Josephine’s Summer
I’ll never forget my 16th summer. The sound of my little brothers crunching footsteps as he ran from our small cottage was fresh, as if I was still chasing after him.
His older brothers had teased him for his missing baby teeth and day by day he had been withdrawing into himself. I took him to see the schools of minnows and tadpoles in the river beside our house after that day and his gap toothed smile flashed for the first time since September.
He had always loved animals… When had we become separated?
I stared at the cold white ceiling and prayed he was safe with someone who loved him at least half as much as I had.
Could he be learning to ride a bike now? Driving his first car? Watching his own son start to walk?
There was no way to know what had happened to him, that summer was blinding and all days beyond had become a hazy blur.
Nevertheless... some time beyond that haze, I fell in love.
I was sure of it, sometimes in the dead of the night, I would remember soft lips smiling for me. Two green eyes, holding mine. Hands at my waist, a forehead on my forehead.
I always woke up crying from those nightmares, my heart feeling a loss that could not be remembered.
Pills dulled my senses, making even the summer days seem distant. They took away the brunt of sadness but the loneliness stubbornly stayed.
I tried to avoid mirrors. There was an old woman who followed me in my reflection, a doppelganger mimicking my every move. Had she come to kill me? I was too afraid to ask.
I was glad for the days when pelting rain would dapple my bedroom windows, hiding away the city beyond.
The towers of concrete and glistening lights on the freeway just made me homesick. What alien land had I come to? What had happened to summer?
Overnight my bed grew rails and my doona was replaced by a pure white cotton sheet. A machine beeped with a slow drum rhythm beside me and I stared in horror at its red button eyes.
I sat up, feeling a tightness in my chest as the drum beat beeps intensified into a war march.
‘Mum?!’ A warm hand grabbed hold of my arm and I turned to see another intruder.
It was me, my real reflection. Olive skinned, flushed cheeks, long dark hair, grey eyes filled with heartbreak.
‘You’re back’ I stared at myself, wondering why it wasn’t mimicking my words.
‘Mum’ It sobbed, resting its head on my bedside ’You remember me?’
I pulled back from the reflection, touching my own cheek, feeling the dry wrinkled skin there.
Why was my reflection able to cry when I could not? I took another pill.
In December I was visited by a man in my sleep.
His face was gnarled with wrinkles and sunspots but his smile seemed so familiar.
‘Josephine’ He rasped.
I put my hand up to his chin, staring into his foggy green eyes.
He reminded me of a season I was slowly forgetting. A season of warmth and joy and clarity.
When he kissed me, the lines of age faded from his forehead, his hairline progressing and darkening until he was staring down at me once more, the man I forgot that I was missing.
‘Jack.’ I whispered.
‘I’m here.’
He lifted me out of the railed bed without another word and began walking. Carrying me away from the strange staring machine, away from the alien city and the constant rain.
As if I weighed no more than a child, he carried me over the threshold and into the place I had all but forgotten, back into my summer.

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