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Summer Job by Lillian Cosby

The Boathouse

By Georgia Witt

“A fat, blooming heat, like a pink hydrangea bursting exhaustively in its hue.”  

The air outside was typical of a Florida July. A fat, blooming heat, like a pink hydrangea bursting exhaustively in its hue. We sat wilted by the boathouse, Ms. Margaret fanning herself wildly with a paper napkin, every now and then using it to dab at the sweat that glistened on her collarbones. I thought she was disgusting. A young girl of 23 and acting like she was a 5-year-old girl raised in a barn. Her white skirt fanned out like a peacock’s tail, but underneath you could see her legs were splayed out like a man’s. Her feet, small and sweltering in tiny black boots, were propped up on the empty chair across from her. I kept my lips pursed and tried to comment on something drab. 

“Those cicadas are really drumming up some noise, aren’t they?” I said, feeling sweat trickle between my lips and quickly dabbing it away with my handkerchief. 

“Sure are,” she said lousily, I despised her country bumpkin accent, “though I kind of like the sound. Reminds me of when I used to sit on the front porch with my daddy on summer nights back in Georgia. He would drink moonshine and I would drink orange juice, and we’d listen to those things hum all night.” 

“What a nice memory,” I allowed myself to say, my eyes buzzing the boathouse for my husband, who had a much larger tolerance for Ms. Margaret’s lazy, wild talk. “Have you told Henry about that? I’m sure he’d love to hear a story like that.” 

Ms. Margaret shuffled herself upright in her chair, the wicker whining as her weight shifted. “Naw, I haven’t really told him much. John and I have been so busy with this traveling; I haven’t had much time to really get to know y’all. But I’m so glad I’m able to now!” This last phrase choked awkwardly from her throat in a half-shout. A few beats of silence pulsed between us, with only the sound of the canopy whipping tightly in the wind that came off the green water.

“Well, I, for one, am delighted that we have this time together now. It’s really such a pleasure.” The heat was becoming suffocating. It thrummed about us like thick smog, damp vapors and mosquitoes. Now, I was getting truly uncomfortable, my dress sticking to me like a second skin. I kept my back straight against the wicker lounge and watched as Ms. Margaret pressed her glass of ice water to her cheeks.  

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, and by her tone I could tell she actually hoped she hadn’t offended me. For a moment, I was almost touched. And then I watched as dribbles of water and sweat ran down her red cheeks, and my stomach twinged back to its usual distaste.

“It’s just so hot,” Margaret sighed. “God, it was so nice when John and I were up in Virginia. The air was cool as a spring breeze. You wouldn’t have believed it was June.” 

With these words my husband appeared, dressed smartly in a cream suit and boat hat. I felt all the tightness in my chest loosen a bit at the sight of Henry, like a stubborn knot of string being pulled at to unravel. His face melted into an easy smile, and he reached for Ms. Margaret’s damp hand.

Ever since we had returned to Florida, I had noticed hints of the South trickling back into Henry’s voice and talk. Up North, you could have mistaken him for a proper gentleman born and raised. He had shocked me in his courting when he revealed that he was a self-made man from humble beginnings: a ma and pa down in Florida who ran a modest citrus farm flat in the middle of nowhere. Now, I saw his roots in nearly every move he made. The easy curve of his smile and how he took to every chair like he was sitting on his own front porch. Now, I was the odd duck.

“Margaret May! How is it that you look daisy fresh in this July heat?” Henry said, beaming like a schoolboy at the sight of Ms. Margaret. The sight of her! To me, she looked like a pig in lady’s clothing, pink-faced and watery blue eyes gleaming eagerly up at my husband. If Margaret was daisy fresh, then I was Greta Garbo.

“Aw, you’re too kind to me, Mr. Malloy. Really, I’m sweating like an animal in these clothes.” Every time Ms. Margaret revealed another personal flaw, I felt the gravity of my world being rocked. Despite the difference in climate, both down South and up North, proper ladies refused to reveal such afflictions. Even now, in this boathouse, you could spy several of us pinned up like colorful dolls, smiling through the strain and sweat. Ladies fanning themselves, poised like gentle, perspiring feathers. But here was Margaret, letting all of her discomfort roll off her chest like it was nothing. Not a worry in the world that it might offend me or my husband. Perhaps it was a sign of the times, of this so-called “liberated woman” that flaunted her sexuality and danced with her skin showing, but Ms. Margaret hardly seemed the flapper-type. I was beginning to think she was just unfortunately honest.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Margaret?” my husband said, that familiar reassurance on his face that I loved so well. “Please, call me Henry. You’re married to my boy after all. We’re family.” At this, Margaret just smiled. A real smile, not the thin and aching one you put on to end a conversation. It was the kind of smile that broke into an almost downturn at the ends of her lips, where she had to bashfully avert her eyes from my husband down to her boots. Henry took his seat next to me and leaned into the wicker with ease.

“Speaking of my boy, where is he? He’s holding off lunch and I’m ready to eat!”

“I haven’t seen him since he went to speak with his cousins,” I said, scanning the boathouse for a sign of John. “Would you like me to go get him?”

“No, don’t bother darling. We should be catching up with you anyway, Margaret. Tell us about the trip, how did you like it up North?”

Margaret grew bashful again with the attention back on her. My son had taken her on a tour around the Northeast, starting at the top in Maine and going through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and ending the trip in my home state of Pennsylvania. My heart sang for Pennsylvania. Every day spent in Florida, I ached for it more. Henry had consoled me about the move, told me there were beautiful places down South that I would love. I remember watching the country sink flatter on the train ride down, the green hills and purple mountains deflating into long stretches of nothing. I had closed my eyes and tried to focus on the scent of Henry’s pipe. Normally, I hated it when he smoked, but in the train car, it was a reminder of the ashen cold up North. When great swaths of trees burned in the distance and the entire winter was coated in the smell of hemlock and birch, smoldering.


About the Writer...

Georgia Witt is a seventeen-year-old writer based in Jacksonville, Florida. She enjoys writing poetry, southern gothic fiction, and creative nonfiction. She hopes to work for a literary or fashion magazine after college.

About the Artist...

Lillian Cosby is currently a senior attending NOCCA and Hammond high part time. She has come from a long line of artists ranging from writers and musicians to painters.

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