Gradually the yard is enveloped in shadow and the birds come and fight over the bird feeders and fly off and nervously peck for food in the deep swales. A gray tabby cat skulks around the trees and looks at the birds and licks his chops. A raccoon chirps at the cat and runs it off and the cat bows and hisses at it from a low branch of a tree.
It’s getting late, I say.
I know, she sighs. I don’t want you to go.
I don’t want to go either.
We get up and look at each other and walk back toward the house among the smell of chlorophyll from the newly mown grass. Fireflies circle the bushes lazily and possums come out into the yard.
It’s near twilight and the shadows are long in the grass and across the swales the land dips into darkness. In the cool of the shadows the land undulates and flares and the crows wait in silhouette against the sun for us to pass.
The fireflies are spectacular. They weave figure eights around a Maple that was old when the Europeans came. Fireflies and oaks and the sough of the wind and the thornbush smell of early summer. I stop and look at her and hold a finger to my lips. A grazing deer is hidden in folds of blue shadow and has not seen or heard us. It lopes off and we walk on.
She says, It’s really nice out here in the early morning.
And I think, it sure would be. I can see this place in my mind at daybreak, the blackbirds eating and flying away, things of wire and crepe sailing on the updrafts into the blue nothingness against a shard of moon. When I get to the house I go around to where my bicycle is parked. In the fitful light I see little animals crossing the road in a pack. They look like nothing I have seen. Like African Meerkats or…
Oh, they’re just raccoons, I say. Baby ones. Never saw any that little.
They cross the road here every night, Sherry says. They’ve just had their babies and they’re after the dog food we put out.
I shake my head and say, You feed raccoons?
Well, they gotta eat something. If we don’t they get into the trash. Hey, will you come over tomorrow? Please?
I guess I can manage that without getting into trouble, I say.
When can I come over to see you?
IDK. My people are strange. I’d have to prepare them.
She looks at me sideways and says, You’re not ashamed of me, RU Michael?
What? Ashamed of you? Get that outta your head…
She laughs and says, You don’t like being kidded, do you?
Not much, I say stolidly. I look toward the Dog River to the west and think about wild dogs. A couple of years ago a pack of them had killed a paperboy out before daylight. That was closer to Douglasville than here but i’m still nervous. I’m only seven years old and I wouldn’t stand a chance against a pack.
What’s wrong? She says.
I’m thinking about wild dogs, I say nervously.
No wild dogs here, she says. IDK about where you live cityboy but out here they enforce the leash laws.
I kiss her on the mouth and say, I’ll see you tomorrow.
I walk backwards and trip over the bicycle and nearly fall. She gets a big laugh out of that.
My hero, she says.
Well, I got you to laugh twice today, I say.
Don’t get killed on that bike, she says, snickering.
I ride east toward the escarpment of foothills that is just a faint discoloration against the dark sky. And I wonder how long I can keep Sherry a secret. Me at seven years with an eight year old girlfriend. Grandma would have a bird. But I don’t care.