Summer of ’77

Published as “Endless Summer” in This Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, #14

for Paul Cody

THEY SAW ME AT THE LAKE, when I had the cast on, the one I made in the basement. They saw me messing with the trailer hitch. They came over.

“Hey,” they said, “need a hand with that?”

Guys and girls both, the young ones. That’s who went there.

They had long earrings like chandeliers. They had long blonde hair parted in the middle, their bright combs poking out of their cutoffs. They had muscle shirts and puka beads, they had shaved legs and baby oil for the sun.

“How’d you do that?” they said.

“How do you sail with one hand?” they said.

“Let me help you,” they said.

When there were two of them, I let them fix it so the taillights worked, then I thanked them and left.

They were all leaving; that’s why they were in the parking lot. I could leave and come back and they’d be gone.

“How much can a Bug tow?” they said. “Nothing heavy, I bet.”

They saw me from across the lot, putting away their blankets, their wet towels around their waists. Suits still wet and smelling of the lake. They walked out into the shallows and stood there sipping beers. The garbage was full of cans, every one of them worth a nickel. I almost wanted to stop and fill a bag.

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s hard with this on.”

“No problem,” they said.

“No sweat.”

“My dad has one like this,” they said.

They had wallets, licenses, credit cards. They had keys I had to throw in the river. Rolling papers, little stone bowls. They had bubble gum. They had Lifesavers.

“How does it go together?” they asked.

“How did it come apart?”

They knelt down in front of me to see what they were doing. They had freckles from coming to the lake; they had sunburnt shoulders, and their hair was lighter than in the winter. The ends, and around the top. They smelled like lotion, they smelled hot. They wore flip flops so you could see their toes, the hard skin of their heels.

They liked my car. They asked how old it was, if I might sell it, how much I’d ask.

“How do you shift with that?” they asked.

They lifted the two ends of the connectors. They didn’t see the other set electrical-taped under the tongue. They didn’t know they couldn’t put it together, that it was impossible. They tried to do it the regular way, like you would.

“Here’s your trouble,” they said.

They turned to say it, to show it was two male ends.

The parking lot was empty, everyone down at the beach. Kites in the sky. Hot dogs on the free barbecues the county put in. Charcoal smoke.

They smiled as they turned, like I didn’t know. Like I was an idiot or something, so dumb I’d busted my arm. Pathetic. A little weak thing.

The lot was empty, kites in the sky.

I had the cast over my head and brought it down hard.

“Oh,” they said, the bigger ones.

Or “uh.”

Nothing really interesting.

They fell across the hitch, and the first thing I did was grab them by the hair and pull them up. I could use the hand. It looked like I couldn’t but I could all along.

So stupid.

I grabbed them by the hair and the back of the waistband and spun them into the car. Because I already had the door open. They saw me like that first, with the door open. Helpless. They came over to see what they could do.

Most the same age. The older ones I let go. They were young, with good skin. I liked them best that way. Blonde, tall. The boys had muscles. They were everywhere that summer, like a song on the radio you can’t get away from. You start to sing it anyway.

They came from the city, or just outside of it. They lived with their parents, or with friends over the G.C. Murphy’s, or they were at school for summer semester. They had I.D.s for work, they had chips for free drinks. They had bottle caps in their pockets. Heineken and Lowenbrau, Bud and Bud Light.

Love, love will keep us together.

They lay back in the seat when I folded it down and put a towel over them. They were breathing, they were making breathing sounds.

The lot was full, windshields all glinting in the sun. You could hear the little sound of the lake.

“Oh God,” they said.

“Please,” they said.

They had freckles on their chests. They had bright white tan lines. They had the red marks their suits made around their waists. Their hair was still wet from the lake, and smelled like it. They had sand there.

They got up to see what was happening and I hit them with the cast again, backhand. Bam, straight-out. I didn’t even have to look.

“Oh,” they said again. “Uh.”

The highway was empty, the fields, the barns. All of it hot. A mile away from the lake, you couldn’t tell it was there. Just hills.

They didn’t see the dust in the mirror, didn’t hear the rocks clunking in the wheelwells.

“What year is it?” they asked.

I laughed then. Me, pathetic. Weak.

“An accident,” I said. “Nothing major.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said, and already I wanted to hit them and never stop. Right there in the lot. But I waited.

They smelled like pot, like wine, like the cheap beer from the concession stand. Old Milwaukee. Sometimes I didn’t even kiss them after.

They stayed that way until I got them down to the rec room. They woke up when I opened the vinegar under their noses. I already had them tied up, their ankles to their wrists and then their necks. You could raise and lower them over the beam to make them shut up.

I didn’t really need the mask; it was more for them.

“Please,” they said. “Oh my God please.”

They were all lying there in the sun with the waves coming in. That summer, it seemed it was always a beautiful day. The outlook for the weekend was good. They heard it in the morning, waking up to the clock-radio, drinking coffee, thinking of taking Friday off. Hard to find a parking spot. They circled the lot, signaled to stake their claim.

They drove little pick-up trucks and Camaros with pinstriping. They drove their mother’s old Volare with the peeling woodgrain decal. Their keychain had the name of their insurance company on it. Their keychain had a picture of their niece.

Think of me, babe, whenever . . .

They prayed. They closed their eyes and they prayed.

They had a favorite sweater around their necks, in case it got cold later. They had a dab of mustard above their upper lip. They had a bump where the cast hit them. They had a tattoo of a moon, its eye winking just below where their tan stopped. They had gold chains that broke if you pulled on them too hard, and blue eye shadow you couldn’t rub off.

“What happened to you?” they asked, like it was funny.

“You do that sailing?”

They screamed when they saw the knife.

They said, “Oh my God.”

They said, “No.”

The lot. The lake. A beautiful day, highs in the mid eighties.

Some sweet-talking girl comes along . . .

They screamed.

“Be quiet,” I said.

The windows were boarded over, with cinder blocks piled against them, but they didn’t know that.

I lifted them up. Now I was doing all the talking.

“Shhh,” I said.

“Please,” I said, and they looked like all of them by then. They looked like they knew how it felt to be me, and for a second even I was sorry for them. For a second we were together there, me and them. We knew.

How I wanted to be honest then. You don’t know.

I reached over and touched their hair, the two of us quiet in the still air of the basement.

“It’s all right,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

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