“It will be another summer of love,” the girl says, inspecting a lock of her hair for split ends. “You know, like in those hippie days in the previous century.” She and her mother sit on wooden chairs on the porch in front of their house, the smaller colonial they moved to a couple of years ago.
The girl buttons up a cardigan over her mini dress and stretches out her pale legs on the table. She shivers. March sometimes offers some nice sunny days on the East Coast, but this year the winter seemed to go on forever.
“I have these vivid dreams of this summer,” she goes on. “People dancing on the streets till dawn, families sitting on the grass in parks, listening to concerts. Friends meeting friends in cafés all over town. If someone they know walks by, they invite him over for a glass of beer.”
“I hate beer,” her mother says. “The smell always nauseates me. When dad had been drinking, I slept in the guest room, because I couldn’t stand his breath.” She picks up the cashmere shawl that hangs over the chair and flips it over her shoulders.
The six-year-old twins next door are bickering, as they always do around this time of the day. The neighbors affectionately call it the zoomies, failing to recognize how annoying it is for others.
The mother takes a hand mirror out of her purse and snaps it open. It’s an old one, cheap too. Gold paint chipped off the back. Peering in the glass, she adjusts her brows, stroking up some stray hairs with her index finger.
“There will be sooo much touching going on,” the girl says. “Oh my gosh. I haven’t been with a guy since the pandemic started way over a year ago.”
She flips the hair lock over her shoulder and looks up.
“For chrissake, mom, what are you doing?” she says.
She puts her hand on top of her mother’s arm, then lowers it forcefully. “Your brow is fine. Besides, no one notices anyway. Oh, and please, please, please, throw out that mirror. Only bag ladies carry ugly things like that.”
Her mother puts the mirror with the torn side on the table.
“Did you listen to me, mom? Are you at all interested in what I say?”
“I do, dear,” the mother says. “These days we all are frustrated to a certain extent, aren’t we?”
The girl leans her chair back, folds her legs under it.
“Who is we?” she asks sharply. “And to a certain extent, what is that supposed to mean? Why don’t you talk to me like a normal person?”
“Listen,” the mom says. “Tell me, how’s Frederic?”
“Frederic?” the girl asks, puzzled. “You mean, that boy from high school.”
“Do we know another Frederic?” her mom asks. “Quite an unusual name, don’t you agree?”
The girl shrugs. “His father is named Frederic and so is his grandfather. I suppose his kid someday will be Frederic too.”
“Do you still see him?” her mom asks, rocking back and forward.
“Nobody sees anyone these days,” the girl says. “Unless it’s family. Or you are seriously dating.”
“Remind me, where did Frederic go?” the mom asks.
“He went to a university in Paris,” the girl says. “Paris, France, that is. Why are you bringing him up now?”
“He was kinda nice,” the mother says. “And such a good tennis player. You were always happy when Frederic was around.”
“What do you know about us,” the girl says. “I never really liked him.”
“You can invite him when he returns,” the mom says.
“Don’t think so,” the girl says. “He posted a selfie kissing some blonde on a beach the other day. Looked like a tropical island. Aruba. Or St. Kitts.”
“Ah, St. Kitts,” the mom says. “Remember when we went there in your junior year?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I remember. Dad still lived with us. He bought you that bracelet from a blind street vendor. The one with beads in all colors. You never wore it.”
“He was seeing that woman already,” the mom says. “That whole trip was a lie. He did not touch me even once that vacation. I did not understand it then. How could I? It all was so picture perfect.”
“That trip, dad talked to me for the first time as a grown-up,” the girl says. “He asked me what I saw in my future. I did not know what he meant. I remember telling him stupid things. Like, I can see myself getting my driver’s license. Stepping in a car and driving away from home.”
“And you did,” the mom says. “You drove away that same afternoon. Frederic was with you. The two of you did not come home till the next morning.”
“Dad meant different things,” she says curtly. “Not ordinary stuff, but deeper. More philosophical. I know that now.”
They sit motionless. The girl’s lips turn blue. The mom has goosebumps on her arms.
“I have a bottle of white wine in the fridge,” the mother says after a while, standing up. “Cheese, too. That Gouda, from the farmers’ market.” Her knees have stiffened from the chill that had crept up under her pants.
She brings a blanket when she returns and puts it on her daughter’s lap.
“I wonder how dad is doing with the pandemic and all,” the girl says. “I want to tell him what I see in my future now. I am not the same person I was in high school, you know. I have thought a lot about my life.”
She drapes the blanket over her legs, winding a loose thread around her thumb.
“Do you think dad will come back to us one day, mom?” she asks. “I mean, he could, couldn’t he? You are not seeing anyone, after all.”
The neighbor kids are called inside. The sound of a bike’s handlebars crashing into the gravel. Feet running on a driveway.
“We would be able to hear the birds,” the mother says. “Except that it is now too late for them to sing.”
They sip their wine and eat the cheese that is cut in small squares. Neither admits they are cold.
The mother pours herself another glass, filling it up to the brim.
“Look at the two of us,” she says, with a smile. “All cozied up.”
It’s almost dark outside. They can hardly see each other, except for a flicker in their eyes.
A fox sneaking past the veranda makes them simultaneously jump up. They grab the glasses and the bottle and hurry inside.
When the girl waits for her mother to slip through the sliding door she turns around.
The sycamore in front of their house has turned into a silhouette, its bare branches barely noticeable against the dark sky. But it is there, she thinks, no mistake about it, like a bad omen.
“You don’t mind if I turn in early?” the mom asks, when her daughter locks the door. “I want to finish my book.”
“No worries, mom,” the daughter says, watching her mother walks up the stairs, holding on to the handrail. “But remember what I said. We will have a summer of love. Lots and lots of kissing.”
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton.