Author: William Xu

           Wendy’s life during summertime was largely measured, and she found the expression “I am in this world, but not of it” quite appealing to her. Regardless of what it really meant, it had the flair and wisdom to it that impelled her to adopt it as her motto. Days were getting too long and unpredictable—the temperature had just broken records for straight over-one-hundred degree yesterday. Yet the ice-cream truck came daily, much to her relief. When it stopped by her neighborhood, she would ritually put on her favorite white mini-skirt, stroll out of the house in an elegant air, and take some money out of her embroidered, Chinese-styled purse once belonged to her mother. Then, leaning over the white fences of her yard or sitting on the staircase, she would mind to spend a while licking—just licking—the ice cream, like the Hollywood star in TV advertisements. She had always thought of imitating and acting as a form of self-expression that made her noticeable and significant, especially in a summer world that was too hot too menacing. She sometimes wondered whether a willful girl like her would find her meaning of life. Taking out a small hand-held mirror, she saw her pretty doll face untarnished by the fierce summer radiation, and her pale skin glittering in the golden sunlight. She couldn’t help but address an affected smile to herself, and endowed a rosy red lipstick mark on the face of the mirror.

           She longed for somebody to pass by so eagerly so desperately. Her eyes hunted around the street corner, not even noticing the melt ice, intermixed with whipped cream and chocolate syrup that dripped on her hands and tainted the ground. But only the palm tree in her yard was there—what a detestable presence, as she could hardly avoid seeing it. It was much taller than her, with extensive, edgy leaves. The burning sun had dug deep trenches on its rough skin. If it weren’t for her, who caringly watered the tree with the water from a river running by the back of her house on a daily basis, it would have died straight from the summer burn. Wendy saw its vibrant leaves shinning and sparkling under the golden rays of sunlight. “It had such vivacious green that it dripped down the edges of the leaves,” she recorded after she went indoors. Yes, she habitually recorded her life in a diary. It was hidden at the back of her closet beneath a tile of winter jackets, which she assumed nobody would reasonably care about during summertime. But the reality was that she had no secrets, for either her life was too monotonous too simplistic to develop them, or she was too lazy too tired to leave the house and explore any formal kind of new society. “Not a breeze had blown by, and the tree stood in stagnancy,” she wrote this as she observed the palm tree, suddenly realizing that she was far more similar to it than that ever-flowing river by her house.

           It was also that summer when the Bible’s plague of locusts marched into Wendy’s town. Evening witnessed a locust hum that covered the sky, but the town had really nothing to offer but empty, dried-up and wrinkled fields. Wendy observed their visit as a spectacle from the staircase while July, the girl who had just moved in a house down the lane, sat by her. She was helping comb and braid Wendy’s hair. She had long acrylic nails, which was disappointing, but those nails were attached to a hand that touched her hair in a manner so soft so tender. July had merely come by chance to borrow a book from her, but then she asked July to visit her house every day. July agreed, flipping her hair and throwing a mysterious wink at her.

           So, July became Wendy’s most frequent—but also the only—guest of her summer. July would ride her cruiser bike up the lane to Wendy’s house every morning. She was sweetness bottled, cherries and roses and fairy milk, while Wendy was rather canned macabre, paper cuts and bones and vodka. July wore lemon-yellow long dress that deliberately had a very cheap, unlevel texture. Wendy favored fit, slim jeans in the color of July’s eyes, extra-small shirts that were high-cut and touched like silk. July had so much vibrancy and vigor that overflew her glass of youth. She sparkled like iced lemonade sodas topped with a mint leaf. She dazzled the air as she emerged from the golden aura of the morning sun at the end of the lane. She greeted Wendy’s hospitality with grace and softness and sips from a cup of strawberry milkshakes, while Wendy downed her iced coffees with sweetener and non-dairy creamer in an effort to take her longstanding laziness out of her weary bones. The sunny presence of July didn’t eclipse the starry light of Wendy, however. In fact, their youth and liveliness fed off from each other like two rows of waves converging into a greater one. July admired Wendy’s collection of novels, which had once been Wendy’s sole company during summer. Wendy loved the July’s tattoo on her left wrist, a phrase “Monsoon Forever” written in Gothic characters. July disturbed Wendy’s mornings at first, but soon her afternoons, evenings and nights as well.

