It hot?

Vona Groarke

Shoes

Winston-Salem hums a thicker harmony than any Irish town. You open your window at 3 a.m. and a full city blooms for you: it has more life in it, more of the push and pull of far-off traffic, of separate throbbing neighbourhoods, of sirens, dogs and helicopters; and, these nights, of the satin blaze of accumulated heat.

So many pairs of shoes under so many restless beds. For two years, I’ve been walking out in a borrowed pair. They’re not New York stilettos, but neither are they Kansas flats. They’re the red of the red earth here. They don’t run fast. They pinch a twinge now and then. They don’t go with all my clothes. Still, I find I like the weight and turn of them and the broad notes they scatter on the sidewalk as I make my way.

Origins

There was Winston and there was Salem. One was an industrial town built around cigarette and clothing manufacture. The other was older, with origins in a journey undertaken in 1753 by fifteen single, carefully chosen Moravian men sent south from Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, each with a profession or useful trade, to settle 100,000 acres bought for a £500 down payment and £150 in annual rent from the Earl of Granville. They wintered in an abandoned log cabin, recording on their first night there, while they held their traditional Moravian Lovefeast of cake and coffee, ‘the wolves howled loudly, but all was well with us, and our hearts were full of thanksgiving to the Saviour Who had so graciously guided us’. By the following spring, they had cleared enough land to sow wheat, corn, millet, oats, cotton, flax, tobacco and pumpkins. Further settlers joined them. In 1753, Anna Johanna Krause became the first child to be born on the settlement, Wachovia. By 1766, the settlers were ready to build a new town, which they decided to call Salem, meaning peace. The hyphenated Winston-Salem was born in 1889, when the post offices of the two towns merged into a single address.

We’ve lived here for two years in a neighbourhood called Ardmore, named for a town outside Philadelphia that had been settled by Irish immigrants. At a recent party, I was asked by a friend if anything here reminded me of home. In truth, hardly anything does. I’ve never lived so long in a place that seems so foreign to me. Religion is everywhere, from bumper stickers name-checking Jesus, to tattoos of the Crucified Christ, to the fish symbol displayed on shop fronts to signify that the shop is run by Christian folk, to the grace that’s said by the other mothers before our son’s soccer team’s post-match pizza. I’m out of step. I don’t much like country music, I speak too quickly, too quietly. A friend had a friend who moved down from New York. ‘I like it fine,’ she reported back, ‘but when I go to hear the orchestra, I wish they’d speed up just a little when they play the fast movements.’

Sports

We have been trying to sell our house. A viewer is expected at 4.30, so we undertake the usual rituals of dusting and hoovering, tidying away: trying to pretend that we really don’t live here, that the house is a blank canvas onto which anyone might project cheerful lives.

But today is Tommy’s twelfth birthday and his team, Liverpool, are playing Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals. He wants to watch the game at home where he can shout at the telly and cuss Chelsea with his dad. Instead, we head over to the Fox and Hound, someone’s idea of an English pub, where maroon booths slouch underneath giant screens, no two of which, I notice, are tuned to the same fixture. The Liverpool game is on in the back room. Four other people are there. Two black men are playing pool and sipping pints of water. An Asian man is watching the game, chain-smoking, muttering what seems to be his own sour commentary, flicking ash into a plate of untouched food. He jumps off his stool when he sees us enter, says something and then says it again, more loudly the second time. The fourth is a young man in a shirt and tie who has a laptop open on the counter. He smiles when he sees us. I hear him order a Smithwicks in a northern English accent. Tommy checks with him that the score hasn’t changed since we left the house. One–one on aggregate. If Liverpool lose, Tommy’s birthday will be, I know, utterly spoiled. None of the gifts or phone calls will make up for it

Setanta Sports has a commentator from Knockbridge, which is outside Dundalk, where we used to live. When a goal is scored, Tommy Smyth says the player has ‘bulged the old onion sack’.

Tobacco

Dundalk Institute of Technology, where I used to work, was next door to Carroll’s cigarette factory. On certain days, with a certain wind, the smell of tobacco would sit in the car park like a well-trained dog waiting to be taken home. A colleague who had given up smoking confided that it was his only consolation: he used to sit in his car with the window rolled down, no matter the weather, pretending to talk into a mobile phone whenever chanced upon.

When Richard Joshua Reynolds rode into Winston in 1874, he had $7,500 to purchase a site from the Moravians, build a wooden factory, buy his first consignment of tobacco leaves and hire twelve black seasonal workers. Reynolds became the largest employer in the city. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company imported so much cigarette paper and tobacco that Winston-Salem – 200 miles from the sea – was declared a port of entry. His first successful brand name was Prince Albert Tobacco, the ‘national joy smoke’. His next was Camel, introduced in 1913 and marketed from the start by the image of a dromedary chosen to draw attention to the ‘exotic’ flavour of the Turkish tobacco. The model was Old Joe, a camel from the Barnum and Bailey circus that was passing through town.

Until comparatively recently, Winston-Salem was nicknamed ‘Camel City’. It no longer flaunts its tobacco heritage with quite so much pride: the Tobacco Museum in Reynolds’ Whitaker Park Plant (which still produces 275 million cigarettes a day) closed down on 1 January 1998. Although the name survives all over the city (Reynolds High School, Reynolda Road, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, The Reynolds Foundation), several Reynolds plants stand derelict. There’s talk of a developer buying some to convert into artists’ studios, with which he’ll lure painters and sculptors squeezed out by New York rents.

The Reynolda House Museum of American Art occupies the mansion where the Reynolds family used to live. Apart from housing an impressive collection of contemporary artworks, the house itself is a museum of wealthy Winston-Salem life. The living rooms are all preserved, along with photographs of the housekeeping staff standing proudly over the turkey dinner about to be served to President Truman in 1951. On the attic floors, clothes, shoes and toys from the family are on show in large glass cases: the exhibitions reveal a predilection for feathered hats and cream-coloured shoes with ivory buttons and hourglass heels that were, to judge by their complexion, never actually worn.

Guns

Now that Tommy has turned twelve, he can, under North Carolina law (considered one of the tightest in the South), buy or be given a shotgun or even a semiautomatic assault weapon. He’ll have to wait until he’s eighteen to purchase a handgun, but he can have a hunting rifle at any age: a boy in Eve’s class (she’s ten) got one for Christmas. To buy his shotgun, my son would have to save up some money (the one used in the Virginia Tech massacre was bought for $571) and obtain a five-year permit from the police to prove he had no background in illegal weapon use. And if Tommy had ever pulled a gun on the lads on his soccer team or math tuition class, he could still get himself another weapon by tootling on down to the local gun show, where any ‘private individual’ or ‘gun collector’ could sell any gun on a ‘no questions asked, cash and carry’ basis. Such sellers are not required to keep records of such sales, so if my dear Tommy were to lark around next week or next year in an armed bank robbery or a ‘shooting spree’, it would be almost impossible for police to trace the weapon. Or he could sell his gun to a man in the car park, again, no questions asked, no paper trail.

Emily, a young woman in our creative writing class who wears fitted dresses and a pearl necklace with matching earrings her mother gave her for making the Honor Roll, has thirty-four guns. She’s a business major whose idea for her entrepreneur class involves selling pink things on the internet (‘aprons, handbags, lipsticks, jewellery, skirts & sweaters, iPod covers, dog coats and SO MUCH MORE’, according to the business cards she hands to each of us). She hunts with her father. She’s not allowed to bring her guns on campus, so her father looks after them for her. Whenever she goes home for vacation, one of the first things she does is take them out into the back yard and try each of them out in turn.

Cotillions

Eve gets a flyer at school: registration for the National League of Junior Cotillions is opening soon. Classes will cover such areas as ‘Everyday Manners’ (Greeting and Shaking Hands, Table Manners, Polite Conversation, When to Rise, Paying and Receiving Compliments); ‘Formal Manners’ (Party Courtesies, Hosting a Party, Receiving Lines, Eating Unusual Foods, Writing Thank-You Letters); ‘Character Education’ (Integrity, Fidelity, Citizenship, Excellence); ‘Dance’ (Waltz, Foxtrot, Shag/Swing, Rumba), and a category new for 2007, ‘Netiquette’ (Rules & ‘Ethicality’ for the use of web surfing, email and instant messaging). Most of Eve’s class will be joining up. Her friends are looking forward to it, she says, but she wouldn’t do it if we paid her. Tommy asks his friends who attend: they have to dress up for the classes; if they use bad language, they’re thrown out.

Most of the mothers went through it themselves; they know the score. A colleague remembers walking round to her class on Friday afternoons: she always wore shiny yellow shoes and lacy ankle socks her grandmother had bought especially. There were watercress sandwiches for when you arrived, and tall glasses of iced tea. You had to sit nicely and not giggle or cross your legs. The leader was elderly, somewhat infirm, and wore floor-length multi-coloured skirts that made it almost impossible to see the dance-steps she demonstrated. She wore her hair in a tight grey bun and always referred to her eleven- and twelve-year-olds as ‘ladies and gentlemen’. ‘We thought it was a hoot,’ my colleague said. ‘When a boy would ask for a dance, we’d write his name on our dance-cards as Robert Redford or Steve McQueen.’

Cotillions are big on Respect. Under the category of ‘Citizenship’, they teach ‘Respect for our Country, Respect for our Political Leaders, Respect for our Spiritual Leaders, Respect for our Servicemen and Respect for our Flag’. Strongly committed to the ‘Development of Noble Character’, the organization encourages financial integrity, self-discipline and promise-keeping. It also stresses the need for meekness, faith and temperance.

Every year, the National League of Junior Cotillions compiles a list of the ten people who best embody its core values and principles. The major criterion for selection is that ‘the individual has been an outstanding role model of good manners and exemplary behaviour’. In 2005, the Ten Best Mannered People list included Bono (‘for his admiral [sic] efforts to help the world’s poor’) and the Rev. Billy Graham (‘for his life of integrity and commitment’). Pope John Paul II also made it (‘for the optimism and faith he brought to millions’), coming in at No. 3, right behind the talk-show host Kelly Ripa (‘for the warmth and kindness she extends to her guests’). In 2004, Condoleezza Rice (‘for keeping her poise under pressure’) and Laura Bush (‘for her commitment to family values’) made the cut, as did the Rev. Billy Graham, again, this time for ‘his lifetime example of integrity’. 2003’s list included Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, General Tommy Franks, Tony Blair and Mel Gibson.

Origins

Conor coaches Tommy’s team in the Optimists’ Soccer League. After one of the lads took a shot at goal from the halfway line, Conor gave him a ticking off at half-time: ‘That ball wasn’t within an ass’s roar of the net.’ The boys looked at their feet. There was an unusual silence. Eventually, Hunter said, very quietly, ‘Coach, you shouldn’t cuss like that’. Conor was stunned. ‘I didn’t cuss,’ he said. ‘Yes, you did,’ said Hunter, ‘you said “ass”.’ Trying to explain that an ass is a donkey cut no ice with them. To a man, they’d never seen a donkey, and had certainly never heard one bray across townlands or parishes.

I opened a poetry workshop at Wake Forest University with a handout of amusing quotes, titled ‘What the hell is poetry, anyway?’ I’d no idea of the offence this would cause. You can’t say ‘hell’. You can’t say ‘damn’. They only have one meaning here, and you can’t play with that.

It can work the other way, too. When a student showed up for class in a T-shirt that read ‘Springtime is for Shagging’, I thought she was being coarse. When I heard there was to be a ShagFest on Magnolia Quad, I was taken aback. I felt as my parents must have done when women started wearing bikinis out on Salthill beach. When I saw a huge sign for a Shag Club on Stratford Road, I was for beating a hasty retreat to the more subtle and private indulgences of Dundalk.

Later I learned that shagging is fast dancing; that to be ‘ornery’ is to be crotchety; that ‘persnickety’ means fussy; that low-cut tops for eleven-year-olds are not too ‘sexy’, but too ‘grown’; that ‘hokey’ means cheesy, and that ‘bollixed’ can be used by schoolteachers or radio presenters without a flurry of protest calls or anyone thinking them coarse.

Folk

Winston-Salem is not the kind of town to fuss over what celebrities it has. Maya Angelou, superstar poet, lives here in what seems like relative quiet, teaching part-time at Wake Forest (I do too, though I’ve yet to lay eyes on her). Her friend Oprah Winfrey had her fiftieth birthday party on the lawns of Wake’s Graylyn House. (When I mentioned this to a visiting poet, Adam Zagajewski, who was also staying there, he asked, a little mischievously, ‘She’s not still here, is she?’) Pam Grier, for whom Quentin Tarantino wrote the title role of Jackie Brown, was born and lived here for five years, before moving to England with her father, who was in the military. Angus MacLachlan, who wrote the movie Junebug (for which Amy Adams was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in 2006), lives in our neighbourhood. We’re not exactly overrun with mega-stars, but still …

A colleague and his wife have a country cabin up in Stokes County, in the hills, where every year they light a big fire and have friends around to toast the season over a vat of punch and venison jerky, home-made by the next-door neighbour. Last December we were invited. I’m put to dicing cranberries to sprinkle on celeriac. An English woman, who brought along three dozen home-made mince pies to my paltry one dozen, joins me to whip up a blue cheese dressing. She introduces herself as Rosemary. She looks familiar to me; I ask if we’ve met. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ she says, but it bothers me because I’m sure we’ve been introduced somewhere before.

