Summer is the easiest time to slip away—when they're drunk on Amaretto Sours and each other and they forget all about us. Nights like this, when the two of them are crowded up with company and the world is buzzing around them, my brother and I are like little lost boys, set free in a world full of magic and abandon. We see our parents and their party like a photograph of a celebration—all grins and grace—time stopped just before the moment it all falls apart.
The fat moon is orange and the craters on the surface make it look like a jack-o'-lantern in the sky. It's July though, and the leaves and grass are thick and green and the night is swollen with little noises. Ash sifts down from burned up fireworks exploding in the park. The green and blue and whizzy white all used up and over with. That's how fast it all turns gray.
We slip away—down the hill and through a patch of tiger lilies that look like little orange campfires, past horses that aren't ours, to a stand of trees in the way-back lit up with fireflies—so many of them it looks like all the stars have left the sky to roost in the tree limbs. We climb the branches and try to pluck a handful, hot and twinkling on our fingers. We could swallow them and make little galaxies in our empty stomachs.
We hear laughing from our house, so small and white in the distance. Dark silhouettes toss bottle rockets and swirl sparklers through the night, thinking they've caught a star on a stick. Making wishes in a panic. The yard fills with short-lived light and we're out under the forever, far enough in the distance to see how easily magic can die. We wonder if later, after their guests have stumbled away, our parents will call out to us. We're going to bed, be good, don't stay up too late.
In the Milky Way Tree, a light, hot wind rolls the leaves against each other in a sound like a song from above a cradle. It's a whisper that goes back further than we do, further even than the dark silhouettes in our yard. Back all the way to the first days of this tree, the first time two leaves touched and the wind carried off their secrets on her back. Now, the tree is ancient and heavy with knowledge. Its arms are able to support the weight of our wonder and sadness.
Two white cats from next door circle our pond. We follow them around the greened-over water and wonder, if our parents looked back and saw us, would they recognize us—yell, Get in here and go to bed. Or would they stumble over themselves in laughter, down another sour and rail about how the neighbor's cats look big as kids out in the distance.
They mean well. They think they see the world around them as sages do, wizened with drink and time. We don't hold their helplessness against them. Enough times out the back door, down Tiger Lily Hill, through the Pasture of the Unknown Horses, and to the Milky Way Tree and we will find it: our portal into the other world.
Over the tree line into the park, the finale booms. One last shot to make it all mean something. The horses swish their tails at the ash the way they do the flies. We hold our hands out to catch the ash like a bubble, try to nudge it back into the air without breaking it. Some things are tougher than you think. Most of them aren't. They break just like you thought they would.
We sit on the bank of the pond, poke sticks in the green water and watch the party wind down like someone turning the volume lower and lower on the TV. Finally our parents go inside. Lights come on in the kitchen where our mother will be putting her glass in the sink. Those lights go off and a light comes on in the hall, then one in their bedroom where they will sleep it off until morning. No light appears in our room.
We sneak up into the yard, like time travelers—peeking into their party without them knowing. We imagine we are in the photograph. Our parents, their heads slightly back with faces framed in laughter, hold drinks in one hand and stars in the other. Some of their guests crouch over a bottle rocket—flame suspended, anticipation hot in the air. Others sit in lawn chairs, gazing at the fireworks just visible over the distant tree line. We run through the yard, the only things in motion. We circle the burned spot in the grass where launch and applause have scorched the ground. We run between the lawn chairs, imagining we can obstruct views, elicit yells and calls of "shoo kid"—there is nothing but silence.
Inside our parents are sleeping. Our father snores, thick noise like a bear and we laugh at hearing it through the closed windows. We sit for a moment, listening for the snoring to stop and for footsteps to begin searching the house for us. But our parents continue to slumber, and in the next room our little beds get smaller and smaller. After some time, my brother nods to me and I follow him back through the yard, back down Tiger Lily Hill, through the Pasture of the Unknown Horses, and again to the Milky Way Tree. Under the pumpkin moon we are out across the nowhere, with our bellies full of stars, getting farther and farther away.
Copyright © Amy Willoughby-Burle 2009.