The horseflies bit you in the daytime. The mosquitoes got you at night. The cicadas droned on all day long. At night they were joined by the incessant trilling of crickets. The humidity stuck to everything, dampening and softening all it touched. Making all of it ripe for insects of any variety. The heat clung to your clothes, hid in your mouth, followed you into the shade. It was everywhere and it would be reckoned with.
* * *
I stood under my grandparents apple tree and watched the bees feeding on the rotting apples that had fallen to the ground. They were having a heyday. Each bee would land on an apple, have its share, and then move on to the next. What strange mission were they on? Were they just gorging? Were they gathering for the rest of the hive? I watched with great interest until I heard my grandmas voice calling to me.
-Ricky! Get away from those bees before they sting you!
I walked across their driveway and through the yard up to their front porch. I sat down in a white wicker chair and the sweat on my skin practically taped itself to the surface of the chair. My grandma launched into a brief lecture about how I should stay away from the bees. As she talked I gazed across their front yard out to the black tar road boiling in the summer sun. You could actually see the waves of heat pulsing up from the road. As my grandma finished her little speech my brother came onto the porch from inside the house. He had been watching television in the air conditioning. His favorite thing to do.
-Why dont you two boys run back to the pond and see if you can help
grandpa pick up sticks so he doesnt hit them with the mower?
I said ok but my brother didnt respond too well to the idea.
-But grandma Im watching a show. I just came out here cuz theres
-Now Billy, you cant stay cooped up inside that house all day. Its summer and youre a young boy. You should be outside.
He groaned and made his way towards the steps and I followed close behind. We walked down the steps off the porch into the unforgiving sun and it damn near took your breath away. We began walking in the direction of the pond, which was back about a quarter of a mile in the woods. You had to walk or drive down a long lane that was surrounded on both sides by fields. They changed what they planted in the fields each year; soybeans, corn, wheat and so on, rotating the crop each year to keep the soil fresh. We liked the years when they had corn planted because when the corn got high enough you could run through it and it was just like some grand maze. It was also a good place to hide for a while if you did something to make your parents or grandparents mad. They had corn planted this particular year. Just before we rounded the corner around the barn and got out of sight grandma called to us.
-And dont you boys go running through that cornfield! Youll get all scraped up!
We turned and assured her with innocent sounding promises. Lies, of course. The moment we were around the barn and out of sight we both madly dashed into the cornfield as fast as we could. It was like entering some strange canopy world. The leaves on the stalks of corn scraped our arms and legs and faces just like grandma said would happen but we didnt care. Being country kids, running through a cornfield was one of the very few thrills we ever had. We each went into separate rows and ran parallel to one another for a while but then my brother broke away and sprinted to the left, cutting across rows and rows of corn. I tried to follow him but he was a couple of years older than me, had longer legs and was much faster. I quickly lost track of him and had to stop running a moment to catch my breath. I turned around and around and looked at all the corn surrounding me. I felt lost, like I would never find my way out if my brother didnt come back to rescue me. I started walking in the direction that I thought he went. I looked up to the sky and its blinding azure through waving corn stalks. It hurt my eyes to look at it. The day felt so permanent in the middle of a summer afternoon. It was as if it would never end. Like it was always here. And me and my brother and my grandma and my grandpa, we were all apart of it and always had been and always would be.
I walked on for a few more minutes until suddenly I heard my brothers voice.
-Ricky! Ricky! Where are you?
I was amazed at how close his voice sounded, like he was right in front of me. I took a few more steps through a few more rows of corn and then I was back into the full brightness of the sun, standing on the grass lane that would take us to the pond. My brother and I looked at each other and laughed at how scraped up we were.
-Grandmas gonna be mad.
-Grandpa wont be though. Hell explain it to grandma. Boys will be boys he says.
We walked quietly on the lane leading back to the pond. I picked up a small stick and swatted it against the corn leaves as we went along. We reached the little bridge that crossed over a creek and then walked up a hill. Just over the hill was the pond. It was a pond for fishing only. There were snapping turtles and catfish and black water snakes living in there. Not things you wanted to swim with. The mosquitoes loved the still water of the pond and bred a huge civilization on its stagnant shores. They swarmed you to no end in the evening-time. They buzzed your ears and feasted on any exposed flesh. Not even bug spray could keep them off of you. Eventually you had to pack up your bait and tackle and get the hell out of there or risk being eaten alive.
We got to the top of the hill and saw grandpas riding lawnmower sitting there. We didnt see grandpa right away. We walked on a bit until my brother spotted him.
-There he is. He must have got tired.
I looked across the pond and there was grandpa, sprawled out on the ground on his back. We made our way over to him. As we approached him we saw that his dog Gilly was lying there with him. She had her snout resting on his left knee. She saw us coming and wagged her tail happily. Nothing but her tail moved; she just eyeballed us and wagged her tail over and over. Beside her was a pile of sticks. Grandpa always picked up sticks before he mowed so he didnt hit them and dull his blades.
We stood over him and my brother said grandpa. He didnt move. His head was cocked to one side and his right arm was stretched out, bent in a weird way. He didnt look very comfortable. My brother said grandpa a few more times, louder than before. Grandpa didnt move and Gilly kept on wagging her tail with the same solemn look on her face. Finally my brother started shaking grandpa by one of his shoulders trying to wake him up. He didnt move. My brother kept saying grandpa, grandpa, grandpa and shaking him but grandpa would not wake up. I thought to myself how tired grandpa must have been for him to sleep like that. My brother turned and looked at me. His face scared me.
-Go run up and get grandma! Go now! Go get her! Hurry!
I could tell he was being serious and it scared me. I looked at Gilly and she looked at me imploringly, wagging her tail faster now. I turned and began running. Back down the hill, over the bridge, onto the grass lane. I looked down at my feet as I ran. I was running so fast that it looked like my feet were sitting still and the earth was spinning out of control. I reached the end of the lane and turned through the yard by the barn, past the apple tree where the bees feasted, across the driveway. I could see my grandma sitting on the front porch, rocking gently in her chair and reading the newspaper. I knew then that this afternoon was going to end. I knew that night would come and with it the mosquitoes and that there would be another day tomorrow with biting horseflies landing on the back of your neck and busy bees hard at work on rotting apples and the summer sun draped forcefully over everything. I knew the days were here and would keep on coming.