Goodbye July

by Jane Deon

If Dad ever caught us up here on the roof he’d replace his regular exasperation of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph with the words he didn’t want us to say. But back inside, mid-July air stuck between the walls, an invisible force that un-crisped bedsheets and stole the cool spots from pillow cases. Ten minutes ago, Vicky had put a hand on my shoulder, mint toothpaste still on her breath as she said, “Let’s go up.” She held a plastic grocery bag in her other hand.
           
We crawled through the window in the back room and swung our legs onto the flat part of the roof over the back porch, one story up but still high enough to be a long way down. Dad had nailed a few pieces of wood, like a ladder, from here half way up the real slope so he could shovel off the snow in the winter. I’d watch him do it from down in the yard, and he’d wave me away so I wouldn’t get hit. But it was a game I loved, running and diving, and Mom, she'd look out the window like she didn’t see me at all. It was always like that--Dad doing, Mom watching-not-watching. Tonight had almost been another no-Mom-dinner night. Vicky cooked spaghetti. I set the table. But Mom came home just in time, dropping her stuff on the floor near the door, ignoring the hooks that Dad had put up last weekend, ignoring the look that I recognized as the beginning of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But Dad hadn’t said anything and neither had Vicky.
           
The plastic bag clunked against the shingles as Vicky settled down. She pulled out two cans of soda, a package of Oreos, a magazine that I recognized as Teen Vogue even though it was too dark to really read it. I helped myself to a can and drank fast enough to burp.
            
“Dad was mad about the hooks,” I said.
          
“He’ll be okay.”
          
“They didn’t go to bed.”
       
“Too hot to sleep,” Vicky said.
           
Vicky’s hand on my shoulder hadn’t woken me up. I’d been listening to Mom and Dad’s voices drifting up through the floor boards, the hall closet opening in a familiar creak, closing, opening again. It was the closet with the suitcases, with the jackets and winter boots we wouldn’t need until the winter.
            
Vicky and I turned our heads to the window. From inside, voices on a steady rise, moving from the bedroom-end of the house to the kitchen, not close enough to get the words, only the tone. It was the same one Mom took with me when I waited in the car as she shopped, my waiting turning into fear as she took too long and then longer to come out again, that tone when she finally put the groceries in the back and the keys in the ignition. Vicky had said no one disappears in Grand Union, but still.
            
“Are they looking for us?” I asked. I felt my insides twist tight like the way.           
  
Vicky wrung out a dishcloth.
            
Vicky shook her head and opened the package of Oreos.
           
“You’re sure they’re not trying to find us?”
           
“I’m sure.”
           
“How sure?”
            
“You want one?” Vicky passed the cookies to me. The voices dropped out
of ear shot. “See?”
            
I took two and turned them into a double the way Vicky’d taught me, sitting at the kitchen table back when I was just in first grade. A month from now, I’d be kicking my heels against the metal legs of a desk in Mrs. Towne’s sixth grade classroom, and Vicky, she’d be at the high school, tenth grade, with different rooms for English, math, history.
           
I watched her make her own double, chewing on the chocolate pieces as she stuck the cream together. The nighttime insects sang their songs in waves. The sky looked like somebody threw the stars across it, like the way I scattered beads when I made necklaces, trying to sort out the best ones.
            
“Is that a planet?” I pointed. Vicky would know.
            
“I think it’s the Dog Star. Sirius.”
 
I liked the name. Sirius. I lay next to my sister on the rough shingles and watched Sirius. My bare heel caught the edge of a shingle where a days old mosquito bite still itched every time I put on my sneakers. The roof was our spot, our summer haunt, that’s what Vicky called it. She meant a place we hung out, she told me, when I’d said it wasn’t scary. Other kids, they went to the water parks at Smuggler’s Notch or Jay Peak, or real camp with cabins, but I knew Mom and Dad couldn’t afford that, not even when it was just Vicky before me.
            
I turned my head to look at Vicky’s midnight silhouette. She had Dad’s nose where I had Mom’s, her chest round where mine was still flat, her bare toes painted red but I couldn’t see the red in the dark, I just knew they were, sticking out six inches farther down the roof than mine.
            
The front door opened and I heard Mom and Dad louder, words tumbling on top of each other.
            
I sat up fast. “Should we go in?”
            
“No, out here is best.”
            
“Best for what?”
            
Vicky was sitting up too, legs crossed, hands pressing down on either side of her knees like she wanted to keep her balance. But Vicky never lost her balance. She was looking at me hard, even in the dark.
            
“Listen, Tess, it wasn’t about the hooks tonight.”
           
 “But Dad almost said--”
            
“Mom’s really doing it this time.”
            
A car door slammed. Then Dad’s voice, but the engine started and took the words that would have made it to our side of the roof, and what Vicky said flashed in front of me as clear as the stars were bright. Leaving us. Dad knew. Vicky knew too. That’s why it wasn’t about the hooks. That’s why the soda, the Oreos, the Teen Vogue. The car noise faded and the insects took back over. The stars blurred. I lost Sirius.
            
“I’ll take care of you, Tess, you know that, right?”
           
 Vicky reached for my hand, not shy about the Oreo crumbs. She locked her fingers with mine like four pinky-swears.


Jane Deon received her MFA from Florida International University in Miami. Her fiction has appeared in Sliver of Stone, Sixfold, and Embark. She writes and teaches in Boston.