Summer Friend

February 5, 2014
During my sixteenth summer, my mom convinced me to get a job delivering newspapers to the community. It was ‘character building’, she said, but she probably just didn't want me moping around all day like I usually did.

I didn't have any confrontations until I delivered the mail to Ms. Ferguson’s house on the second week of July. Now, let me tell you something about Ms. Ferguson. During that particular summer, she had just reached seventy-five, and practically looked like death. That didn't stop her from yelling at me though.

“ANDREW WINSTON, HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO COME GET MY MAIL EVERYDAY WHEN YOU THROW IT ON THE LAWN?” she yelled really loud for a woman so tiny that she fit like a child into her rocking chair. “You’ll see when you turn this old!”

I reluctantly got off my red bike, picked up her mail off the sidewalk, and walked to her porch. “Sorry, Ms. Ferguson.” My mom would kill me if I said anything even slightly rude; she would take away all my books and then what would I be doing for the rest of the summer?

“I’ll sit here tomorrow,” she declared, and I quickly got on my bike and rode away. For the rest of the week, she was there in her creaky rocking chair as I delivered her mail. Sometimes, we’d chat briefly about the weather, or she’d scold me about my unruly hair and crumpled clothes like all old ladies seemed to do, but Ms. Ferguson became a constant during my lazy summer days.

On one particular Wednesday, after I had finished my newspaper route, I walked around under the sun’s heat with my book in front of my face, aimlessly walking and vigorously reading. My mother had kicked me out of the house because I did nothing, but in my defense, I had no one to do things with. I looked across the street where the other kids were playing street hockey together, but I was not their friend and hated sports so I put my head back into my book and walked away.

“Andrew!” I looked up and only managed to get out of the way in time as a bike went speeding past me. Unfortunately, I also fell to the ground and scraped my hands. “SORRY!” Johnny yelled as he sped uncontrollably down the road.

“Mutts…” someone jeered, and I looked up to see Mr. Ferguson sitting on her chair. Slowly, she beckoned me to her, and then called to someone inside the house. “Lana, please get the first aid kit!”
“I-it’s fine, Ms. Ferguson.” I mumbled, not sure why I was embarrassed. “It’s just a small scrape.”
“Don’t be a fool, Andrew Winston.” she said as Lana gave her the first aid kid and she began to dress my hand. Her small hands shook, but it seemed like she had done this before.

“Who’s Lana? Is she your granddaughter? I've never seen her before.” They didn't look very alike, but it was a possibility since Lana had the same eye colour and seemed the right age.

“She’s here to be my caregiver.” she said, and I remembered something my mom mentioned. Amelia Ferguson had no close relatives; her husband died at war, her son in a car accident, and her siblings were in Scotland, but they weren't close. I wondered who would remember her after her passing, how her legacy would continue on afterwards. It made me a little sad, but I didn't worry too much about it.
When she was finished with my hand, old Mr. Ferguson lay delicately in her rocking chair and closed her tired eyes. And as the light breeze blew by, and the affectionate sun illuminated her face, I swore I had never seen someone so physically decrepit, who simultaneously emanated a calming, almost youthful, presence.

Since she didn't seem to mind me too much, I quietly sat down on the wooden porch floor and began to read my book. It was a story about an eccentric boy named Tommy, who liked to collect old faded photographs. He wasn't a very sociable person, but he becomes good friends with a new girl in town named Ellie, and together, they try to solve the mysteries and stories hidden in the photographs.
I began to read out loud, and the words came alive and danced around like magic around a bonfire. From my periphery, I saw her open her eyes and gaze. She didn't say a thing and I continued to read until the sun began to set at 7 o’ clock, and I rushed home to eat dinner. For some reason, reading with Ms. Ferguson hadn't been all that bad and in a way, it was a lot better than reading alone. I did it again the next day, and the day after that, and as parades of stars elapsed, it became our little eternal in a summer brimming with change and transformation.

On the thirteenth of August, when I approached her worn down house, she wasn't on the porch like she had for the past month and a half. Thinking something was wrong, I hurried to the door and knocked. Lana answered, but she wasn't frowning so I knew everything would be okay. As it turns out, Ms. Ferguson just simply didn't want to leave her room anymore—which was strange, considering I often caught her admiring the big lawn tree—, but together we still read. Sometimes I simply sat by her bed and we would talk about life and death and everything in between. It was weird, because hardly did anyone ever exist that you could tell real things to; things deep-rooted in the crevice of your thrumming essence. I knew she wouldn't remember and that’s why I talked. She forgot things easily, probably because of her old age.

She talked about her favourite books a lot, which I enjoyed profoundly, but there were moments when she would get this sad look in her eyes and murmur something incoherent. She became more and more quiet; her eyes glazed as she looked into the distance, I noticed. Summer was almost over, and I would have to go back to school, and I didn't want to think about how different everything was going to be—how I wouldn't be able to do this anymore.

On August 23rd, I tapped her on the shoulder, but she didn't move an inch. “Ms. Ferguson? I’m done reading, the book’s done.” Silence. Everything was still. “Amelia Ferguson,” my voice came out sort of like a soft plea, but her heart had stopped beating and I hadn't noticed. Pale white skin, I could see her bones. “LANA! Please, no. P-please please please please…” tears dropped to the floor as I stared, and my hands began to tremble and suddenly death became tangible to sixteen-year old me.

Lana came into the room and took one look before grabbing onto my shoulder. I struggled, kicked, didn't want to leave frail Ms. Ferguson alone in that dreary stupid room, but eventually I was outside and the door was closed behind me.

“Go home, Andrew,” Lana had said. “It was the right time.”

But it hadn't been the right time, because I wasn't ready yet. I didn't even get to say good bye, or apologize for making her walk to her lawn to get her mail, or thank her for bandaging my hand. Old Ms. Ferguson had been my summer friend.

I walked home and I didn't care that it was raining because it covered my tears and made me feel less alone, if only for a little while. Mother came outside the house with an umbrella and we just stood there looking at each other. She didn't scold me for getting wet, or for not checking in, because I think she knew what had happened from the look on my face. She understood.

“I had so much left to say,” my voice cracked, and I slammed my fist—the same one she had bandaged not long ago—into a tree because I was angry and hurt beyond words and I couldn't possibly explain it. My mother hugged me, turning my resentment into calm melancholy, and together we stood underneath the dumb yellow umbrella and rain cascaded down like God was mourning too.

That was the first summer I had witnessed death, and it had also been the summer I felt something inside of me change. And as the days and weeks and years wore on, the sadness in my heart was replaced with new friends and new love, as it almost always did, but never did I ever forget the friend I made that summer.

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