Summers, we live like savages out at our mother’s fish camp. We don’t bathe. We wear the same clothes for weeks. Our smells swim through the tent, thick and oily. Our teeth remain unbrushed and after a few days our gums give off a salty, rusty taste we find companionable. We dig our tongues against our teeth, savor.
Our manners go to hell. We eat with our hands, wipe them in the brush or on our already soiled tee-shirts. We don’t say “please” or “thank you.” We reach and grab; we take what we want, out there surrounded by so much water, so much abundance. Dinner could be berries and warm cans of soda or fresh salmon we fry over the fire. We eat too much sugar, soft marshmallows and bags of circus peanuts. Our bellies grumble with satisfaction.
We have no bedtime, no mealtime, no set time for waking or chores. We sleep when we want, fall into our sleeping bags with exhausted abandon. Sometimes we’re up at the first hint of light and others we sleep until noon. On full-moon nights we stay awake late, lying out on the cool ground and staring up at the sky. We tell stories, imagine lives. Our horrible breaths mix together with the twilight air and we soar to other galaxies, other worlds. Sometimes we hold hands, all four of us lying in a line, the pulse of our wrists beating with the sounds of the river.
We are happy surrounded by nothing but the water, the sky, the sanded and rocky shore, out where there are no schedules or four-food-group meals. We are like bear cubs, roaming through the woods, our mouths wicked and sharp.
When the air begins to cool and the nights grow dark and we know that summer is almost over, we become energetic and desperate, hoping to prolong this freedom, this luxury. Suddenly, we are unable to live fully in the moment, the threat of school and houses and constricting new shoes bearing down upon us until that unspeakable day when Mother says, “I think it’s time to pack up.”
We stand there, dirty as hell, new cavities digging inside our back teeth, our legs filthy and scabbed with mosquito bites, we stand in that paradise of ourselves, such a gift but we won’t know that, won’t realize that until years later.
“It’s time to pack up,” Mother repeats.
We hate her, for a moment. We just fucking hate her.
Cinthia Ritchie, a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, writes and runs mountains in Alaska. Find her work at Evening Street Review, Sport Literate, Best American Sports Writing 2013, damfino press, Cactus Heart Press, Under the Sun, The Boiler Journal, and others. Her first novel, “Dolls Behaving Badly,” released from Hachette Book Group.