originally published in Passages North, February 1, 2016
I’m not sure if you’ve met my brother? He’s worked at the Dairy Queen for the last two years. He’s met pretty much everybody. At the supermarket he’s always nodding and saying things like, “Good morning Mr. Anderson, how’d Kelsey do on her finals?” Everyone in town says my brother should be the mayor. “If you don’t run off to college and forget all about us,” they say, winking at him as he hands over their Oreo Blizzards. As if we have enough money for college. As if anyone has enough money for college.
We went to the library one day and looked up the mayoral age requirement. It was twenty-five or thirty. I forget. It doesn’t matter because either way that’s a lifetime from now. We closed the little book of local statutes and haven’t mentioned it to each other since.
It used to be a fun joke between us. It made blood pound in my ears. If Sam could have been elected mayor at twenty or whenever, sometime soon, he would’ve had a solid paycheck and important friends in town, the red-faced old guys who own the restaurants and lumberyards. I would’ve worked in a town office. My desk would’ve been covered in important papers and official stamps. I would’ve forged Sam’s signature on the commendations for police officers and all the old people who lived to be 100, stuff like that. Sam would’ve been too busy for paperwork.
It’s not going to happen. The dream is over. The years between now and when Sam could run for mayor are the years when everything will go wrong. Law breaking, drugs, drinking, jail a few times, prison for a few years, who knows? He’s a boy so his adult trouble will be unique in the details. It’s different for girls. Girls don’t get to run around shooting up, stealing cars and evading the cops. They don’t get to know the secret tunnels of this town, the holes cut into chain-link fences by drug dealers. Girls get pregnant before they even get to be criminals, before they even get their adrenaline going.
Sam is tall and cute. He has clear blue eyes and a flop of brown hair. He’s athletic. All of his strength is practical. He’s built for carrying big bags of trash out to the dumpsters behind fast food restaurants.
Girls love Sam. I keep begging him not to get anyone pregnant. He acts like I’m being gross. I think he’s being gross.
We have a mountain behind our house. Actually that’s what I’d like to say but since you’re from town I guess I can’t really make the hill out to be a mountain. I’m talking about our dumb regional park. The trails, if you haven’t been there, are sad and dusty. Fat women in sweatpants – as though they might break a sweat – walk their little dogs on the main trail, the one that circles the base of the hill. That walk is about as arduous as a trip from the couch to the fridge. Sam knows them all from Dairy Queen.
Sam and I like to run to the top of the hill. He runs the whole way and I stop a couple of times with my hands on my hips to breathe. By the time I reach him at the summit – that’s what we call it, but I don’t know if it’s high enough to technically be called that – he’s lying down on top of his shirt. He says the grass is itchy. I say maybe he should just leave his shirt on. I know he’s trying to show of his abs, but I don’t say that. He scoffs, like since he’s three years older than me he has access to some ancient wisdom about grass that I’ll never understand.
Sometimes he acts like he’s smarter than me. I let him go on thinking that. It’s ok that he’s not. Sometimes you have to let boys think they’re the smart ones.
We thought that that day we went to the library together would be special. We thought we’d start his campaign. Instead we wound up sitting on the summit together like we always do.
“We are wasting years here,” he said.
“It’s only been like an hour,” I said.
We were lying next to each other, looking up at puffy clouds. Everything felt kind of tense. I knew he was crushed about the mayor thing. I had to say something.
“Want to race to the bottom?” I asked.
“We already are,” he said. He laughed and tugged my ponytail hard, like he used to do when we were kids. He ran off down the mountain. I had to carry his stupid sweaty shirt all the way home.