Hampton Figs

©Angus Woodward

In the back yard nothing else to do Small Tim looks up through the leaves of a small tree trying to see the fruit. Mama told him it was a fig tree while she was taking the laundry off the line, the white sheets that made the yard brighter and private. She left to fix father's drink and so Tim is alone again trying to find the figs, standing very still studying the outlines of the branches against the porcelain sky. The leaves are light green and skeletal. She said the figs were small, hard and sour. There's nothing there.
Virginia is new to him, nothing like Michigan, and the strangest thing is not the denser summer sun or the flat red- roofed houses and short streets with bulb-shaped ends. What's funny is the way the world has backed away, even the crabs in the dirty salt pond out behind the pool building--they grasp the torn bologna Small Tim ties to string and lowers into greenish depths, but always let go when they near the surface. And the little black land crabs scuttling under the dock down at the marina race for holes in the sand the moment he looks their way. His father, busy with the dismantled outboard, won't let him use the net to catch them. His mother lying on the dock in her bikini joking with father doesn't seem to hear. Tim lowers string over the side of the boat while he waits, interesting himself by looking for the really heavy crabs with thick blue claws. They keep their distance too.
He happens to have two sisters, high-schoolers with lovely long straight hair, the one blonde the other brown. They gave him the nickname, adding Tiny to his name his second Christmas, which he didn't understand for two years until he saw A Christmas Carol and realized tiny meant not only little but also crippled. Where's your lion, Tiny Tim? the blonde one sang the next evening. I'm not tiny, he'd shouted, and cried. She put her face close to his and enchanted him with two walls of sunny perfumed hair. Then you're just small, she cooed. Small Tim. He wasn't sure she wasn't teasing so he said nothing and it stuck.
But the sisters are scarce these days, just now they're out getting ice cream in Stan's new car, which is rusted and ugly. They always adored Tim relentlessly, passing him back and forth since he can remember. They showed him things read to him told him they loved him when he cried because he couldn't marry them. But he's six, maybe too big to be babied like that and now they've found Stan the curly-haired man no one else likes and they stay on either side of him at the pool all day coming home to play records in the living room with him. Tim thinks Stan's too old and can't remember whose boyfriend he is because both sisters are always hitting him pulling him this way and that, laughing too much. From the kitchen he saw one of them push Stan's hair back and kiss his mouth wildly when they thought he wasn't there. He's forgotten who that was now.
Alone in the yard not seeing figs Tim hears his name called, turns and finds the big kid from next door standing at the fence between their yards smiling. He's the same size as the kid that threw Tim over the bike rack by school one day, but has a softer larger face and shaggy light brown hair. His name is Ronnie and yesterday he came and asked Tim questions when Tim was sitting on the grass by the salt pond with his parents. They seemed to like him, and Tim got used to his size. He talked to Tim more than anyone else had lately.
Now Ronnie is smiling goofily at Tim as he hoists himself over the low chain link fence. Tim tells him he's looking for the figs. Ronnie nods and says look, here's one.  Where, Tim says, craning his neck. Ronnie's got his finger right up to one of the branches pointing but there's nothing there. Right there, Ronnie says. Where, Tim says. Ronnie pulls the branch down lower so it's right in front of Tim's eyes. See? he asks. There's nothing there but Tim nods.
Who's that? a voice calls and a big girl is at the fence, leaning on it. Her hair is black, in a loose thick ponytail. Tim's first thought is that this is Ronnie's girlfriend. The girl struggles up onto the fence and falls on the grass. A purple tee shirt. Pale blue jeans. Dirty hands. Is that the kid you told me about? she asks, crawling a few feet before she stands and comes over. That's my little sister, Ronnie says. His name's Tim.
How cute--hi Tim, she says. Tim just peers up at the two of them. Ronnie must be a sixth grader. She's maybe a fourth grader but plump and tall and her hair makes her look almost adult, or maybe it's her face an exotic slant to her eyes or her full lips. She says she's Julie.
They play hide and seek. Tim wants to be it but Julie's the one who loses one-potato-two-potato. He spends a long time alone crouched on the dirt between the house and the heat pump. She goes by not ten feet from him twice and he giggles at the way her head goes one way then the other. Then she disappears and comes around again with Ronnie, both of them passing by without checking the little space he found right away. They crawl around looking under the bushes at the other end of the yard then flop down under the fig tree in the middle of the lawn and talk while he watches. At last they stand up and yell together, ollie ollie in come free. Tim stands up and they see him right away and laugh. Julie runs over to Tim giggling and taps his arm, he's it and chases her in circles and big squares around the yard. Ronnie hoots and comes close to Tim sticking his tongue out, leaping away when Tim makes a swipe at him but Tim just follows Julie, his legs moving moving not fast enough, the ground feeling too soft. She's right ahead of him he leans forward and falls so hard he can't draw air to cry.
Ronnie stands there saying shh shh and looking toward the house while Julie crouches next to Tim pushing his hair aside and saying it's okay it's okay come on. Tim sits up wiping the tears away and she smiles. Can you breathe? He nods. You want to spin? she asks, holding out both hands. Let me spin you.
He stands up with her and she starts to turn around and around his feet leave the ground and she's above him laughing saying Timmy Timmy. She sways and lets him bump down onto the grass, falling on top of him next to Ronnie who's under the fig tree lying on his back with his hands under his head. You're so cute, Julie says. You are so cute. You're my boyfriend aren't you? She laughs. Are you my boyfriend Timmy? Ronnie laughs too.
Tim nods, not saying anything because he wants her. He loves his sisters and his mother but this is new this is an emergency he has to have her lean over him like this her legs crushing his legs for the rest of his life, her hair in his face. An urgent desire to see her skin, to go swimming with her, to get rid of Ronnie and go to her room for spinning, falling, touching. He'll stay right here with her not budging until the little green bulbs above them grow purple and sweet and drop into their mouths.