I woke to a crisp spring wind streaming
through my window that carried with it the smell of honeysuckle and
dew-covered grass. The songs of mourning doves and blackbirds mixed
about me with the aroma of my father’s Saturday pancakes. For
nine months, I had anticipated the last day of school with an
impatience I was hardly able to bear. The spring had warmed the air
since March, and every day that passed was one less spent in school
and one closer to climbing trees and swimming. Coiled like a set
spring ready to burst, I laid there for a long time in reverence of
the first day of summer vacation.

The summers were the same every year. In our neighborhood, there
was an inseparable group of five of us that would spend it together
fishing, playing baseball, and forming epic games of
hide-and-go-seek. In the cold of winter, we had dreamt of these
months and their adventures with such concentration that even when
snow was piled two feet high outside, we would talk about the next
July as if it were the present.

We met early that morning on the stoop of my front porch. Our
plan had already been discussed, developed, and prepared for
– we were to build a raft to drift us down a nearby river. We
gathered out tools, lumber, and designs and headed out to an
abandoned parking lot where the building site was located. As we
pushed our full wagons down the sidewalk we were interrupted.

Mr. McCormick had moved into a house a few down from mine early
last winter.

He was quiet and middle-aged, keeping mostly to his garden and
back porch. Wearing the same faded denim overalls that scarcely
stretched over his lengthy legs, he was always reposed in a
laid-back position. Whether he sat or stood, his hands were set
with one resting on the top of his large stomach, as if he were
satisfied by a large meal, and the other lodged deep in his pocket.
Sometimes the hand he kept in his pocket would come out slowly and
comb his long, rigid beard with its fingers. I only saw him once
every few days rooting up his soil for planting in the spring, but
when I did, I felt awkward; he would stare down at me, waving
slowly for a long time.

“Good morning, boys!” he shouted after us. He stood
waving as we pushed our carts past his garden. None of us said
anything or made even a gesture in reply; we were all uncomfortable
from his zealous wave. We soon passed his yard though and, absorbed
with our raft, quickly forgot about Mr. McCormick.

Weeks after summer had begun, our project was near completion.
We had finished everything except assembling a steering system,
rudder, and a false mast. The day that it was river-worthy was
swiftly approaching, and our imaginations were spurred by the
adventures it would certainly bring.

Most afternoons grew too hot to endure, so we would quit the
day’s work and spend time examining and admiring our
progress. On those days, we would return to my yard and play
hide-and-go-seek well into the evening. Though we played regularly
near his house and garden, we hadn’t seen Mr. McCormick since
our first encounter weeks ago. Once, while we were playing, I hid
in a honeysuckle bush below one of his windows and thought I saw
him peering down at me from it. Frightened, I looked away and
crouched tighter than before. A moment later, I looked up to his
window and saw no one – I thought I had only imagined
him.

One afternoon, the heat had relented to a tolerable level, so we
labored later than we normally would have to finish the raft. By
dusk, the mast was up, the rudder was working, and our labor was
completed. To celebrate the achievement of our raft, the five of us
sprinted to my yard to play hide-and-go-seek. The sun was already
beginning to set, and our curfews were approaching quickly.
Regardless, we played several rounds – our excitement for the
raft was too much to swallow by going indoors and waiting for the
next day.

I ran to hide in the spot I had used days prior under Mr.
McCormick’s window. Crouching deep inside the honeysuckle
bush, I was certain I couldn’t be seen by anyone outside. I
hid quietly, patiently enjoying the cool night and the sweet aroma
of honeysuckle around me. Several minutes passed, and I relished in
my isolation. While waiting, I reached up and pulled down a cluster
of blossoms to suck but only tasted a few flowers before I heard
steps outside the bush. Dropping the blossoms, I pushed myself
further back and remained there as calmly as I could. From under
the bush’s canopy I could make out someone walking close
towards it, and I stiffened in fear of being caught.

The legs neared the bush, and as they came into my vision, I was
shocked to see the faded overalls of Mr. McCormick hanging over his
old work boots. Fear began to swell inside my throat when he
stopped and began to crouch to his knees. I moved swiftly away from
him, and slamming into the outside wall of his house, I began to
move upward against it. His hands landed on the ground, his beard
emerged from under the bush, and the rest of his face appeared
before me. I screamed, and abruptly a filthy handkerchief was
shoved deep inside my mouth until I gagged. I tried to escape from
under the bush by clinging to the brick wall but only ripped down
the excess mortar into my eyes. His hands were around my waist,
gripping it so forcefully, my legs were locked, and he slammed me
against the brick again and again until I quit trying to break
free. Once I lay motionless, he tore off my shorts and with one
hand held my face down on the clump of honeysuckle blossoms I had
dropped. Their sugary scent rose from the juice that leaked from
their buds but was soon overcome by the stench of fresh blood
gushing from my nose. I heard the bush rustling behind me from Mr.
McCormick’s movements for some time until I felt a sharp
punch run up and down my back.

 

* * *

 

I didn’t leave my house again that summer without my
mother or father close beside me; I hardly stepped outside. The
nights were so terribly hot in my upstairs bedroom, but I refused
to open the window and let the honeysuckle’s odor linger in
from his bushes. I dreaded the rest of the summer and many more
that followed it because of that smell. For a long time, I only
looked forward to the moments where I could be alone –
motionless inside a room and without any fear.

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