Two next-door-neighbors-turned-best-friends share a quiet afternoon together
I am poking my head through a hole in my fence, a fence made of oak that gives me splinters when I touch it. It creaks and squeaks when it is pushed. The raspberry bushes and plum trees are blown against it by the wind.
The vines of the raspberry bushes climb up the old fence, blooming with new flowers—white and pink berries too, the kind that make me cringe when they hit my tongue. The hole is small. I can barely fit through it now— not easily as I used to.
It’s quiet-yet-loud with the deafening sound of leaves wrestling each other in the wind. I break the roaring silence. I yell, “Kyle!” My voice inflects the same way one does when asking a question.
There is a vociferous pause as the wind picks up and lets out a quiet scream. The inconsistent and forceful sound of a screen door sliding off its track breaks the blaring stillness. The mesh of the screen hits the wood of the house as the wind forces it back. The door slides in, surges a little bit, pauses, then a little bit more.
It’s a windy, hot spring day in California. The smell of honeysuckle and chlorine from the neighbor’s pool can be smelled from houses away. A dog barks from a few houses down. Rick’s motorcycle pulls into his driveway. A squirrel dashes across our lawn and up the stump of the oak tree.
Fifteen seconds go by, but it feels like thirty. A high-pitched voice calls back: “Yeah?”
The voice belongs to a boy named Kyle. He and I have known each other for years. We go to the same school, White Oaks Elementary. He was four when I met him. I was three. He didn’t have many friends. I didn’t either.
We are next-door neighbors and have been for five years. He and I are very different. He is shy and quiet with people he doesn’t know. He hates math; he really hates it. He tried to pull the “my cat ate my math homework” excuse a few weeks ago. Kyle thought it would work. He even took a photo of his cat sitting down next to the crumpled up homework using his iPod Touch. His parents weren’t very happy. I thought that was hilarious.
Kyle sees his parents a lot and has never spent more than a few days away from them. My parents travel a lot. I spend a few nights a year at Kyle’s. It isn’t as much of a problem having school in the morning as we have to walk just two blocks to get there. At our sleepovers we play Nerf guns and ride our bikes up and down the same hill till the sun sets. I always wanted my own Nerf guns, but my mom wouldn’t let me have any.
Kyle is a Boy Scout and a baseball player. I played T-ball once. I quit shortly after.
We have gone to the same marine biology camp every summer since we met; we always win the knot-tying competition.
The wind throws a leaf into my face. It is sharp and dry, but it doesn’t scratch my skin.
The hole in the fence leads straight into his backyard. His cat, Mercedes, seems to live at the top of that fence. Her big green eyes are the first thing I notice when I see her. She is small and timid. Her shoulders point out when she crouches, and her ribs poke out when she stands. She doesn’t like people that much. She doesn’t like anything that much. She likes that fence, though.
I hear footsteps on wet grass and peer through the hole. I squeeze through the hole shoulder-first, and Kyle greets me with a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a wide, toothless smile. His dad, Rick, is a strong believer in mint chip. After dinner, he always pulls out a quart of the stuff and drops it on the dinner table dramatically.
Kyle just got back from Mexico, his first trip outside of the country. We talk about it as we eat our mint chocolate chip ice cream on the big leather couch in the living room, knowing his mom would be furious if she saw us. She loves that couch.
The green scoops start melting. Kyle loves ice cream soup; I don’t. I pick up my pace, talk less and listen more as we stop talking about his trip to Mexico and move on to our thoughts on the elusive purple shore crab.
When we are done with our mid-afternoon dessert, we turn on the Wii. We like to play Super Mario Brothers. I’m always Mario. He’s always Luigi. He always goes for the highest points and most stars. I go for the least time and most lives. Kyle is much better at Super Mario Brothers than I am—not like that’s saying much. We’ve been stuck fighting in Bowser’s castle on the same level for a few months now. Thirty minutes pass. Mario falls into the lava and Luigi is the only one left. After much smashing of buttons, Luigi falls into the lava, and we hear the same low-pitched Bowser laugh for the hundredth time.
The big grandfather clock in his living room goes off. It is six o’clock. I can hear my mom calling my name from my backyard.