I’m spinning, spinning, spinning, my eyes closed. My hair brushes against the soft mossy grass and the sounds of traffic are distant, but I’m aware of them. Two arms—are they mine?—are holding onto the tire swing comfortably, not gripping but giving me a feeling that if I fall I’m not falling too far. It doesn’t feel like my eyes are closed. It feels like they’re not there at all. The feeling is bliss.
“Maggie!” someone calls. I am outraged at them temporarily. How dare they yell out my name and interrupt that nice dizzy feeling?
My toes, connected to my ankles, connected to my calves, connected to my knees hooked through the tire, touch the grass to stop me. I sit up, no longer leaning backwards like I love to do. The tire spins faster. I’m way too dizzy to listen to the voice calling my name again.
When I open my eyes the dizziness fades, and I’m sad that the feeling is gone. My mother stands in front of me with her hands on her hips, angry. “Maggie!” At the end of my name her voice slides straight up into another octave. I can’t help but giggle, even though that is the very last thing I should do.
“I talked to you about this tire swing. The rope’s wearing through—can’t you see it, Maggie?” She holds a piece of rope up to my eyes. “It’s fading. Just in time, too. You’re thirteen, Maggie, a little old for a tire swing.”
Since I turned thirteen, my mother has considered me too old for everything. She wants me to cut my hair, dark brown and long enough for me to sit on it. But Heather isn’t too old for anything. Heather wanted the tire swing in the first place, and she can go on it “because she’s lighter than you.” Heather is “about to outgrow” a tire swing, so she has to “enjoy it while she can.” My mother’s words have gained the ability to drive me insane.
I have nothing against Heather. It’s perfectly fair; I can go with my friends wherever I want as long as I tell my mother where I’m going and when I’ll get home, and I can do that spur-of-the-moment without planning anything three days ahead of time. And Heather can go on the tire swing, read the comic strips, and eat raw cookie dough. And she is my sister. I’m the only person allowed to call her Copper for her red hair.
Heather is hiding up in the tree, but my mother doesn’t know. It seems like the best secret in the world. I sigh, lean back, and pretend to just be annoyed when in fact I am winking at Heather.
“Maggie! Can’t you just get off the tire swing?”
“Sure, Ma. It just takes a while.” I pretend to be struggling to lift my feet up, struggling to emerge from the tire that’s making my mother crazy.
Ma gets bored watching me and walks inside. I smile smugly, bend over backwards, and flip myself out. If Ma saw she’d have a cow.
Heather starts laughing, and so do I. We giggle over Ma, standing in front of the plants, oblivious to our mischief.
Ma turns around. I stand in front of the tire and strike a Miss America pose. Ta-da!
My mother scowls and walks inside. I scramble up the tree silently and sit next to Heather on the top branch. “Yo, Copper.”
“Yo, Mags. We’re running out of berries.”
“Let’s go to the farm, then.”
“That’s the thing. Tyler’s been mad at me since I picked that deformed blackberry, the one he thought National Enquirer would pay him twenty dollars for. If I go back there he’ll throw a fit.”
I smile. “Tyler’s on vacation in Co-sta Ri-ca, remember?” I stretch out the name of the place where he is, the way Tyler says it.
“Oh, yeah.” Heather shimmies across the branches to the tire swing branch and climbs expertly down the rope. I’m right behind her. We stand on either side of the tire swing and jump off simultaneously.
I tap Ma on the shoulder, say, “We’re riding our bikes to the farm for the afternoon,” and rush to the garage, where Heather is wheeling out her ancient and very cool aqua-colored bike. That thing is a work of art.
After strapping on our identical helmets we start pedaling to the farm. Heather is way faster than me on her bike, but I was riding around while she was at Girl Scouts last week and for maybe the fifth time ever I got to the farm before her.
Old Tyler’s a little crazy but he’s got the greatest berry patch you ever saw. He doesn’t put pesticides out there or anything, but at the beginning of each summer he plants a new kind of berry, waters it, and lets it grow wild. He lets everyone come over and pick the berries.
We use a key Tyler gave us and walk right on into his kitchen. It looks like it hasn’t been changed since 1932. There’s no microwave, and a very rusty sink, with a stove plopped right in the middle where you might put a cute little table.
There are some straw-woven baskets in the cupboard that we put our berries in. They’ve got red checkered pieces of fabric in them so the juice won’t seep through. I love the farm; it’s like going back in time.
I run out the door and listen to the comforting slam behind me. Heather is already picking strawberries, huge juicy ripe ones. I can just imagine what they taste like.
“Yo, Copper,” I whisper to Heather. She jumps.
“I didn’t know you were right there.”
“I don’t want you to get all the strawberries before I do. Have you eaten any yet?”
I’m not surprised. Heather thinks that if you wait to eat them they taste better. I love to sink my teeth into them right away, get red and green and purple stains all over my shirts, drop everything on the ground and stomp on it because it’s not technically litter. It’s like yelling at someone when you’re mad at them, you just let everything out.
I pick the biggest strawberry I can find and stick it in my mouth. Half of it’s hanging out, which makes Heather laugh, and I start laughing too, letting the strawberry fall into my hand and feeling like Heather and I are the best friends in the world.
We pick berries for hours. Lunchtime comes and goes, and I start thinking about everyone at the swim club jumping out of the pool and trying to get a piece of pizza before it’s all gone. Whenever that happens Heather and I just smile and keep tossing a tennis ball back and forth because we got pizza an hour ago at eleven o’clock.
That’s how the days pass in the summer; we toss the tennis balls around and go to Tyler’s farm and spin on the tire swing until we can feel the world spinning beneath our feet. I lie on my back on the grass and watch the clouds sometimes, and Heather comes over and plops her head on my stomach, and I stroke her hair for hours and hours. We climb trees and look down on the world.
When I look at my watch it’s four o’clock.
“Yo, Copper,” I call out.
Heather turns around to look at me. It’s time to go home.
We throw our tied-up bandannas of berries in my old tan leather backpack and walk across the field to our bikes. It’s just starting to look like afternoon; purplish clouds spread out over the sky, and a yellow kind of light falls over everything.
Halfway riding home I make a spontaneous turn to the right and I ride over to the creek instead, and dip my ankles in the water, wondering if Copper is wondering where I went.