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Learning to Color Outside of the Lines

R J Sandore

July—The 7th month of the Roman calendar
In the Midwest United States—Corn is knee high by the Fourth of July

July is not just another month. No, she is not just the seventh born child of an immigrant family of twelve. And she is certainly not a middle child in crisis because she was loved too much or too little. July wears spangles, a tattered red dress riding a sea of wildflowers, and a band of corn silk to hold her hair back. It isn't much, the corn silk. But it took her the better part of a summer to weave it, and it glistens in the sun like moonlight in a lover's eyes.

As far as months go, she is special, but no more special that any other month. Warmer than December. Breezier than November. Midway between June and August, she holds summer in the palm of her hand. As far as women go, she is as magnificent as her name, as warm as her smile, and more unique than a June bug in September.

She never met anyone else named July. That didn't matter. In fact, it made her happy. But not as happy as…

"Jew-lie" she heard her name called. "Jew-lie. Where are you?"

"Right here, Daddy," she called, walking out of her room and peeking over the second floor railing.

"Honey, your Mama's back. Come down and help her with the groceries."

"I'll be right there, Daddy."

She always remembered helping Mama with the groceries when she saw an old farmhouse. Today was no exception. Mama would slide her dry, crooked fingers through her hair, and lean down and kiss her on the forehead when she walked up next to her.

"Come on now, July," Mama would always say. Her voice cracked from a few too many Camels over the years. "Come on now, let's get these groceries put away, then I'm going to tell you that story again."

She loved hearing the story. Especially in July when they would sit on the wide porch, and the even wider sky would wrap itself around them, holding her and Mama in a cocoon of blue.

"Stop the car," she said loudly. "Please. Pull over. Right up there." She pointed ahead of them.

Her pleading caught the driver off guard. "Pull over?" He questioned reluctantly. "I told you I would give you a ride when I picked you up. But I've got to be in the city by four. I don't have time to stop."

"Have you ever made love in a corn field?" July asked. Her sunny, mischievous smile made him more nervous than the plea to stop the car. "I'm not offering," she continued, after a half moments pause. (We'll discuss this later.) Light filled the car from a grin that could power the whole west coast. "I'm just asking."

"No," he answered, not certain any more why he picked her up. Well, that is maybe not quite the truth. He picked her up imagining he was going to sex her in the cornfield. Imagination is a funny thing. When it turns real our socks are usually knocked off. "No, I haven't," he answered again.

"Well, then pull over. Turn down that little road up there." She pointed with her finger to the narrow gravel road a hundred yards ahead to their right. It was the very end of July, so the corn was closer to eye high than knee high.

He looked at the narrow road fifty yards ahead, then back at July. Her face glowed. He imagined if the sun were to suddenly disappear that the corn would still be knee high by the Forth of July so long as July was smiling on it. In a half breath he was turning right onto the narrow road. Pillars of green, supporting a hazy blue dome lined the way to the King's Palace.

"Go up a little farther," July pleaded like a child desperate to open a Christmas present. "Pull over up there." She pointed to a spot a hundred feet ahead of them. "Right there is good."
He pulled over and stopped the car. July jumped out, looked up at the sky, and spun around. The wildflowers on her dress cascaded over the corn and her hair sent bubbles of light dancing with the stalks. She yelled and bounced and danced until her lungs were empty and she had to pause to replenish.

Her driver was standing next to her now. He looked at her, so bright and vivid and full of life. Part of him wondered if he had ever been like that. Another part wondered about sexing in the cornfield—after all, they were here now. The last part wondered what the hell he was doing here when he had business at four.

"Come on," she shouted. "Let's go." She reached out for his hand.

"Let's go where?" he hesitated.

"In there," she pointed into the green sea. "In there." She paused for just a half moment—(A half moment, you'll now find out, is one of those moments that are so short they don't count as a full moment, yet you know there was a pause in the action) "But first we have to fix something." She stepped in front of him. "First we take this off." She reached up and began taking his jacket off of his shoulders. She tossed it over the roof of the car. "Now we loose this too." His tie followed. Then she unbuttoned his shirt. "You still look a little stiff, but it'll do." She took his left hand in her right. "Let's go."

