The air dances in a hazy steam that rises from the asphalt, as if any minute the road that runs in front of Billy's house might start bubbling and swallow the next car that comes along. I share this with him in a weak voice, all strength sapped by the heat of the day, and he chuckles. The shadow of the tree we laze under does little to break the sun's unrelenting assault. Sweat drips in slow rivulets into the dirt between the tufts of grass, hardening into crusty pebbles as the moisture evaporates immediately. The birds save their breath...it is hot and quiet, sleep overcomes us.
Billy was a nobody, recognized by nobody, acknowledged by nobody...he was just there, a nobody. We all knew where he lived, but no one had ever been to the little white house where he lived with his mom. The school bus would squeal to a stop by the tall grass that bordered the road and we would watch him jump the culvert and head toward the tree in the front yard to drop his book bag. He never went straight to the house, just the tree and he'd wave, as the bus pulled off toward the next stop, but no one would wave back.
I guess it was my mom's idea of instilling goodwill towards all men, that led to the phone call. We stood in the kitchen, my bare feet digging into the linoleum as she flopped the phone book on the table, running her finger along the neat columns. Finding what she was looking for, she spun the dial on the rotary phone and introduced herself to Billy's mom. I pleaded silently in the background, but she waved me away as she made plans for me to visit Billy and be his friend. At least that was the plan she concocted, like mothers often do, when we fail to make them ourselves.
Billy's mom stood in the door, brown barrel coffee mug in hand, smiling as we rocked gently in the car with the motion of their gravel driveway. Noticing my eyes wide, searching the yard, my mom gently reminded me to be nice, play the things he wanted to play and that she would be back that afternoon to pick me up. Her kiss on my cheek carried the weight of her expectations, a final goodbye before my death sentence was carried out.
Billy peeked from around the tree at me shuffling my feet in the dirt, as our mom's exchanged pleasantries, a safe distance between us as we measured each other's intentions. The awkwardness lasted only as long as it took for him to flash a pair of dart guns and a grin, and we fell into a game of secret agent, using our shoes to communicate encoded messages to each other as we snuck through the house in search of enemy spies.
Billy's mom was cool, at least in that she seemed happy he had someone to play with, and she let us do what we wanted without hassle, giving her ample opportunity to watch her stories on the television, always sipping from that brown mug. On commercial breaks, she would slip into the kitchen, to refill her mug, first from the coffee pot, then adding from a green bottle she kept in the fridge. That was the only time she moved from the couch, not saying a word to us until it was time for lunch.
I heard her calling us, but I had just found the perfect hiding spot and could hear billy's feet on the carpet around the corner, knowing if I answered he would blast me with an orange dart. Billy, likewise, thought he had the advantage, so we were in a silent stand off when his mom came down the hall. Our darts arrived about the same time, catching her mid chest, dropping into her coffee cup with a splash that polka-dotted the front of her house dress.
The red hue of her cheeks darkened, first crimson, then purple, lips sputtering as if the words were caught in her throat. I knew we were in trouble, but could not move, just stand and watch the last few seconds tick off the bomb before it exploded. When the words finally broke loose, they rocked us back our heels, all fuck and shit, as she grabbed us dragging us down the hall to the door, tossing us into the yard. The boom of the door slamming was followed by a resolute click of the lock driving home in the frame.
For a time we just sat, where we had fallen in the grass, by the stoop, staring at the door in shock. Billy finally stood, breaking my stupor, dusting himself off before heading toward the tree. Rising slowly, I followed him, finding my own patch of ground by where he sat drawing in the dirt.
"What just happened?"
"Nothing, just mom.", he answered as if that should explain it all.
I really did not know what to ask, it felt odd talking in the thickness of the air, so I watched his mom through the window to the kitchen, once again refilling her mug. She could feel my gaze and her eyes met mine before she closed the blinds with a flick of her wrist, leaving us at the mercy of the afternoon.
"It's the medicine she puts in her coffee that does this. Merde~low." his voice seemed distant, detached.
"What's it for?"
"Kids. Fuckin' kids, that what she says. I don't know why, I am usually the only one here."
There seemed so much more to say, but we just sat in silence, letting the sun comfort us, until it started to smother us. We tried banging on the door once, but the silence shooed us back to the shadow of the tree, begging for a little relief...
The rocking is soft at first, then more violent and I hear my mom's voice calling me. A stark whiteness greets me as I open my eyes, slowly gaining texture as my mom's face appears. I am wet, clothes saturated in a sweat, hair matted to my head, curled up by the roots of the tree. She is talking but I look for Billy, who is starting to stir, his blue shirt almost black he is so drenched.
Seeing we were alive, my mom crosses the yard, pounding the door for a few minutes, but gets no answer, so she starts yelling, while Billy and I stand behind her, still groggy from the sleep. We follow her around the house absently, as she steps through the shrubs to knock on the windows. Finally, getting no response, she puts us in the car, our pores tingling as the air condition washes over us. At first it feel so good, but then we start to shiver uncontrollably as she starts for home.
Billy stayed with us a few days, before a lady in a dark suit came and he got a new family, one that did not need Merde~low in their coffee. On hot summer days, like today, I still think of Billy and I like to believe he became somebody. Somebody people recognized, somebody people acknowledged, somebody that was there and loved.
This was written for the prompt "Merlot and Coffee" at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.