We’ve been carrying the rotted section of fence for the last twenty minutes. We swing our arms and on the count of three, we drop it into the grass. We wipe our hands on our shorts, flexing our sore, indented fingers. This is the spot. Daniel and I found the perfect tree behind the farmer’s field last week, and now with this fence, we’ve scrounged up enough wood to build a fort. We have a rusty hammer I nicked from my garage. We’ve been collecting nails for a while, sticking them to a giant magnet Daniel brought. It looks like a robotic porcupine. And we have Maggie, too. She’s Daniel’s chocolate lab and she follows him everywhere. Maggie sniffs at the fence. “Maggie, sniff the fence,” commands Daniel. Maggie licks her nose. “Maggie, lick your nose,” he says. “Good girl, Maggie!” When he laughs, his eyes collapse into asterisks. I think it’s the best joke I’ve ever heard, every single time. We decide we need to build the ladder first. I hold a wood scrap against the trunk so that Daniel can put a nail through it. “It’s too bad that Viv is moving away, isn’t it?” he says in little bursts between swings of the hammer. He misses the nail a couple of times. I wouldn’t miss at all, but I let him do most of the hammering anyway. Daniel asks me about Viv a lot, like what does she think of him, and does she ever ask about him, and does she maybe want to help us with the fort, and isn’t she kind of pretty? I circle Daniel’s neighbourhood on my bike in the evenings, hoping he might see me. I’m twelve years old and I know what love is.
When Viv and I sit on top of the jungle gym, we have to squint to read the lyrics in the fading light. She took the CD insert from her older brother’s room a few months ago, and he will never notice because he’s not the type to spend time reading. There’s nobody to hear us sing, because the little neighbourhood kids are at home, getting bathed and tucked in. Viv and I always sing the same song, and when we get to the end we start over again. We put in the dadadadadas for the instruments and pat our laps with the palms of our hands. Whenever the music video comes on TV, I feel like everybody needs to be quiet and let me listen, because nobody could ever understand that this song is just for me, because I’m young and my life is opening up into gaping holes right in front of me. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to want to be a cool kid or not, but someday soon it’ll feel like I’m speeding through life and I’ll be a teenager with enough friends to fill a car. We’ll rest our heads on each other’s shoulders, and reach out of the windows, refusing to be boring, and doing things that are exciting and dangerous because everything moves so fast and our bones will be in the ground someday anyway and then we won’t be anything anymore and so it won’t matter when we say fuck you to this whole, stupid town. The town will hear us. It makes me uncomfortable now, but I assume by that point I won’t be concerned about the terrible things we’ll be doing, like making awful messes for other people to clean up.
It’s the night before garbage day, and paper bags filled with leaves line the sidewalk. Viv jumps onto one of them, sending a puff of grass clippings into the air. I jump onto the next one and then Viv grabs my hand, pulling me to the ground with her. We roll across the lawn together, embraced, and her laughing face is framed by the stars in the sky, and glows against the ground. Rolling. Stars, ground, stars, ground. There are leaves in her hair, and I’ve still never jumped into a stranger’s pool or thrown toilet paper into a tree, and I’ve never been held like this before.
Nadia Staikos lives in Toronto with her two children. Her work has previously appeared in Blue Lake Review and The Daily Drunk. She tweets @NadiaStaikos.