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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
"Oh," she answered quickly, not even
a half moment separating their words. "He
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
"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
July heard the story a hundred times, if she
had heard it once. But never did she not get excited.
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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