JUNE IN JULY
a Branford Perry story
by Stephen Brooke ©2017
I've seen drunken rednecks aplenty. They can't compare with June’s family.
I know Yankees aren’t all like that. Well, honestly, I’ve not seen enough drunken northerners to say. I only know that those Michiganders were, if not rowdier than your typical good ol’ boys, far less gracious.
No, no, I’m not putting down folks of the Yankee persuasion, you understand, but I've seen enough to suspect that there is a different attitude up north. Shoot, just look at how the tourists drive when they come down here!
I loved June. That’s a fact. So, I figured I had to at least tolerate her people for a few days of family reunion and Fourth of July barbecue. Love’s like that, y’know?
Almost from the day I met June Schiller, she talked about her family — her father, especially. Looking down on the whole affair, from a perch a few years higher, I can see that was a pretty darn clear danger signal. But I hadn’t had any experience with a Daddy’s girl back then. I was kind of dumb, I reckon.
But love’s like that, y’know? Yeah, I said that already.
I’m okay with my siblings but nothing like that. We dispersed in all directions and didn’t look back. As for gathering us for a reunion — well, good luck with that.
It was a Sunday afternoon — I usually spent Sundays at June’s place, over near Gainesville — when she called me to the computer. “This is the tee-shirt I designed for the reunion,” she told me. June, by the way, was a graphic designer. I liked that about her. I like creative people.
I like to think that I’m creative but let’s not get into that.
I looked over her shoulder at the screen and the rainbow logo she had created. “You have the colors in the wrong order,” I offered. “Remember ‘Roy G. Biv.’”
“It stands for red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet. I learned about Roy by watching Sesame Street.”
“Oh. Okay.” Was that a bit of pique in her voice? Maybe I should have just said it looked nice and offered no more. Maybe some of my friends would have called it ‘man-splaining.’ I’m full of useless information, anyway.
She never changed it, of course, and all the tee-shirts ended up with incorrect rainbows. I suppose no one but me ever minded nor even noticed. My tee still hangs in the back of my closet, a small white ghost to haunt me, if I choose to look at it now and again. I don’t wear it.
It wasn’t just a celebration of the Fourth, you see, or a family reunion. It was also June’s birthday and that of her father, both clustered around Independence Day. That’s pretty much my favorite time of the year, the heat of the summer, the days of swimming in the clear, cool springs that well up around Florida, the afternoons of thunderstorm, bringing fresh, electric air to the evenings.
It may also have been the happiest time in my life. I was thoroughly in love, in a way I had never been before, and spent as many of those summer nights as possible with my June. I would have moved in – the hell with my responsibilities – if she had been willing. Oh, all those warning signs were there; they had been from the start. I avoided looking at them.
The sassafras grew along June’s fence line, standing as slender sentinels of her pasture. Inside those fences were the big live oaks, old survivors amid the grass, jungle gyms for her goats. It was the dead wood that had fallen from them we gathered on more than one Saturday, for the bonfire she envisioned.
It was her vision, after all, though I supported it as I could. The canopy from my art shows was at her disposal for an outdoor family dinner, laid out on the folding tables we brought home in my truck from a garage sale one Saturday. And her extended family ate and drank and talked and it was all stuff I didn’t much care about, nor even understand some of the time. We spoke a different language and I’m not just talking about my southern accent.
Still, I’ll always have pleasant enough memories of sitting around the huge bonfire, the one for which I spent those weeks dragging dead wood from her pastures, with the family, playing guitar and watching that bunch of pyromaniacs shoot off fireworks. Taking them all to Ginny Springs so they could tube down the river. Listening to stories of people I didn’t know.
There are those who tell me I don’t know how to have a good time. They could be right.
Did I see it as wasted time? Did I resent it? It is possible, but there was too much else in my head to sort that out, right then. It’s possible June sensed it too. Maybe she could tell I didn’t much like her folks.
I mostly just sat at the outside of her family’s circle at the bonfire, listened some, drank a little. I’m not one to overdo that, nor did I share the joint that eventually made its way around. “I shouldn’t. I could lose my job,” said one cousin, or whatever he was, before taking a toke and passing it along. No, I didn’t fit here; it was only because of June I let myself be bored this way, attempted to be friendly — or at least pretended to be.
But then, love’s like that, as I said.
There were fireworks one or another had brought, or maybe more than one. It was just as illegal, whoever was responsible. Or irresponsible. They didn’t seem to care. Ragged drunken cheers rose with each sky rocket launched into the July night.
A rocket flashes and fades, a fire burns down to embers. Scattered plastic chairs, their plainness turned to ruddy chiaroscuro by the dying bonfire, threw dark paths upon her lawn, her fresh-mown fragrant lawn, beneath summer’s stars. Couple by lingering couple, our guests hugged and farewelled and welcomed me to the family before flipping on headlights and driving out of my life.
In the silent emptiness of then, I held June to me, both of us too exhausted, both a little too full of Sam Adams — her brother had brought a keg — to make love that July night. I think that is when we, too, began to say goodbye.
“Thanks, Bran, for all you’ve done,” she whispered. And I wondered whether it was worth it. I still do. Then, I also was headed home, into the darkness, toward the responsibilities of my life.
I can see from here that was the high point of my relationship with June. Yeah, it too some time for it to fizzle out and maybe I’ll get into that one of these days — into that whole downhill slope. Or maybe it’s better just to leave it all at this point.
Despite the time that has passed, despite everything, I find myself misting up a bit when I think about those days. Nostalgia? I suppose. Love? Maybe a part of me still loves her. I think a part of me always will. Nothing wrong with that. It would be far worse if she became just a memory that no longer meant anything.
Love really is like that, y’know?
Something I've dabbled at for some time and finally sat down and finished...maybe