Two kinds of kids skip class to loiter by the trash bins: burnouts and lazy smart ones. It’s not immediately clear which group Lisa claims membership to. None of the usual tells—doesn’t use big words that give away her brain; doesn’t roll her shoulders forward like her arms are so heavy it’s all she can do to lug them from place to place. Totally possible things fall either way. Straight A’s despite the fucking around, or already struggling by October to just get through the year, a future bagging groceries ready to unfold.
Sneakers kicking the greasy steel bins. Dealing high-fives down low, swapping matches for cigarettes, cigarettes for gum, clothes for clothes. The last exchange really only goes one way: girls tugging guys’ sweaters over their heads, long, dry hair snapping with static. Cloaking themselves in the stink of pure hot vibes. So confusing, these unlaundered hoodies and T’s—makes you want to press the fleece to your face like a wash cloth, scrub it against your cheeks, inhale till your lungs balloon. And so utterly revolting, Lisa can’t imagine how many weeks it takes a boy to build up this much odour. Maybe they’ll cover the formula in calculus next term. Applied mathematics. Ah, now, there’s that tell.
Not sure why she’s so angry or warm or tired. Not sure why anything seems so big, like school or arguing with someone. And, not sure why those same people don’t get why everything about Lisa is so huge—the significance of her position in that fight; the magnitude of the issues bolstering her excuse for turning things in late.
Engrossing late June pursuits: picking a knee scab to pass the time between applying, drying, examining then removing three nearly identical shades of polish from her toes. Cutting a tiny “x” with her fingernail into the mosquito bite that will probably scar purple beneath her tan (she forgets and scratches while she watches TV). Weighing the pluses and minuses of inviting girlfriends to spend the night. House rule—only two allowed at a time. So, then, who to leave out?
Girls on bicycles instantly look prettier.
Boys on skateboards instantly look complex.
Two weeks till holidays. Ugh, so close. Lisa props one shoulder against the trash bin, holds a cigarette in a dumb-looking V that betrays she never inhales. Pretends she believes she doesn’t give a shit about missing conversational French. Anyone can fake it to other people—these are teenagers, for christ’s sake, each kid a planet that believes the others orbit it rather than the other way around, no one paying attention to anyone’s shit but their own. But it’s harder to pretend you buy your own act. Lisa says it out loud—“Who gives a shit if I miss French?”—like the sound of her voice has the power to make it true.
“Are you sticking around after June?”
Probably no. Maybe. Maybe, yeah.
Probably spend the summer at the place. The place where the tracks head out of town and where shopkeepers give up tending the grounds out back of the stripmall. There’s a privacy wall to hold back the sound of trains lugging goods into, through, back out of town. There’s probably a formula for that too—how many feet of lumber above which sound can’t jump. By August, the wall will be swallowed by nine feet of dry grass, matted in patches where guys chuck their upside down skateboards or girls perch atop lumpy purses to avoid putting their thighs right on the itchy ground.
Rattan weave of weeds pressed into tanned skin, Queen Anne’s Lace glued to thighs where shorts hiked up or ankles where socks slouched down, rashy where dandelion milk leaked and dried. Back against the wall, legs bent with knees clunking together and ankles splayed, feet pigeoning inward, Lisa yanks the borrowed hoodie over her knees to form a warm tent. Pilled cotton shields her crotch from the eyes of the skaterboys who are always looking. Like their patience will reward them a flash of wayward underpants or goodness knows what. Lisa is pretty sure these boys have no idea what they’re looking for in the first place. What, exactly, they are hoping to see.
This is how they’ll spend the next however many days until everyone’s limbs are a mess of insect bites and road rash and sunburns both peeled and fresh. Probably, a handful of them will kiss. Not all at once, but slowly, steadily in pairs, swapping off from week to week, day to day, none of it really a big thing or anything, till they form the necking version of the pyramid from health class that illustrates how if you have sex with him, and he had sex with her, and those three got messy at a party one time, eventually you’ve slept with everyone in school. None of them are thinking that big yet, not this summer. This summer, no one will go all the way.
Another tell: that Lisa sees all this unfolding like an accordion of holiday postcards or wallet of family photos fed into a ribbon of plastic slots. That she remembers last year and could tell you what’s changed, what hasn’t, what never will, no matter how hard anyone wills it to be so.
By next July, pure hot vibes won’t be enough to bring her to the school yard instead of class or keep her back pressed to that fence while bugs suck her blood instead of taking a shitty part-time job. This July? For now, she’s cool with performing the telling-herself-she-believes routine.