Backyard by Colette Rosenberg
 Thinking about it now, it wasn’t like my parents to say yes. It was almost as if they anticipated that this moment would resurface, when flipping through photo albums, sharing stories or simply staring at that same backyard, and morph into a memory that would eventually sustain us. I’m sure that if I asked them now the answer would be no. The prospect of hosting and cooking makes my mother’s mouth tense and her body shrivel up, so it’s hard to imagine that having five girls over to camp out in our backyard didn’t do the same to her. I guess it was this time, the finite days and the inevitable change, that made both of my parents so lenient and open to the idea. It seemed rather foreign, the way in which the raw air began to seep through the window’s screen every night, chilling our bronzed bodies. We resisted the urge to surrender and grab a sweater or a pair of pants. Doing so would mean giving up any last hope of pushing out the dark sky’s invasion at 6 pm or of holding on to hour-long naps, encased by the sun’s warmth and left with damp strands of hair. But just as the air had given in to cooler breezes and shorter days, our copper freckled skin was flaking, and we all began to shed our layers. Summer reading books lay scattered throughout the house. Some rested atop the stair’s landing. Others hid underneath bed covers. All crunched with each page turn, as sand nuzzled in between every crease. Visions of veiny delicate red and brown leaves suffocating bright green grass haunted us. The cicadas began to sing in a chorus, accompanying the tranquil night and reminding us that we couldn’t remain in this bubble forever. Even my parents couldn’t evade their sound. My mother tried to ward off the beginning of the school year and conceal her fear of being one step closer to having children who no longer needed her. She spent days walking for hours on the Long Island sand and nights embracing her daughters on the screen porch. My father realized that he could no longer forget about his 5:30 am alarm and back-to-back business trips. He soaked up every minute of these final days, spending the early ones getting coffee and bagels and the rest of them on freshly cut golf courses. They both looked at me and saw that the summers of lemonade stands and Marco Polo could not last forever. They sympathized and understood the importance of having one more night of oblivion, so when I asked them last minute if Gussie, Anna, Josephine, Sasha, Storey and I could camp out in the backyard for the night, they didn’t hesitate. We set up the tent in the middle of the yard, the tree house and the blueberry patch both keeping us company. The tent, made for three people, managed to sleep six-thirteen-year-old girls and one puppy, Wilson, within its perimeters. We laughed and told stories. Flashlights lit up our faces and baggy eyelids, puppy fur and braided hair, aluminum bags of chips and flashing cameras. Plaid blankets and gingham pillows carpeted our new home. Gussie, pale skinned with blond locks and braces, known for her skillful avoidance of the sun and the beach, was already uneasy about the prospect of being outside for the night. She anxiously laughed as she stated, “My mom said it’s going to rain tonight. It’s supposed to be a huge storm. Very torrential.” Initial silence dissolved as we all broke into escalating laughter. Everyone knew that Gussie wanted to be home, wrapped in her light pink quilt, able to hear the footsteps of her parents and the bark of her dog, so we didn’t pay much attention to her forecast. Anna sat, legs crisscrossed with Wilson nuzzled in her lap, creating a throne for his golden fluff and occasional whimpers. With two older brothers and a keenness for rough waters, she was unconcerned. Oreos and Twizzlers fueled us and kept our eyes open. The plastic walls hid us from the total blackness that lingered just outside the zippered opening; just for the night we remained floating through a vacuum of innocence. Once in a while we would peek out of our vault and come face to face with the night’s inky richness, which smudged our vision and blurred the ocean’s hum and the deers’ silhouette. I walked Wilson around the tent, hoping that he’d sniff out any potential threats for us. We were simply a speck in a world of black velvet, illuminated periodically by an airplane’s passing or a car’s beam of light. Our minds contrived images of creatures and animals lurking outside our bubble. Our stomachs sank as Josephine was sure that she heard growls. “It’s a coyote,” Sasha insisted. “No it has to be a bear. A bear right in the middle of your backyard,” joked Gussie. Josephine’s fear rippled through us all. It was then that we reached a silent agreement that we would remain inside the tent for the rest of the night, Wilson included. Drops began to patter on our makeshift roof. Gussie exposed her braces as an “I-told-you-so” smile stretched across her face. Soon after, water invaded our flooring as the sprinkler system woke up to work alongside the rain. Although our tent was now damp and misty, we still had hours to savor. Hours later, we woke up, trapped beneath a tent that had lost its dimension, like a deflated bouncy castle. It lay flat, roasting underneath the daylight. Disheveled and spilling out of its braids, my hair, too, had taken on a new shape. The blueberry patch and trees that had guarded us were now bleached. The sun faded and softened any clear images we had of the night until they were left fuzzy and unfocused. Temptations of croissants, muffins and scones lining the table lured us back inside. Sturdy walls and a screen porch now enclosed us. The brisk air still filtered through the porch’s screens, aiming for our freckled skin and sun-kissed hair. *** I often spend summer nights sitting on that same screen porch, around that same table, but this time when I look out into my backyard, in between the blueberry patch and tree house, I just see grass. The grass isn’t indented from the tent’s weight. The gingham pillows and plaid blankets rest on my brother’s bed, and they haven’t left the house in years. Wilson is no longer golden, he’s more of an off-white blond, and can no longer fit in Anna’s lap. Even though we now know that the growls we heard really came from our neighbor Katharine, in her attempt to scare us, and that my dad was checking up on us every couple of hours, we all refer to that night with a glimmer in our eyes and nostalgia for that magic. We’ve tried to recreate it. We’ve tried to spontaneously gather and go to the beach at 12 am or to all pile into a kayak, but it always seems to end with someone complaining about the cold or not having beer, with someone pulling out her phone, snapping a picture of the pond and then objecting to going any farther. I’ve realized that I am now grounded on the same plane as my parents, hyper aware of my descent from childhood. The cool breeze is no longer a sign to take in every last minute, it’s a sign to finish the summer book, wipe the sand out of its pages and move on.