Cotton Summer Nights by Bunny Byrne

I looked up in the gray-black sky with the clouds hanging overhead. They’d been threatening rain all day, the way your momma says she’ll spank you but she’s really busy and never does. I know it’s there and I look for it – the WPAX sign. It stands tall and Eiffely, piercing the pillowy sky and blinking out its message in French red letters. W…P…A…X…WPAX…. I snap a picture in my mind and it turns into a comic with pen and ink clouds and sketchy rooftops. My brother had a big book of Dick Tracy comics. In my mind it looks like that.

I look down the street but there are no bulgy cars with rounded wheel wells and no one’s wearing trench coats. We’re all wearing skirts and sandals. It’s a hot summer night, just the end of August when it gets really bad. But there’s a breeze and the night shows itself. It wants to be a fall night but it was born a month too early.

I turn from the blinking radio sign as we head a few blocks over to where everyone lives but me. We close our eyes a little bit to feel the breeze. We pass store windows and it hits me – I went to 2 parties that night and knew nearly everyone there. This is what it’s like to be someone. To be someone people know. To be known.

I was once in a crowded room and a woman was looking for me. I was standing in front of her and she was asking the person to her right if they had seen me. I kept saying, Wendy, I’m here. I’m right here. She just looked over my head and searched the crowd with her eyes. She walked away.

As we walk on downtown streets in a shadowy breeze, we talk about parents, bizarre family members. Prank callers. Bi-polars. They walk on the sidewalk and I walk in the street. If I get too close, they’ll know. I’ve never ever been anybody in my whole entire life but I am right now. Like looking out a train window and only seeing your reflection, they think I belong. If you lean in, if they lean in, you can see the countryside racing by, the fields, the shanties and shacks. That’s the real me.

My grandmother was a sharecropper. To this day she doesn’t believe that refrigeration is required for most foods. My dad was in the Army. My mom was a teacher. He became an alcoholic. She became a crack addict. My brother became a race car designer. But I’m just plain. I’m just ten-years-for-a-bachelor. I’m just one-real-job-in-my-whole-life. I’ve never been anybody.

But that’s not entirely true. I was someone, for a moment, like people preaching at a bus stop while they’re waiting for the next one to come carry them off. It was a layover. A fluke. A piece of hard candy sucked into thin air. They mistook me.