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"We could go to Atlanta. We could go to Dallas. We could go to San Diego. We could even go to Timbuktu."

He was puzzled.

"We're going to get lost," she finished whimsically.

Following is a funny thing. We naturally do. We're much more likely to follow than to lead. Must be evolution. The little lemming in all of us.

He attempted to resist. His lemming stood up and said, "We follow. Let's go." (No, it was not that lemming.) She danced. He walked. Deeper into the corn they went. He had been in a corn maze when he was a kid. He didn't like it. He became separated from his parents and got lost. It took half a day for him to find his way out. His lemming took charge and he finally did it by following someone else. He never went back. This was worse. Every time they twisted this way or turned that way a shiver of sweat crossed his body. By the time July ended her walk his lemming was crawling, but still following.

"We're here," July announced. The place she had stopped was missing a couple of stalks so it was a sunny 6 by four foot space on the ground.

"We're where?" he asked.

"We're here." She glowed at him. "We always somewhere. Right now we're here." She spun again, looked up, then sat down. "This is as good as anywhere. Better, if you ask me."

He wasn't certain, but his lemming was tired, so he sat down next to her. She lay back on the ground, stretched her arms up, her legs down, then began reaching up towards the sun. She looked at him. "You should try this. It'll loosen you up."

He looked at her. He tried to look at himself. Lemmings stretch when they move. When in Rome…his mind told him. He began stretching his feet. Shoes, he decided quickly, were made for walking, not stretching. He kicked them off. His feet stretched south and his arms stretched north, and he let out a sigh that knocked a few ears off of the stalk above his head.

"Feels better, huh?" July stated as a question.

"Yeah. Yeah, it does. It really does feel good."

July glanced at him, then looked up at the sky. If she had been alone you would have thought she was talking to the sky. Maybe she was, and her lemming friend just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Fate works like that, you know. Or maybe you don't. If you don't, you'll know soon.

"I grew up on a farm just like this," July began. "It was me, my two brothers and my Mama and Daddy. I was the youngest. After I was born, my Mama bleed. She had to have an operation and couldn't have any more children. I know my Daddy loved me, but he wanted more boys to run the farm. My oldest brother loved the farm. Daddy taught him to work it. The farm worked him hard. He looked old when he was still young. My other brother hated the farm. Daddy tried to get him to like it. It just wasn't in his blood. He moved to the city, and worked hard there. He loved the city. He died there." She paused for one of those half moments—remember them? "You know what I think," she continued.

"What?" he asked automatically. It's a lemming thing.

"I think we all die. It's better to die in love than in hate."

Now, this is a real moment. The whole, gosh darn thing. The space where pieces go flying apart, and begin coming back together, but not completely together, and not in exactly the same way they were before the moment began.

He didn't move to look at July. The sky was as mesmerizing (Noun: 1. A strong or spellbinding appeal; fascination, 2.Hypnotic induction believed to involve animal magnetism, 3. Hypnotism) as her words. A quiet ‘Yes' slipped from between his lips. It got caught by the gentle July breeze and was whisked away between the corn stalks. This yes didn't have an inner lemming. It was more of a surfboard yes riding a wave of July air to the shore of tomorrow.

"My mama used to tell me this story every day," July continued. Her words meandered just like her breeze and he was lucky enough to be caught up in them. (Now luck is another strange thing—Just like on of those half moments.) "It is my favorite. You want to hear it?"

He knew he wanted to. He knew he was going to. Any thoughts of being in the city by four had died just like her brother had died. But strange enough, he found himself happy, just like he imagined her brother had been.

"Yes," he answered quietly. "What happened to your other brother? The one that worked the farm."

"Oh," she answered quickly, not even a half moment separating their words. "He died too."

He wished there had been at least a half moment, but she continued without even taking a breath.

