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Kathy Bradley - Putting up the summer
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Kathy Bradley

Today is Labor Day. The first thing I do is hang the flag. I unfold it carefully, making sure that it does not touch the floor. I slip it onto the wooden pole and struggle, as always, to get the small leather loop fitted into the metal clip. I step out onto the front porch, lift the flag into the brace and tighten the bolt that holds it at the perfect angle, red and white stripes curving with the pull of gravity. Today, they say, is the end of summer.

Later, I decide to take a walk. The woods are quiet. The birds have all gone silent in the heavy heat of midday and the only sounds are the deep rumble of thunder to the south and the rhythmic crunch of my feet on dirt not yet dried out from yesterday’s rain. A swarm of swallowtail butterflies circle my legs, darting and diving, pausing occasionally to light on the grass along the edge of the road.

Half a mile in, my arms and legs are sticky with perspiration, adhesive that grabs the sand I am kicking up and glues it to my ankles, my calves, my knees. My t-shirt has bloomed with Rorschach blots. Our progress up the hill — Owen’s and mine — is slow, plodding really, moving against an invisible tide of heat and humidity and time. There is no way that today is the end of summer.

No way.

But there are signs. Signs that the inevitable turn of the seasons is upon us. Bright yellow asters have sprouted in the ditches. Rosy pink cotton blossoms have begun their obligatory fade. The first gold leaves have lost their grip on the oak trees and floated to the ground. Soon enough the deep growls of combines and grain trucks will float across the landscape. Soon enough the scent of burning fields will seep into the house. Soon enough the trees will be naked and the air will be chill.

Today, though, it is still summer. The hydrangeas are still blooming and the dragonflies are still hovering and the days are still long.

I turn to head home. The rhythm of my steps is interrupted every so often by a shuffle, a low kick against a rock, a twig, the remains of an empty cup thrown from someone’s truck. The slightest breeze climbs the hill and licks my face and I forget, for a moment, the heat.

I notice, instead, the sunlight, spread like melted butter on a biscuit. And the drone of millions of insects so low to the ground. And the way the mimosa leaves bounce in the heavy air. I stop to break off a stem of boneset and rub its oily stem between my fingers as I climb back out of the ditch. I wave to a neighbor in a white pickup truck.

If it turns out that this is the last day of summer, I am gathering it like a crop. I am harvesting every sound and scent, putting them up in Mason jars, storing them in the root cellar of my memory for the dark and cold days to come.

I don’t know as I walk that I will forget to take down the flag. That I will leave it dangling through the night, collecting dew and reflecting the light of the crescent moon, its curving stripes a protest against everything that ends.

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