           They fascinated each other. Sometimes Wendy would stealthily peek up from the book in her hand and stole a look of July’s dreamy blue eyes, but those stars caught her there immediately, making her blush, and instantly, turning her head away. Wendy thought, July had awakened her from a prolonged, stagnant dream, and made her startled but also more prepared for a world that was of vivid colors and incessant motion. And Wendy gazed at July’s motion, when she rose from the apple-colored sofa, when she slid the curtains wider, when she opened the window to catch a gust of morning breeze. The golden sunlight fell down dancing on her hair, flirting with her hands and swinging around her svelte body. Her skin was slightly darker than that of Wendy, glowing with a dim halo. But in the sunlight her figure was made somewhat more obscured and distant. When Wendy also sat up, the blaze of the summer sun—which was just too bright too piercing—suddenly hit Wendy’s eyes, blinding her for a second or two. In that blink of an eye, she felt that July had grown more unreal—her smiles more fleeting, her lines and curves mistier, her existence more mysterious. In that instant, the world in front of her turned too opaque too undisguisable. She lifted a furtive glance to the clock on the wall, its staccato ironically growing louder and clearer. The image of that ever-flowing river suddenly flashed cross her mind, but then she reopened her eyes and the mysterious moment of trance was abruptly over, leaving her only appalled at the fact that her mind, so crystalline so pure, would ever produce that dangerous, alarming image.

           Despite these moments too complex too confusing for Wendy to understand, most of the time the two maidens concentrated on their chats about life in summers with very conscious minds. It turned out that July seldom left her house just like Wendy, and her visit to Wendy’s house was in fact the only intriguing activity in her entire day as well. Every day, they went through gibberish about the town’s boys, the ice cream truck and their shared dream of visiting a beach. They imagined themselves following the river’s direction and arriving at a beach with blue, salty, chilly water. They would pick out their favorite bathing suits, sunglasses and hats for the occasion. One day, they actually went to the river and dipped their feet into the water with their sandals on. They sat there, almost daydreaming, for a long while. They seemed to share was an adoration for the water. They worshipped it, prayed to it, whispered secrets to it, answered when it called. They thought that their bodies would only feel at home under the surf, and they always had more grace in the see than they did on land, as if they were made to glide and float. July once compared it to flying. Wendy said that she’d love to grow a pair of wings for that purpose. Although none of them could swim, they assumed that they would teach themselves and master it readily as long as they have the opportunity.

           Apart from these fancies, for indoor activities Wendy loved reading Byron, Keats and Shelley, while July adored Virginia Woolf’s works. “She captured the endless spiraling contemplations of the ephemerality of human life,” July commented. Wendy read To the Lighthouse after July had recommended it, but she found the inevitable passage of time described in the book too abhorring too overpowering for her innocent mind. That night she had the nightmare of a pair of brackets that claimed Mrs. Ramsay’s life chasing after her, and the roaring waves of the sea drowning her. That day she didn’t enjoy July’s visit, but when July left, Wendy look fixedly at the residues of mint strawberry tea and cream cakes, and suddenly she felt painfully aggrieved. July was a summer’s breeze—coming with that sweet-salty chill, orange-blue curiosity and infinite wonders of a new day, then leaving with her smiles her glances her prosperous spring of youth, and stealing pieces of her last night’s dreams, but without a single trace or sign of her having ever come at all. Then it the full-on heat of noon hit the town again, and the stagnant life, just like the palm tree in her yard, reasserted itself. It was all too short too far.

           She was determined to make July stay longer. To this end, Wendy prepared a few types of light alcohols for her next visit, though were more fruity than forceful, more flowery than vintage. That morning began with rainclouds in the sky instead of the sun. July knocked on the door just when Wendy was about to believe that she wouldn’t come, but she appeared rather dispirited, probably depressed by the gloomy weather. It was nine in the morning, but darkness utterly dominated the town. The black clouds converged and hovered around in the sky like a flock of crows. The world outside the window was stagnant and silent, but inside Wendy and July also lost their usual energy to talk, or even the desire to look at each other. The iced drinks on the table was sweating, and they were both sweating as well in the humid air. But there was something surging and burning inside of them—just like the town that hasn’t experienced rain for a few weeks, they were desperate for the enrichment and nourishment of water.

           Suddenly, the first sound of rain broke the silence. Wendy then heard the sounds rushing up from all directions, through the window she saw the parched lands previously impoverished from life beautifully revived, or awakened from a long somber sleep. Wendy and July both gazed at the magic happening outside from the window sill.

           “I haven’t seen rain since I came here.” July whispered to her.

           “Neither did I for a very long time.” Wendy replied, in a mesmerized tone.

