excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

The third truly hot summer day of 1974 shimmers itself into everybody’s pores. I love mornings like this. It’s Sunday, the lunchmeat is in the refrigerator in wax-paper stacks, the condiments and paper linens and plastic utensils line up on the counter. Azaleas nudge the insulated window, pink explosions ready to pulse thicker in the June heat and humidity that the whole house can tell will soon expand all over the place. The air-conditioned women in white skirts, in tan heeled sandals, in a tidy culotte with a pale blue belt, in a pink nylon shift, in one remarkable, whispery pale green gabardine suit—these women tighten saran over the rounded wood of salad bowls, rake their little girls' hair into ponytails. Inside or outside, the background for all this is lawn, that rich fake colored lawn that somehow pours into untamed Pennsylvania meadow. The background is hot mist, and the noise of cicadas and breeze, and the smell of pink and yellow and violet colored blooms. Tongue, shell, lung, breath, cheek colored blooms.

(The heat outside fills me, strengthens me. I twist with the hot wind into the high clouds, I trip on the edges with the notes the finches and the sparrows and the mockingbirds offer me.)

The preacher’s wife, Linda, shoos her brood out of the house when she can tell that the tittering of women and children is about to set her husband, Ray, to squinting in annoyance, to a headache before his sermon. His jaw tilts to the right slightly as he runs a finger across eyelash-thin Bible pages; his shoulders, once bony, still hold angles though he’s hunched over a bit now, more meat on his bones at thirty-four.

“Outside!” Linda says, tough and full of smiles at once—their four girls, one or two others, and one tiny son of the pastel congregation pour out into the greenness of June to fight, and scream, and grin.

But the chattery, sometimes sing-song indoor noises of the women, women sweet on the moment they’re about to have together, sweet on each other after months, years of Sunday worship together—these noises are starting to bother Ray anyway. He hovers in front of the ring of empty chairs in the living room, rolling his eyes heavenward to try to remember the third point he wanted to make . . . what was it?


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