We sit out on the porch with our glasses of wine: even in winter, it rarely gets so cold here that you can’t do that. The elderly man in the rocking chair is the novelist, John Ehle. I ask him how he spells his name, and then mention the English actress Jennifer Ehle, whose surname I never knew how to pronounce – eel / ale / aley / ellie / eelie? He puts me right. Later, I check out his novels: Ehle writes vivid, unsentimental portraits of life in the dirt-poor mountain regions northwest of here.

Two days ago, on foot of a comment made at a get-together and five minute’s Googling, I realized that I’d been making salad with Spiderman’s Aunt May and questioning pronunciation with the actress’s father. Jennifer Ehle, the best Miss Elizabeth Bennett that I’ve seen, was born here in 1969 to Rosemary Harris and John Ehle. Between the US and England she attended eighteen schools before coming back to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts in downtown Winston-Salem. The New Yorker recently described her as ‘stupendous’ as Liubov in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, where she starred alongside Brian F. O’Byrne, who hails from Mullagh in Co. Cavan, a town he described as having ‘one street, nine bars’, that is less than an hour’s drive from where I grew up.

Speaking of Movie Stars…

George Clooney is in my son’s school. So is Renee Zellweger. Filming of Leatherheads, a football film set in the 1920s, began at Hanes Middle School last week. First the catering tent was put up, then the trailers for hair and make-up rolled into the parking lot on Wednesday evening. By 6 a.m. Thursday, the crowds were in place. By lunchtime, my neighbour, Stephanie, said she’d seen the side of George’s head.

Some of my students auditioned for work as extras. The sheet of requirements states:

*No neck/facial tattoos or facial piercings

*Males must be clean-shaven (sideburns preferred)

*Females must be willing to have hair cut into a 1920s-style bob and must have natural-coloured hair or be willing to colour hair to appear natural.

Three brothers who had set up a lemonade stand near George Clooney’s trailer hit the jackpot when Clooney himself showed up and bought a cup of homemade lemonade. The boys’ mother offered him the lemonade for free, but he insisted on paying, sending someone over with a $20 bill.

They were gone by Saturday: people who showed up to star-gaze were met with an empty parking lot. They’ve moved on to Tobaccoville, about twenty miles from here. The only remnant of our Hollywood days is a letter from Tommy’s principal asking the kids to be quiet as they move between classrooms, and to show respect for the crew. That and a certain 1920s bob that Stephanie swears women are having done to pretend they were there and claim they were singled out for notice by George’s dark brown eyes.

Race

Brother Marshall asked rather grimly: ‘What about crops?’

‘A late freeze killed all the fruit and hurt the grain badly.’

‘Anything else unpleasant?’

‘There are many deserters lying out in the woods, stealing at every opportunity, and others take advantage of this and pilfer when they can, trusting that the blame will fall on the outlyers.’

‘For example?’

‘For example, our Negro Jacob. He was a provisional member of the congregation, and we thought of him as a reliable man and took every care of him when he contracted smallpox in the last epidemic, but he had hardly recovered when we began to miss things, at the tavern, at Sister Reuter’s, at the Brothers’ House. We suspected this stranger and that, and then suddenly discovered that Jacob was the thief. Of course he was whipped and that night one of our horses died of poison. He was forced to admit that he had killed it out of spite and was whipped again, but it did not lead him to repentance; so he was sold to Robert Lanier, who lives twelve miles away near the Shallow Ford of Yadkin River.’

‘What did you get for him?’

‘One hundred bushels of oats, two hundred and fifty bushels of corn, one hundred and thirty bushels of rye, six bulls, two thousand pounds of hog meat. Half is to be paid before the end of this year, and half next year. Barter is far more satisfactory than money these days.’