"My Mama used to sit me on the porch next to her on the old swing. If it was cold we'd cuddle together under the warmest blanket in the whole world. About the only time we wouldn't sit on the porch was in the winter when it was too cold and the wind was blowing. The wind used to blow real hard over those empty fields. I never did like the winter." Half moment pause.

He shivered, not really knowing why. Perhaps it was a portent. Perhaps it was the memory of things to come. Perhaps it was just the thought of the January wind caressing a lifeless field like words of eulogy spoken too late caressing a lifeless body, or dreams that never sprouted. There wasn't much time to examine it, remember, this is only a half moment pause.

"Mama would always start the story the same."

"July, you know where you got your name from, don't you?" She laughed a gentle, cracked laugh. "Of course you do. I've told you this story a million times." She paused a real pause, and July snuggled closer. "Your Daddy and I have lived in this house for longer than we are old. When we were younger, before we had any children, he and I used to sit out on this porch just like you and I are now. One summer, when the corn was just a scant higher than knee high, the strangest thing happened." She drew out the word strangest to last longer than a full moment. A family thing, maybe. "Your Daddy and I were sitting out here and we heard the most beautiful sounds. Like a nightingale singing in the daytime, but louder and even prettier. We looked and looked and looked. Never did see where that sound was coming from. And then it was gone just as fast as it had come. We didn't think much of it then, only that it was just so beautiful. It made us all romantic." She blushed whenever she got to this part. "The next night it came again. Just as pretty as the night before. It stopped as fast as it started." She giggled and blushed again. "Every night for the whole of two weeks we sat on that porch and listened to that beautiful sound. Well, we wondered and wondered, but never could see where it was coming from. Finally, and I remember this just as clear as you and I are sitting here today, your daddy and I see this little red bird flying around the top of the porch. It was July thirty-first. Looked like a Cardinal, its red that is, but it wasn't no Cardinal. Much to small, and prettier, if you can imagine that. But you know what the strange thing was sweetie?" She stopped and ran her tired hand through July's hair. "That darn bird was flying upside down. Yes, my little angel, it was flying upside down. Now you might think that's strange, but you don't know how strange it is until you see for yourself—a little red bird flying upside down. Well, your daddy and I were just beside ourselves. We looked at each other, then looked back at that darn bird. It started singing louder and louder until we couldn't hold all of the sound in our ears, then just flew away. We never did see it again that summer. But you know what?"

July heard the story a hundred times, if she had heard it once. But never did she not get excited. "What mama?"

"That bird never came back that year. But the next spring your brother came hollerin' and screaming into this world."

"Then what, Mama?" She asked. She knew, but the excitement always carried her like the July wind over the stalks of corn.

"Well, come mid-July again, and your daddy, me, and your brother are all sitting on the porch here, and here comes that sound again. We both knew what it was but it took a couple of days before we saw it. There was that little red bird, bright and colored as ever, flying upside down, singing the most enchanting song this side of the Mississippi. Every night for the rest of that month, we listened to that perfect little voice. Made us more romantic than I care to share with a little one like you." She paused a full moment to get the whole blush in. "But come August number one, and there was no more song. The little bird had gone away again. But you know what?"

"What, Mama?"

"Well, you know what, but I'm gonna tell you. Next spring came along, and with it your other brother popped out into this world."

"Come on, Mama. Keep going." She didn't like Mama's pause.

"Well honey, you know that the next July we were sitting right here, all four of us, and you know who comes a visiting. Brighter than ever. Louder than ever. Sweeter sounding as ever. And more upside down than upside down can be. Came to visit us every day, every single day, until July was over. And you know what happened to your Daddy and me?" She blushed and tickled July on her sides. July turned redder than the little upside down bird laughing and screeching.

"The spring came along, and so did you. But you know you had trouble coming into this world. You were upside down and gave me and your daddy a real scare. Tell you the truth, the only thing I remembered after seeing you come out was hearing the doctor tell me that I was bleeding and looking at your Daddy. Your Daddy and I looked at each other, at you, and back at each other, and we both said the same thing."

