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The Last Summer of Our Youth
Early that June, some new neighbors moved in just up the road and built a house around their trailer. We spied on the old couple until their house was done. We watched them start to collect things like tires and rusty chairs in their yard. When the swampy area behind our own house dried out, we took our adventures out back and combed the still-soft ground for arrowheads and any other evidence that the Cherokee had lived on our land. Once, Jamie found a sharp rock that we all agreed was not flat enough to qualify as a real weapon. Michael collected antique rusted bottle caps that had really been tossed aside by folks at one of our parents’ own parties. I kept a tally of the crawdad burrows, which looked like mud chimneys or tiny volcanoes. The muskrat dens were worse because they made the ground collapse, but they were harder to see.
Sometimes Mom asked us to pick watercress out of the stream, or to cut mint for tea. We ate blackberries and boysenberries right off the bushes. When we hiked up the mountain, we tested electric fences by touching a strand of grass to the wire and digging our thumbs into the ground until we could feel the heartbeat of the current. We ran like hell through the field where the bull lazily chewed hay, because Jamie told me my red shirt would make him charge. We picked up baby turtles on the walk home and dropped them into the pond, pleased with ourselves for saving them, until later that summer they grew into giant snapping turtles and dad had to hire a guy to come fish them out with traps. Occasionally, Dennis would limp up the holler and knock on the door to see if my parents had any work. They never did, but Dad gave Dennis a lift to the corner store anyway in the rotten old truck that started without keys, and sometimes Dad bought him a hotdog.
Then one afternoon, things got really exciting. The old lady next door shot her husband. Apparently, she stayed with him in their bedroom for four hours until she decided to make her next move, which was to set the place ablaze. She stood in the doorway while the place burned around her. We watched her standoff with the police from the hill next to our house, heard the officers tell her to drop her weapon. She shot her rifle and the police shot back and then it was all over. On the way back to the house, Michael’s foot sunk into a hole and he tripped and we spent the next few weeks arguing about whether it was muskrats or crawdads that got him in the end.
Erin Harte is originally from the Appalachian Mountains of Southwestern Virginia. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College and received a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Morocco. Now, she lives and teaches writing in the greater Boston area.