Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Interurban' by Georgiana Nelsen

The summer Alice turned thirteen, her family moved to Indiana into a brand-new ranch house, the first in a development that was supposed to have ten. The lots were all laid out and ready to build on, though Alice’s house and one other were the only ones ever constructed. The spare lots were mowed twice a year, as required by the county ordinances.

Alice and her younger brothers used all the space. The fields buzzed with katydids, grasshoppers and butterflies, begging to be caught. It was the summer of the cicadas, and their maraca music added a rhythm to their days. The grass grew tall and smelled of sweet hay just before cutting. No matter how hot it got outside, it was always cool out in the tall grass.

At the back edge of the lots, farthest from Alice’s house, brush and trees marked the end of the development. If it had been out in the country, the brush line would have shown where one farm ended and the next began. Most of the trees were thorn ridden mulberries, filled with sweet musky fruit that brought on everything from blue jays to sparrows. The children ate them until their bellies ached, sacrificing their skin to the thorns. Behind the brush and tree line, a path climbed up a twenty-foot hill. At the top, a concrete embankment ran ten feet across forming a bench, paved at two levels, three feet apart, with a solid concrete wall connecting the levels. Alice’s mother said it was part of the Interurban line, but there were no tracks, wires or cables that anyone could see. There was no way down the other side. A fall from the bench terrified Alice’s mother. Under no circumstances were Alice or her brothers allowed to climb there.

Naturally, it was where everyone wanted to go. They called it the Hill.

The boys loved playing King of the Hill, always trying to push each other off the bench, but they didn’t get jurisdiction often, or for long. Chad, a baseball star from the middle school team had noticed Alice. Alice never expected to be in his league, but he usually found his way to her around dusk, always alone. The Hill became a secret haven for them, bridging the gap that the lack of driver’s licenses and hormones created. They brought along a quilt and a cassette player, looping Crystal Blue Persuasion and So Happy Together as many times as they wanted. No one could see through the thickets; no one could hear four lots away.

Mosquitoes swarmed while they watched the stars come out, attracted by the warm sweet sweat of childhood evaporating into the night. Alice wore them like badges of honor.

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