She paused. A full, real, honest, no holds bared moment.

The lemming was asleep. The driver snapped to charge. "What did they say?"

"I remember your Daddy and I both said, at the same exact time—July." Mama took a breath of remembrance. "Next thing I remember was waking up two days later with you next to me. You were smiling and cooing, just like that little, upside down, red bird. And that's how you got your name."

"And what about the red bird, Mama? The upside down bird."

"We never did see that little bird again, honey. Your Daddy and I never did say it to each other—you don't say those kinds of things out loud—but we both knew it. We both always knew you were that little bird come to be with us forever."

July stretched. Her legs moved south, and her arms north, fingertips getting singed by the sun. A tiny melodic sigh whispered from her lips. Her driver looked at her. He rubbed his eyes to fix the blurred image of the world they were relaying to his brain. A hint of red remained.

"What do I have to do to be like you?" he asked softly.

July smiled on him. "What do you mean, ‘be like me?'"

"So free, and full of life. Happy. Sunny."

She laughed. The corn stalks laughed. The wind whispered. The earth chuckled. The clouds danced. The sky swayed and the sun cried tears of light around them.

July leaned over slowly. So slowly that a handful of moments drifted past. She put her lips to his ears and whispered so softly that he just barely heard the melody of her words. She kissed him on the cheek, stood up and twirled, and her wildflowers danced with the corn silk in the summer sun.
He laid there long enough that her voice was an old friend who had been on vacation too long.

"Come on now," she said. She reached out her hand. He looked up at her. The sun was directly behind her face. He wasn't certain who owned the hand he was reaching for. "I think it's time we move on," she said.

He held her hand and she pulled him up. She bounced. He stretched and looked for his shoes. She grinned, gave him a peck on the cheek and a pat on the bottom.

"You lead," she said. "I know you can do it."

He turned this way, then that. "All right," he said. "I'll do it."

He reached out and she took his hand. He began walking confidently in the direction he chose. A few twists and turns and he felt he was headed in the right direction. Slipping here and there between the stalks he let her hand go knowing that she was keeping pace. Moving straight ahead a hint of lighter light caught his eye. He knew the gravel road was just ahead of them. Parting the stalks with his hands he sighed as he stepped out of the maze and onto the road next to the car.

"We made it, July," he said with a sigh of relief. "That was wonderful. Everything. The walk. The sun. Your story. It was great. I would really like to walk with you again sometime." He walked up to the car and turned around. "July," he said loudly. He looked around him. "July," he shouted. "July." He walked back to the corn stalks and parted them with his hands. "July," he shouted loudly. "July."

His voice became tired quickly. He stopped shouting and allowed a full, honest to god moment pass. He needed this real moment to let the pieces fall into place. In the silence of moment he heard the corn speak, moved by the July breeze, and a half moment of clarity fell over him like July's wildflowers had cascaded over the field.

Slowly, reluctantly, a pain of loss balanced by gratitude of gain, he walked back to the car. He got in, started the engine, and turned the car around. He stopped, opened all of the windows and looked for any sign of July. (Had the half moment of clarity persisted he would have realized July was all around him.) For a moment, a real moment, he thought he heard a bird song. Kind of like a nightingale in the daytime, only more beautiful. He put the car in drive and slowly began moving back towards the highway.

Had Augustus looked in his rear view mirror he would have seen a tiny speck of red dancing on the horizon as he remembered the three words July had whispered in his ear.


Summer breeze, makes me feel fine…

Twelve summers later (And that's a great many moments.) Augustus finished telling his daughter a bedtime story. He ran his hand through her hair and kissed her on the forehead.

"Daddy, tell me the last line. Please."

He smiled at her, and paused one of those half moments he learned about when he was another person. "Life," he began quietly, and slowly, "is never the same, once you've been kissed, by July."

"Good night, Daddy."

July curled up in the covers, and her wildflowers danced with her in her dreams.

Drawing by Steve Willis; doodle by John Schilling

Loafer's Magazine

"No Skepticism"

#14 Holiday 2005

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