After Breakfast

We meet Palmer again on a very, very hot summer day.

An Eddy and McClure Story

After breakfast, Palmer Eddy lounged on the steps of the front porch and stared blankly out at the street. Boy was it hot. And sticky. Locusts droned in the trees and the backs of Palmer’s knees were wet where his calves and thighs met.

The Eddy’s nextdoor neighbor, Mr. Cramer, was out walking his dog. A massive St. Bernard named Tootsie. The big dog looked heavy and hot. His ears drooped and his tail dragged. Mr. Cramer already had sweat stains under his arms and beads of sweat on his forehead.

“Hi, Mr. Cramer.”

“Hallo, Palmer. It’s a hot one today.”

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” Palmer sing-songed, mimicking his dad.

“Tell your father I said hallo!” Mr. Cramer winked and waved.

Palmer slumped against the stair rail. Too much effort to even say hello, he thought. In the background he heard his dad getting ready to go out.

Eddie Eddy had declared himself as a candidate for highway supervisor. He was spending all his free time going door-to-door introducing himself, handing out fliers which said “Clean up the Highway. Eddie Eddy for Crawford Highway Supervisor.”

Palmer went with him a couple times to help hand out fliers and just to see what it was like. Some people knew his dad already. Palmer would give them a flier and Eddie Eddy would shake hands and ask for their vote. Some folks didn’t know him. So that always took longer while his dad explained how he was in the Parks Department and that he would do a better job than Patrick DeGregorio, the current supervisor, hinting that he would root (“Pun intended. You know root? Route?” he would always say) out corruption wherever he saw it.

Some folks were friendly and offered them iced tea saying how hot it was this summer. Others answered the door angry when they saw it was someone they didn’t know. All in all, it was pretty boring and lately way too hot to trudge around carrying fliers.

Eddie Eddy came through the door carrying a stack of fliers. “Coming with me this time, