Summer arrived late this year. I mean really late. I found her setting up camp by the lumber yard just outside of town, in a clearing in the middle of a patch of scrubby old trees somebody had forgotten to cut down. The leaves on these dusty trees are already turning yellow, and now she shows up?
Every time she comes this way she surprises me, that’s a given.
She’d set up her musty old canvas tent and was stringing paper lanterns through the trees when I found her. She had a snappy little fire going. It was actually a bit cool in the shade of those trees. She never worries about whether she's trespassing. They can shout and curse and point to their fences and signs, but in the end it has to be admitted she's got a perpetual lease wherever she chooses to settle.
I didn’t bother asking her why she was so late. I knew all too well she never answers questions like that. Summer doesn’t really inhabit time like the rest of us. It’s more like she makes time. When she’s around you can feel time kind of slowly percolating out of things, or into things.
I kept quiet about the lateness but I did ask her why she insisted on living like a bum. She laughed at that, and put water on to boil for jasmine tea.
She has this ridiculous whistly laugh like a blackbird warbling, and when she laughs her gold tooth shines in the sun. Sometimes I think I come to see her just for that laugh, and that tooth.
“Are you sure I’m not a hobo or a tramp?” she asked me. “Maybe you’re using the wrong word.”
“Hobos work,” I said. “And tramps work when they’re forced to. These words have specific meanings. Bums are the ones who don’t work.”
“You think I don’t work?” she asked, giving me a look with that hot deadly eye of hers. “I work like a son of a gun.”
She sounded angry but neither of us was serious. She works, I know it, and she knows I know it. It’s just that she works like nobody I else I’ve ever met. She gets things done without seeming to lift a finger. Everything that needs doing gets done, and then it's like nothing's been done at all. How does that happen?
“How long are you staying?” I asked as we drank the tea and shared some coconut macaroons she had in a paper bag. It was another question about time, but I couldn't help myself. I like hanging out with the old girl and I'd missed her.
I found a bit of twig in the bottom of my teacup. Summer started telling one of her rambling stories, about some of the folks she hitched rides with when she was on her way here from the coast, the kind of story that drifts along like a silty stream, and you know you don’t have to listen to every single word, the story is just there and somehow you’re part of it, too, as it unfolds. After a while I was aware of a needling buzz that I thought was mosquitoes, then I remembered the mosquitoes were already done for the year and it had to be the sound of the saws at the lumber yard. I pictured the clearing silent with snow, titanium white. I shivered.
“Not long,” she said, and it took me a moment to realize she had actually answered my question. “Though they’re not in any hurry to see me again over the way. Think I overstayed my welcome last time.”
“Well,” I said casually, “if that’s the case, why not stay with us a little longer?”
She nodded, the kind of nod that you know isn’t an answer to your question but simply an acknowledgement that the question is there and has its place in the scheme of things. Then she poured us both another cup of tea.