(from an 1803 diary by Anna Catharina Ernst, Salem resident)

In an antiques store, I spy a summery poster for a local amenity. Five young bodies in 1950s bathing suits languish by the water’s edge, gazing up at a woman diving headlong into a blithe and tranquil world. ‘Crystal Lake’ the poster declares: ‘Swimming, Boating, Free Picnic Grounds’. In significant writing at the poster’s end are the words, ‘Conducted for the Better Class’. It was, apparently, the subtle way of saying ‘No Blacks Allowed’.

Crystal Lake was where the young of Winston-Salem grew up socially. In the dead heat of a southern summer, the cool of the water is still recalled by people who spent their full school vacations hanging round poolside. ‘Along with the Olympic-sized swimming pool,’ a publicity leaflet from the 1940s reads, ‘which includes an observation deck to watch swimming and diving, there is also a boating lake, a fishing lake and a dance hall. The diving tower is said to be the highest in the state. Additionally, a huge water wheel and a large fountain are available for enjoyment. The children’s swimming area includes a covered verandah for mothers to relax.’

One neighbour, Bill, remembers ‘a huge open-air dance floor with a jukebox over the dressing rooms where people would fast-dance when the heat wasn’t too thick’. Moms would pack up picnics early and gather up a neighbourhood brood in cars with wing-tip fenders in shades of turquoise or canary yellow that would match their silk headscarves or ribbons tied as exotic bands around cotton sun-hats. All day, the moms would chit-chat with other moms, read magazines, sunbathe, and serve up sun-warmed food, while the children raced in and out of the water, high-diving or playing rounders on the fenced pitch beside the trees. It was idyllic, gentle, safe and sociable.

It lasted until the early 1970s, when the dance hall was levelled, the pool filled in and the diving tower and water wheel dismantled. After the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination, public feeling ran against the idea of black kids eyeing the town’s white women in their bathing suits. The Crystal Lake Apartments, an undistinguished, muddy brown development, was built on the site.

In 1957, fifteen-year-old Gwendolyn Bailey was the first black girl to be admitted to Reynolds High School. James G. Hanes, a prominent local businessman, called a meeting of city leaders in his house to discuss the event. ‘This is no longer a question of our likes and dislikes,’ he told them, ‘it is a matter of law.’

Fifty years later, my kids attend schools with kids of all races. Eve’s best friend is Daneisha, Tommy’s is Ellis: both are African-American kids. In a state whose own particular contribution to the Jim Crow segregation laws was to decree that black and white children must not even handle the same school-books, I think that – even just that – is quite an achievement.

Fire

Everything happens very slowly in the South. It is true. It sure is. Whenever anything does occur, it tends to be slow, real slow. Even simple monosyllables take longer to get said. When you ask the woman in Gap if they have a restroom, her ‘Yes’ drifts way beyond what it should. Its vowel twists gradually like one of those seemingly endless goods locomotives that haul themselves through the landscape in the small hours. The pace of life here goes hand-in-hand, you might say, with the porches and iced tea and the still, white heat. It is an idea of the South that the South likes to present to the rest of the world. Each dusty hole-in-the-wall regional airport around has rocking chairs in its arrival area. Nobody ever rocks in them. That’s not the point. They are there to remind you where you have landed and how you are expected to disport yourself while on red southern earth. Suspend your brusque northern ways, they tell you. Stop checking your watch. Be prepared, before any transaction can initiate, to talk weather and how the heck you and your kin are doing.

We came here from Philadelphia. In Philly, if somebody wants you to go home, they are very likely to say, ‘Go home.’ Then we moved to North Carolina, where indirectness is a way of life. There is the dance to be danced. Nothing will bypass that. Imagine 1950s Ireland, on Prozac, in high heat. Whenever you have occasion to talk to another soul, you have to two-step three sides of a square to reach the point that a straight line would get you anywhere else. That takes some getting used to. You find yourself among the last to leave a party and your host is simpering,

‘Well I am so delighted you could make our little soiree.’

‘And I’m delighted I came,’ you beam back and refill your glass with whatever local chardonnay happens to be on offer. It takes months, months of such exchanges, for you to get the message. She wants you to go home.

The nearest fire station is just at the top of our block. I’ve always imagined that if our house ever went up in flames, I couldn’t just run out into the street screaming, ‘Help, help, my house is on fire!’ I’d probably run up the street ready to scream, encounter whoever was on duty and feel obliged to say,

‘Hi, how are you doin’?’

