Childhood’s End

I think my brother’s a little old
for summer camp, but he insists
it’s the fast track to lifeguarding
at Morses Pond. So I said I’d fish
out my old beach stuff from the attic.

I’m deep in a pile
by the chimney
when I hear something
outside the window. I half-
expect a flashlight, but there’s Jenna,
watching Magos Ave. from the roof.
I knock on the window
and she starts; then I wave
and she waves
me outside.

Well, that was unexpected,
she says.

Is it ever?

Point.
What are you doing?

Helping my brother collect
his merit badges.
I gesture
toward the boxes, which of course
are not there. I sigh.

She laughs a little.

Date?

May… 24, 1976. Unless
you meant… this.

Uncanny.

Maybe.

I look at the street
then back to her. What’re you up to?

Oh, I come out here sometimes
to relax. I like watching the neighborhood
traffic. It’s almost like gossip.

I never thought of it that way.

She smiles and cocks her head a little.
A pink Buick convertible turns
wide from Washington St. and starts crawling
up the hill.

What are they up to?

That’s Mrs. Morris driving.
And I’m pretty sure
that isn’t Mr. Morris under the blanket
in the back seat.

Oh, wow, I say. You weren’t kidding.
I’ll have to try this.

It only starts to make sense
after a while. The first few months
can be really confusing, but give it time
and you’ll be the most dangerous
woman in town. And all,

she pats the shingles between us,
without hardly leaving the house.

I didn’t get to thank you for taking
me around last time
, I say.
I really loved seeing
what your family did with everything.
I always wondered what the initials
on the porch floor meant.

Jenna smiles. Seemed only right
for you to leave your mark.
Hey
, she turns around.
Come inside. I have something
I want to show you.

I follow her in the window
and we pass through the attic.

You live in here?

This is my room, yeah.
She says it so matter-of-factly
I could lose my balance.

What?

I point. Mine’s that room.

Uncanny. Maybe
we’re supposed to be fr—

A voice calls up the stairs.

Give me a minute. Stay here.

I stand in the doorway, impressed
that her reading lamp
is the tail light from a vintage Cadillac.
She’s gone a while, and I sit
by her makeup mirror.
Then footsteps start
up the stairs, and her father’s
voice at the door
while I sneak back
behind the flue.

See, Pop? Alone.
Her father examines both sides of the roof.
He carries himself like Old New England:
bushy eyebrows on a serious face,
loosened black tie
on a pastel-plaid shirt.

OK, Sweetheart.
Just remember: it’s a privilege
to be up here. No boys, no bottles—

No fun. I know, Pop.

He smiles. Or you move back
downstairs, with us peons.

A few minutes later she knocks
lightly on the wall.

Copacetic?

She nods, then puts her finger
on my lips. Just remember:
you’re not really here.

We whisper-talk about Arthur C. Clarke.
I want to know why
she loves both versions, like I do.

Because he wouldn’t give up
on it, even after 25 years.
He knew there was more
more volume, more crevices, more dust—
well, maybe not dust—
but more meaning.
It was his dream.

I loved the first one,
and when I heard he was revisiting it,
at first I thought he was crazy.
But I started to wonder what he saw
in that world that I didn’t. And I figured
I’d rather read his broader vision
than mine; if the second version
was awful, I’d always have the first.

But that’s not what happened.
It’s luminous, isn’t it?

Yeah. It’s so vivid.
Since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed
of meeting Alvin… of standing at the edge
of the City, watching the dunes
shift.

Honestly, though, Diaspar was almost too exciting
for me; at least as exciting
as the adventure past it.
I know it’s Alvin’s destiny to rediscover
the stars. I wonder if mine
is to be the only person in Diaspar truly excited
for him to come home.

Keep wishing, Dream-boy, she whispers
and kisses me.

Afterward,
she presses me
against the wall
with her body.
I watch the glow
where my old desk
lives, somewhere.

Jenna scoots back, props herself
on an elbow, and I ask why
she doesn’t take science classes.

Girls don’t do that. Women
don’t do it. Sure, sometimes
there’s a Lise Meitner,
but you probably haven’t heard
of her.

I shake my head. Who is she?

She shakes hers. No shortcuts.
She’s too important.

Try being a girl
for a day. Then try being obsessed
with science. Maybe in your perfected 1970s
there are more opportunities.
By my memory, I just
got the right to vote.

I… don’t know what to say to that.

She puts her finger to her lips.
Just don’t forget it.

A minute passes.

Hey, I’ve been wondering…
why Cincinnati, of all places?

Oh, I shrug.
I’m terrible under pressure.

No, she says. Something else.

I cautiously fiddle with her hair.

Hm…

Yeah. My brother says
we have family there.

I’ve never heard of them,
but my brother, he just stares
at you till you’re convinced
of anything.

I’d like to meet him someday.

I already know my face is betraying me.

She shirks.

I’m not good enough
for your family?

I’m… sorry… This
was my first time… someone
I really like…

Let me give you some advice:

next time you bed a lady
who thinks you’re pretty alright despite
your less-than-chivalrous attitude,
remember she might also have
a sense of humor.

She grins the meanest
grin I’ve ever seen
and throws a pillow in my face.

You know what, Dream-boy?
My mother’s still expecting you
for dinner.

Added: March 26, 2013 | Last changed: June 7, 2014