It is mid-September, and I am supine on my beach chair, soaking up the rays of late afternoon. The chair is the aquamarine color of the bikini I always look for, but can never find in my size. Half the problem is finding one of the two halves in my size.
My daughter is playing in her pink kiddie pool–her precursor to a bath. Her menagerie of colorful bath toys make me think of sprinkles on a pink iced cupcake. A cool zephyr blows through the tree behind our fence, stirring the tiny leaves. She looks up, transfixed. She is content.
If we had an outdoor shower, I would be taking all my showers outside, for everything is better outside during the summer, eating especially. Every day of summer feels like a holiday, which is why it almost seems strange to be inside working.
I live in my flip-flops; I can be heard slip-slap-slopping down the shiny corridors at college. When I leave and the warmth rushes in through the heavy door (a respite from the chilly building), I am flip-flop-flapping my way down the stairs. My bikini top is a comfortable, makeshift bra, and my hair is still wet from the shower, but I don’t get sick in the summer. Barefaced and barelegged, I am ready to go. There is no having to warm Lila (our almost 25-year-old Cadillac), or putting on socks or hose, or using the hairdryer. A swipe of lipstick and I am ready to go. I will never understand women who will apply a full face where the humidity is about a hundred percent. I choose to let my skin breathe; the sun is nature’s foundation.
Though my freckles become more pronounced, I have no desire to cover them (a la Jan Brady). They make me look younger.
The inflatable pool we got on clearance from Target (they still think summer ends in July) is filled with water as clear as vodka, and I get in to cool off my skin, feeling that faint tightness that relaxes as soon as it hits the water. I rest my head on the edge and close my eyes for a bit, listening to my daughter splash. She loves the warmth and the water as much as I do.
I decide I want to plant some honeysuckle next year, maybe some ivy. Once I have dipped my head in the water, cooling my scalp, I lay back on my chair as the sun lightly browns me once more like a piece of French toast, giving me that vitamin D and mood boost I need before I spend half the night studying.
As I lay there with my face in the hole facing the grass, the pool water long having evaporated, I brainstorm about the collection of nursery rhymes I am working on. I have shelved my adult writing for a time. As it says in the Bible, there is a time and a season for everything. I don’t have the time. I close my eyes once more, dreaming of Campbell, Missouri peaches. I am unusual in that I don’t like watermelon (something about the gritty texture turns me off), so I opt for a refreshing mint iced tea, the glass of which I keep under my chair, in the shade.
Hannah starts to let me know she’s getting tired, and I go to bathe her, the water warmer now (hopefully not with pee) than when she was put in. I make a game of naming each animal (I have to make it interesting somehow): There’s Escargot the Snail, Soup the Turtle, Gucci the Alligator, Cracker the Goldfish, Jonah the Whale, Prince Frog, Plucky Ducky, Hannah Swan, and so on. Of course, I change up the names a bit each time (I love naming things, probably because I love to create characters) to keep it fresh, and I teach her the colors (as each has a “color mate”), but what really delights her is when I toss them up in the air and call out, “One little, two little, three little animals”, etc.
Tomorrow is the thirteenth–I will be thirty-three. I remember reading somewhere long ago that that is considered one’s prime (I daresay, Miss Jean Brodie was well past that age!), because Jesus was at His prime when He made the sacrifice. It has been tradition that every year on my birthday, we go to the Cactus Flower Café. (We started dining at their beach location last year.)
We always choose to sit outside, away from the noise of the diners and the overhead music, with the breeze blowing in from the sound side of Pensacola Beach. I always get a sangria and a chicken-stuffed chili relleno, topping it off with a homemade flan for my free birthday dessert–creamy and caramelly, smooth and cool to the mouthfeel (texture and temperature in food is as important to me as taste). The material of whatever flowing dress I’m wearing feels wonderful against my exfoliated, shaved and lotioned legs. I slide off my flip-flop and rub the bottom of my foot, smoother now, on the rough, unfinished boardwalk beneath us. I am already feeling the effects of the sangria; I feel like laughing.
The food is fresh, abundant in color–thick, verdant lettuce, spicy, chili pepper red tomatoes, and beans and rice perfectly seasoned. I close my eyes to savor, just like I can hear better when I close my eyes. Dull one sense, another heightens. I’ve heard that eating in the dark can enhance the dining experience, but I have never done so. I want to see what I’m being served before I eat it, as I eat with my eyes first.
On other days, days when I am alone, towards late afternoon, I can roll down the windows and leave them down, not at all worried about my hair getting messed up, as it’s always in a ponytail. For this reason, I never have a bad hair day during summer. The rushing air cools any perspiration that collects on my scalp. I will be listening to Dave Ramsey or Branden Rathert on the radio as I cruise over the Three Mile Bridge into Gulf Breeze, the water the color between sapphires and emeralds. The boats and the rocks below are picturesque.
Twilight has always been my favorite time of day–a time to settle down, but not turn in. I’ve always associated periwinkle as being the color of twilight; thus, it was always my favorite color in the Crayola 64 pack. Periwinkle, besides its whimsical name, was always the stars, the sun and the moon–all in one, a celestial hue.
Summer is wonderful at night, too. The surfside beach is still warm, and the sand sparkles pristine, like tiny, ground pearls, moonstones, and stardust sprinkled with salt, luminescent in the silvery moonlight. The view is otherworldly. The sand is cool beneath my toes; I think of Abraham’s descendants. I dip my feet into the water, the salt burning the open pores on my legs. The sand beneath me is squishy now. I bend to pick up a broken sand dollar, skipping it a few times in the water. We walk for a bit, hand in hand, the different colored beach houses visible, but seemingly so far away.
The drive home is subdued, but the silences don’t stretch too long. The radio is off. Somehow, turning it on would break the spell of the magic of the evening.
Once we’re settled in for the night and get into our house clothes, I return to my beach chair to unwind, squeezing the last drops of enjoyment from the remains of the day. I pick up the beach read I was reading. The light from our patio gives just enough of a glow for me to see, but it still dim enough to feel private. The next door neighbor’s sprinklers come on, spraying the exposed bottom halves of my calves; I let my foot just graze the tops of the moist, cool blades of grass. I feel myself drifting off for a catnap, until I hear thunder rumbling in the distance. The air suddenly smells sweeter; the atmosphere is breathless with expectation. I put the book down and lounge a bit longer, just being, and then go inside when I feel the first raindrop on my head.
There is a gritty film noir on our DVR, and as it starts to pour (summer rainstorms are the best), the raindrops like a drumbeat on Hannah’s pool, I curl up on our couch with the fleece-tie blanket one of the ladies at Grace Lutheran made for Hannah. As my husband sits in his recliner and I curl up on the sofa, the black-and-white images shadowing my rosy face, I can already feel my eyelids getting heavy. It has been that kind of a day.