We Were Sent Outside

Denise Calvetti Michaels

We were sent outside to get along, so we fought where sun pooled and honeysuckle tangled, and we plucked the blossoms one by one, and tasted, then squeezed, the nectar into tiny medicine vials we’d been given by the elderly neighbor in a wheelchair who stayed in the house to tend cats.  It ended badly.  Another fight over who did what to gather the stamens to make perfume for our mother who was in Italy. 

A story came out of it from the old country, Agostina’s village, Blame is an ugly animal, no one wants him, and the word I never heard her use again, cattivo, meaning, caught by the devil, someone wicked, bad, naughty, in reference to my brother, little guy I adored and defended. 

In the afternoon we slither along the creek bottom using our hands to anchor our bodies to the smooth boulders covered with slick algae.  We net crayfish.  Dislodge minnows.  Cool boulders sooth our sunburned skin, children who sat in the backseat of our grandparent’s ‘51 Chevy upholstered with horsehair that scratched the backs of our thighs, calamine in the first aid kit in the glove box.

Once we leave for home early with no time to enjoy the picnic my grandmother prepared the night before standing at the stove to fry chicken and rainbow trout, marinate finger-length anchovies in olive oil and garlic she minced with the curved blade of the mezzaluna

I only remember the confusion of mason jars and cotton tablecloth hurriedly thrown together in the backseat after my father hit his head on a rock when he dove in the river, forgetting its depth in late August, and suddenly the road is heavy Sunday afternoon traffic.

We are the memory of those summers.

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