‘I’m doin’ real good,’ he’d reply, glancing down at the charred rags of my clothes. ‘I’m just sittin’ out here with my coffee. Beautiful evening, idn’t it?’

‘It sure is,’ I’d hear myself saying. ‘Although I’m pretty darn certain my house is on fire.’

After a long considered pause he’d ask, ‘Just how certain is pretty darn certain?’ and grin, chuffed at his own repartee.

‘Well, there’s flames and smoke in all the rooms.’

‘Sounds like fire to me. It hot?’

‘Yes sir, real hot …’

‘Well, okay,’ he’d finally stir himself. ‘I sure would hate to waste this coffee. Have a cup with me, why don’t you, then we’ll head on over to your house, show those flames who’s boss …’

Red Earth

North Carolina is beautiful. In our perfectly ordinary garden, we have twenty-three trees, including a persimmon, a river birch, a black walnut and bamboo. We say the names more often than we ever need to, because they have a kind of music in them that is only the faintest echo of the riffs the trees themselves compose. Our street has dogwood trees on one side and cherry on the other: for three weeks at the start of spring, Gales Avenue was festooned in white and pink blossoms that blew up gently, like talcum powder, against your skin in the smallest breeze.

Our back yard is a sun trap: we’ve been eating our dinner outside there since mid February. Tommy made a bird-feeder at school: a trill of northern flickers and American goldfinches has taken to it. Their bright yellow bodies and black wings are like a charm for us, though I haven’t managed to photograph one yet, because they scatter if I attempt to open the patio door to get a clear shot. I’ve had more luck with our eastern meadowlarks, which sing what our bird book terms a clear ‘see-you-see-yeeer’. Tommy has picked out the notes on his keyboard, so at least we’ll be able to take that away with us. The cardinals are a rip of scarlet on even dreary days, though they bicker terribly. I’ve seen them snag wasps from mid-air and dog nuts from Judy’s bowl.

Flying south from New York, you know you’ve arrived in the Carolinas when the earth glows a muddy crimson far beneath. Road-works or building sites throw up mounds of rust-coloured soil that – as I know well from my bits of gardening – won’t be gainsaid with bleach or whitener. Our house straddles a basement of red earth that rains spoonfuls of ochre down onto the floor. Eve’s white sandals have taken it on: when we go back, I know it will never mix earnestly into Ireland’s more stolid brown, but will mark her out, mark us all out, if only for a little time, as having brought with us something of here that is almost indelible.

The Porch

We’re invited for mint juleps on a May evening at our friends’ on Cascade Avenue. Making a mint julep is not to be undertaken lightly: there’s a ritual involved. And you can’t just make one to quench a sudden thirst: it takes at least twenty-four hours, so you have to plan ahead.

Firstly, you need your sterling silver julep cups. Your water must be cold and, if possible, from a limestone spring. Your mint must be green-stemmed, with leaves smaller than a dime; your ice crushed, your sugar fine-powdered and your bourbon premium.

A third-generation recipe is offered up to us. Soak eight mint leaves in a tablespoon of bourbon and another of sugar. Mash into a paste to line the bottom of a jug. Fill with crushed ice. Leave in the freezer overnight. Pour in the best bourbon, let it sit for half an hour. Shake. Serve into chilled julep cups. No need ever for a second – you’ll hardly get past the picket fence before falling over, with just one.

The city, with its slightly apologetic skyscrapers, is behind us. Maureen is saying how, before air-conditioning, people in the South were closer because their lives spilled out onto the street for anyone to hear. You knew who was fighting, who was learning piano, what kid was in trouble, who liked the Beatles, who couldn’t sing, who’d just made apple pie. Now, with everyone’s windows closed, you saw of other people’s lives just what they offered you.

Our new friends seem like old friends now. A half moon is coming into itself over Acadia Street. You can hear the children splashing about in the pool next door. They’ve laid their lilos end to end and are trying to run across the water without sinking down. We hold our juleps by the rims so as not to disturb the frost on the cups. Katy’s bracelets tinkle off the silver. The whole evening smells of mint and air infused with sunlight and high hours. We’re barefoot. We have paper fans. We let silences happen, the whole south grow on us.

Read more in The Dublin Review issue No. 27 Summer 2007