Summer of ’72

This is a flash fiction piece I wrote this weekend for a contest. The contest assigned historical fiction, wagon, and daybook. Each of these had to appear in a story of 1,000 words or less. I used elements from my childhood in Colorado. Our first home had an old wagon and a rock fence. I spent many hours playing on both.

Some folks had air conditioning in their homes. My parents stuck fans in the windows and told us to go outside and play under the sprinklers when the temperature edged over ninety. My older brothers had already made friends and spent the hottest hours of the day hanging out with them. Not me. I preferred my own company. Yesterday, Mama let me call my best friend Shannon back home. The lady we shared the party line with interrupted my call. She had to call her daughter in New Mexico and asked me to hang up the telephone.

            “You’re driving me crazy,” Mama mumbled, her mouth full of pins. She’s sewing me a new pantsuit and chose a blue corduroy fabric she said brought out the color of my eyes. I’d rather wear my bellbottom jeans, but Mama said I needed to dress like a lady. “Go outside and play, but make sure you’re home by dark.”

            Outside, I entertained myself for a good ten minutes, swinging on the tire Daddy hung on the big oak tree out front. You can only twirl around so many times before you want to upchuck. I tried to catch one of the fat grasshoppers that spit brown juice, but their legs were faster than mine. Trudging to the rock fence, I whistled at the neighbor’s horse while holding a piece of foxtail grass in my hand.

            “Fine, big dummy,” I shouted when she ignored me. “I’ll find another horse to give this tasty apple-flavored grass to.” Mama said I’ve got too much imagination, and I walk around with my “head in the clouds.” Whatever that means. I’m always the shortest kid in class, so my head’s never even come close to a cloud.

            My brothers claimed they found an old pioneer town in the fields behind the house. I decided to see it for myself. Daddy told me not to go that far, but I could still see the roof of my house. My shoes kicked up dust with each step. The sagebrush pricked at my ankles when I got too close. Daddy said we lived in the high desert now, and that’s why there’s so much cactus and sagebrush. It sure didn’t look like the green fields of home. Everything is so sharp here and painted in shades of gray-green and tan.

            It didn’t take me long to find the skeleton of an old wagon. I ran my hand over the wooden spokes, blackened with age. After I hoisted myself up, I closed my eyes and imagined my brown hair in long pigtails covered by a sunbonnet. Our covered wagon was last in line.

            “Keep an eye out, Annalee,” Pa said. “If you see a buffalo, holler. One will feed us for a good month or more.”

            “Yes, Pa.” I squinted my eyes at the blazing sun. Sweat trickled down my back through my gingham dress. Ma cut it down from an old dress of hers. If I grew too much more, it would be too small by the time we get to California.

            A buzzing bee forced me back into the present day. One stung me last week, and it hurt like the devil. I looked for the bee. Something in the back of the wagon glinted. I pushed my fingers through a gap in the boards and touched something cool and smooth. Treasure. I wiggled my fingers around until I grasped it. I pulled. My hand wouldn’t budge. I twisted, and sharp pain shot through my wrist.

            “Ouch!” I’m good and stuck. I wondered how long until someone notices I’m gone. It could take days for them to find me out here. By that time, I’ll be white bone like those cow skulls they sell at the tourist shop in town.

            An hour later, sweat has dried in a crust on my forehead, and I’ve wiped dusty tears from my eyes. My shouts for help answered only by the drone of the grasshoppers.

            “Whatcha doing?”

            A boy balanced on a boulder nearby. Like the landscape, he’s shades of brown and tan.

            “I’m stuck.” 

            He hopped down, and a puff of dust rose in the air around him. He peered at my problem for a moment. “When I pull on this board, you should be able to get your hand out.” He cracked his knuckles, then tugged. I yanked my hand free from its trap and yelped as I tumbled backward.

            “Thanks.” I hopped down and looked in the dirt to see if my treasure had fallen free from its hiding spot.

            “I’m Roger. I live next door.”

            “Annalee.” I crawled beneath the wagon. “Can you keep a secret?” There between the slats was a silver coin.

            Roger crawled next to me. “Sure can.”

            I pointed. “I found treasure.” Reaching, I grasped the edge of the coin and pulled. Success. I hold it up to the sunlight. Etched on one side is a woman’s face and on the other, an eagle.

            “Can I hold it?” Roger asked.

            I hesitated, but figured he saved my life. I owed him. “Okay, but you have to promise to give it back.”

            Roger turned the coin over in his hand. “This is a Morgan silver dollar. It’s from 1872. See.” He handed the coin back to me.

            “We could share the coin. I get it for one week. You get it the next.” I blushed. “If you want to, I mean.”

            Roger grinned. “Yeah. Shake on it?”

            I spat in my hand and held it out. Without blinking, Roger spat in his own and shook.

            “We got a new color television at my place. You want to come over tomorrow?” Roger asked.

            I nodded. “Cool.”

            Later that night with the fan blowing hot summer air, I sat on my bed with my pink daybook open. In my best cursive, I wrote, June 8, 1972. I made a friend named Roger today and found treasure. It’s going to be the best summer ever.


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