The star-peppered night hangs above the four of us as we lie on a thin slip of asphalt that winds through a small cemetery. It is not eerie, with dark trees and crooked iron fences, but nestled on the side of the two-lane highway, proud and open, part of the daily landscape in this three-red-light town.
Tonight Clark, Thomas, Ellen and I have come here for peace and quiet in an already sleepy town. While here, we decide to visit our friend Edward, who was laid to rest a year ago. His grave, gently illuminated by solar lights, is decorated with outdoorsy wreaths and trinkets, nods to his love of hunting and fishing. We say hello to him, then share a joint and leave the roach and two unopened beers at his headstone.
Lying amongst the silent graves, we gaze up. I tell my friends that I once read somewhere that on a clear night, if you look up and just watch, you can see a shooting star every few minutes. It takes less than three before we spy one and collectively gasp. Ellen points at it and Clark scolds her, claiming doing so brings bad luck.
This is new information, and we believe him, even though our finger pointing doesn’t stop. We laugh at our bad luck, unconsciously secure that we are safe together. The falling stars are everywhere, brilliant blazes of space winking at us as we lie amongst the dead. We are alive: full of grilled steak and homemade deer sausage and salad and apple beer, sweating in the oppressive summer night heat, swatting prehistoric mosquitoes.
We’re a new generation, suspended in that in-between stage that plagues our peers: physically, numerically, and emotionally – for the most part – we are adults, but compared to our parents, whom we still look to for guidance, whom we still stay with often on weekends (messing up their bathrooms and kitchens), and who still spearhead all of our holiday meals and functions, we are still kids. At 22 my parents had gotten married, established full-time careers, built not one, but two houses, and started a family. At 35 I am single, renting a home, raising a child alone, and in no way feeling settled in life. Our generation is reluctant to let go of childhood and embrace tax forms and retirement accounts and staying home on weekends.
A choir of frogs is sharp and loud, but to our ears, it is the silence of the night. Southern quiet is shockingly loud, one reason most of us have to sleep with big fans blowing. We were raised on white noise. A truck passes lonely in the distance, yet we are not disturbed.
Thomas forgets Clark’s warnings, pointing at another star, and we collectively laugh at his impending bad luck. I close my eyes and wish.
There are no more cars. At 2 a.m. our little town is not so much asleep as it is in a coma. The most alive place at the moment is this graveyard, where the four of us lie prone in our smallness against the expanse of space. We could stay here most of the night if it weren’t for the mosquitoes, and after another half-hour passes, we sit up. Clark is on his feet in an instant and pulls the rest of us, stiff and lazy, up by our hands. My knees issue shotgun pops. My long hair is hot on my neck; I twist it around and knot it on itself, not at all worried about looking sloppy in front of my friends.
Earlier we snuck into the elementary school play yard and raced tricycles, our too-tall-knees banging against the metal handle bars, tires squeaking under the strain of bodies that don’t belong to four-year-olds. We climbed up the tunnel slides in reverse, careful not to spill our beers and taking pictures of our silliness. We flew towards the sky in the playground swings, dragging our adult legs and feet through mounds of pea gravel, slowing at intervals to pass the marijuana, which gave us the giggles, putting us in the childlike mindset suitable for slides and swing sets.
Walking back to Clark’s house now, we follow our long shadows up the pavement. The street light glows amber in the night. Two happy brown dogs trot to the end of the driveway to greet us in our return. Clark goes into the house, careful not to wake his parents, and grabs a jar of his homemade pickles. We sit in the driveway, hot and stoned and content, crunching and giggling and pushing the begging dogs back.
Ginger Beck is a writer and English teacher in Little Rock. She advocates for at-risk youth, sings in a band, and is obsessed with dinosaurs and space. She lives with her boyfriend Michael and their 12-year-old poodle now that her 18-year-old daughter has left for college. Her most recent work appears in Foliate Oak, The Molotov Cocktail, Red Savina Review, Blue Lyra Review and upcoming in Intrinsick. Twitter & Insta: @highfiveg.