          Another a gust of wind dashed across the town, even bending the palm tree in the yard. The gale broke into every unclosed window, every unfenced house, every unguarded heart. The rhapsody of the summer rain commenced; white blades of the lightning struck the sky; the order of rotting town gave way to the disorder, the anarchy, the thrilling life of the summer storm. Then glasses were finally raised up, the talk began and the frivolous laughter destroyed the stillness of the house. Wendy blatantly stared July’s eyes as they grew more and more watery and blurry due to the drinks. Their exhilarating taste was novel to her, too hot too spicy. As she drank, she got looser, more experimental, more handsy, and Wendy found that she didn’t mind this. She let July move her as she pleased, took her wherever she wanted. She could now hardly saw the angles and lines of the world, with the only remaining yellow glimmers from streetlamps fading into the black canvas of the storms. She was also fading into something stronger than the liquor spinning in her head, larger than her own existence. Her blue eyes, too deep too enticing, and her bare white hands, too quick too slow, made Wendy more intoxicated and aroused than those sour drinks. And she kept hearing the rich, exuberant sounds of rain that claimed dominance over the town. They rose at first slowly, but constantly, then accelerated. Somehow, she could feel those raindrops tapping on her skin—the warm touch of that summer rain, too good too pleasing. Then when she touched her own face, she actually felt warm water running down, just like the ever-flowing river outside her house. If July was one end of an elastic band, she would be the other; but if Wendy had moved too far away, the band would’ve snapped. In a trance, she found herself with a pair of angel wings large and wide. She was flying under the ocean with July. A sudden strike of lightening pierced through the black sky, and in that instance, Wendy saw everything about July more clearly. She opened July’s secret diary as July opened hers, and while they were reading, the rain’s ardent sonata built up to a crescendo too fervent too beautiful. The sounds spread out, flying in every lane, rushing into every room, and filling every corner of the house, even the deepest part of Wendy’s closet.

           But it did not last.

           At ten in the morning, the momentum of the storm gradually waned, and the concerto was soon moving to its end. Approaching the coda, the melodies of the rain broke into discrete passages, but still crooning and harmonizing with each other. The world outside the window slowly rematerialized into solid figures. The winds ended their races, the storm waned, and peace was finally restored to the town.

           Wendy looked at the empty glasses on the table. Not a single drop of liquor remained, nor was there any trace of water inside her house. July have evaporated like the droplets of dews on the leaves of yard’s grass after the sun reappeared. She has left, regardless of what Wendy had so sincerely so ardently hoped for.

           Outside the window, drifts of clouds still wandering around in the sky, hiding the sun behind their thin gray veils. Paddles on the street lane glimmered in a silver luster, their calm surfaces occasionally being bothered by a few gusts of morning breeze. Wendy went outdoors and felt the air humid but refreshing. She caught a glimpse of the flooding river, the water still flowing forward, indifferently and incessantly. It was all too inevitable too irresistible, just like the ever-going traveler that never stayed at bank for too long—she finally understood. But upon accepting this, she felt more relieved than ever. She resolved to rearrange her closet, burying that white miniskirt under those winter clothes. She repressed the impulse to take out her small mirror as well; instead, she looked into the honest mirrors of the water, in which she was surprised to find her look unchanged but her heart drastically altered. This happened when she looked at July’s diary and found it white as snow. A mixed feeling created bittersweet tastes in her mouth, because she knew July’s real diary would be locked for somebody else. Even if it wasn’t the case—although saying so was already extenuating for July—Wendy decided that she would not be the one to write on it first. Then she said to herself, she would be that river when fall comes next, eternally moving for a new destination, in an ever-increasing speed. Wendy counted the pages torn, and the others left to be torn, concluding that her summer was about to be over.

           Wendy woke up one early morning with a seed of dread growing so suddenly so rapidly in her stomach, but she chose to wait. This was futile, she knew, because July would leave for home that day, but the irrational caverns of her mind still begged for one last sight of her. Wendy so longed for the knock at the door, but the knock never came. So, she left her house and went straight down to the lane by herself, a decision for her rather too rare too spontaneous to make. At one point she thought she heard the rumble of thunder, but the monsoon season was then already over, with drought and heat reclaiming their supremacy. She saw a few drifts of gray clouds wandering in sky, knowing that they were the last traces of the monsoon season. The summer would only get longer, and it would never offer the town wind or rain again. Wendy scrolled through her phone, looking at pictures of July, the seed having grown into a large willow, reaching up to touch the sky and bending back down to touch July’s house, now empty as her glasses, at the bottom of the lane. Abruptly, something hit her Wendy cried her steps accelerated she lost her mind flying down the lane. But then she was tripped not by something but nothing, falling to the ground. She had known that it was all too much too good to be real, yet she still let tears seep out of her eyes like incessant rivers.

           And maybe in every town, there was a sad river that flowed. The mountains embraced its course, and the monsoon rain added to its impetus. So, it proceeded, flooded and ebbed seasonally, but always flowed ceaselessly, relentlessly, through the coming of age, through life’s moments of epiphany, through her past, her future and forever.