Late summer rolls into southern Pennsylvania like the tide. Humidity billows in the air, as if the tasseling corn is playing one final game of make-believe and pretending it’s a rainforest. Eventually, the ten-foot stalks will succumb to the farmer’s chopper, and suddenly there'll be space to breath again.
Tonight, I walked out onto the back deck and into the cottony embrace of a still-humid evening. The sky was beginning to darken and widen, and the fireflies had begun their maniacal conversation in blinking morse code. The screen door screeched in protest behind me, settling to a whisper as it shut.
Around this time of year you notice the silence first—as if your ears are a drowning man just about to break the surface of the water. They strain, reaching for something to fill them and finding only the booming echo of heaven.
My shoes shuffled across the decking and caught on the heads of a few backing-out screws. Mom sat talking to Dad with a big smile on her face—a smile that never truly left—and the sound of their voices pressed up against the surface of the silence. Small sounds. Happy sounds.
They talked about little things—the offhand comment someone at church made behind my dad’s back about the fifth-and-sixth-grade Sunday night program. Or the tragedy that the calico sweetcorn was late in coming, and we’d have to settle with plain old yellow for another week.
On the iron-lattice deck table squatted an empty Walmart saucepan—a buttery eulogy to the fresh-picked-that-day green beans it’d cooked. Several “dead-soldiers,” as my dad called the cleaned-off carcasses of that less-than-perfect yellow sweetcorn, pyramided up on a paper plate. I’d throw them from the deck across the yard and into the cornfield eventually.
Mom aimed her smile at me and asked why I was home early. She moved her stubby legs off a chair so I could sit. I brushed the cat hair off first. No one had come to the restaurant that evening, I told her, so I got to leave early.
She just smiled again, and pressed her hand against mine. The silent sky pressed down, too.
Soon she and Dad were back to talking. And I was swept up with them. The ebb and flow of the conversation rolled around the deck, but never seemed to breach the railing. All around us, the evening deepened as time swam farther into the abyss of night’s ocean.
The air began to move. Small puffs of coolness like opening the refrigerator washed across the table and caressed our faces. The glow of twilight finally succumbed to the smothering weight of night, and the porch light from next door kicked on.
Then we stood. Dad gathered the dishes, glasses clicking together and silverware swishing in the green bean pan. I bore the dead soldiers to the deck rail and hurled them into the night. Most of them fell short of the cornfield. One didn’t. It made it home.
I went back to the table and wiped my hand on a paper towel. Mom was standing at the railing, breathing the silence and the honeysuckle. I stood there, too. She wrapped an arm around my waist and squeezed. The night squeezed both of us. I looked down and she smiled back. A smile that pressed upward—through the night, through the silence. It broke the surface.
“I love you,” she said.