3-Minute Fiction: The End of Summer

Something was wrong.

From the moment they arrived, Mandy felt the silver Airstream trailer parked on the concrete slab beside her family’s tent trailer looked like something that held toxic chemicals. She wasn’t sure why she thought that. It might be all the silver, or the shape of it that reminded her of an insulated container used by scientists. It didn’t seem made for human beings.

Now, there was something strange going on with that trailer.

Her parents wouldn’t say what it was, but they whispered about it, and she wasn’t stupid. When they whispered, that alone said something was wrong. And a police officer had stopped by the day before. He’d tapped on the door and gone inside. A while later, he went away.

After that, Mandy and her little sister and her parents had left the campsite for the day. They went on a long hike, much longer than the other hikes they’d taken. After their hike, they’d stopped at a family diner and eaten huge plates of spaghetti and bread soaked with butter and garlic.

She sipped her coke through a red and white striped straw and watched her parents glance at each other with such regularity they began to take on the appearance of a clock with their quick movements and their sudden smiles.

She’d been home-schooled all her life, but now that she was ten, she wondered if it had left certain gaps in her knowledge of the world. The kids she’d met at summer camp seemed to know more than she did. Not about math or biology, some of them were like first-graders, in her opinion. They could barely add single digit numbers. And the books they read looked dull and babyish to her.

But they knew things she didn’t. They knew more about the secrets adults kept. They knew more about the bad things in the world that no one talked about — children who went missing, pets that died mysteriously, sex, and divorce.

When she asked about some of those things, she was told not to pollute her mind. The world of adulthood would come crashing in soon enough. She should enjoy the tranquility of childhood while it lasted.

Tranquil was a word she knew because she was home-schooled. Her mother impressed this upon her often — You have the vocabulary of a college student. You have the reading ability of a high school student.

But she was ten!

And there was nothing tranquil or even happy or carefree about knowing things were happening around you and you were being left out. All you had was your imagined explanations and sometimes those were worse than the real thing.

When they arrived back at the campsite, it was dark. There wouldn’t be a fire for roasting marshmallows tonight. It was late. They needed to get a good night’s sleep. It wasn’t explained why this was necessary.

The next morning while her mother was frying eggs on the camp stove, a woman from the large RV two spots down and across the narrow road walked up to the picnic table.

“What are they going to do with the trailer?” she said.

“Not now.” Her mother gave a warning nod of her head and shoved the spatula beneath the sizzling white of an egg.

“So terrible. To have your husband drop dead during a camping trip.”

The woman continued talking. Eggs continued sizzling. Her mother shot warning looks and cleared her throat but the woman from the neighboring site missed every one.

All of it turned into a loud, shrill noise inside Mandy’s skull.

Dead. A man died. A body with no life. The trailer beside them held a dead man.

Well, not any more. But it had. When did they take him away? Where was his wife? Had she cried? Screamed? Would she ever come back for her silver trailer?

That summer, she’d learned people die at inconvenient times. Awful times. No matter what time, it’s always dreadful.

Death snuck in and snatched you out of the world.

That lesson, learned in their temporary summer home, filled the gaps in her knowledge. At the age of fifty-six, she learned it again.

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