Last Night of Camp
It was the last night of camp, and a particularly large bonfire was built for everyone to gather around, toast marshmallows for s’mores and sing camp songs for the last time while the music counselor played her acoustic guitar. The stars were terribly bright, the moon was full, and the hum of nocturnal insects was a constant backdrop beneath the songs and conversation. Friendships forged over lanyards and canoes were promised to continue—visits over school vacations! letters!—but really everyone was saying goodbye tonight, everyone was flashing their smiles in the flickering light of the fire for the final time.
She buckled each one carefully, the old stains from a spilled can of cherry soda forming a smattering of dark spots on the worn tan leather. One of the buckles was loose and rattled a bit as she walked out her front door and into the pristinely sunny afternoon that looked like it was ripped out of a picturebook illustration. She jumped to dodge a neighbor’s oscillating sprinkler as she walked towards the corner, her sandals’ soles bending familiarly with each footstep, her toes comfortably nestled in the indentations they had worn into them like baby birds in a nest.
Her upbringing in suburban Boston, which got so brutally hot in mid-summer that you found yourself almost longing for the days of 13 degrees and snow-shoveling, had in no way prepared her for this August in Nova Scotia. The days stretched out like a sleepy cat but stayed cool enough that it wasn’t even necessary to crack the windows. It made her paranoid in a way she couldn’t even explain. She felt like she was trapped in a Twilight Zone episode, waiting for the reveal that she was living in a model train town or a donation barrel.
She dug the heels of her saddle shoes deeply into the mud and St. Augustine grass of the playground, holding with all her might onto the thick rope in spite of its fibers digging into her hands. She pulled and pulled, at an obtuse angle to the rope, bumping back into the boy behind her. The class opposite them was pulling hard too, but they still began to edge in her direction. Finally, with one more collective, sharp pull her class dragged the first of them across the middle dividing line. “Mrs. Baehl’s class wins!” called the referee. Sweet victory.