pocket of his jeans, and runs, full speed, across the lawn toward me, backpack bumping and jumping against his shoulders. I brace myself for impact.

He throws his arms around my waist and buries his head in my tummy. I can smell the wet puppy dog sweat of little boys, feel his arms embrace me tighter than you would imagine possible by looking at him. He pulls his face away and smiles up at me—there are smudges of dirt and mud around the edges, but a clean spot right in the middle. I know there will be a corresponding not-so-clean spot on my shirt, just his height. It will match the not-so-clean smudges just his height on my walls and light switches and countertops.

I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk to the kitchen as he babbles on about the events of his day. It turns out it was a dead snail, after all. He pulls it out of his pocket and shows it to me. He offers to polish it up and give it to me as a gift. I accept that offer.

Later, after he’s tucked away in dreams of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, I tuck my polished snail shell into a box on my dresser. Little boy treasures, like memories, are precious. I hold onto them as long as I can.

What I liked best: It evokes a perfect picture of a little boy, complete with smells and textures. I like the way the author incorporated her feelings about the boy in with her visual senses. I also liked the literary tone. I came away from it feeling a little sniffy about my own boys.

Magazine ready: Yes. I think it would be better in a Mother's Day issue, rather than a summer issue, but it works.

4 comments:

Melanie Goldmund said...

I vote for this one.

Anonymous said...

I feel funny picking two out of three so I guess I'll just have to vote for the two that moved me the most and that would be this one, and. . .

David West

Wendy said...

I vote for this one.

Weston Elliott said...

This story is darling - but I can't vote for all three, that would be pointless.
Even though this isn't a vote, consider it a compliment!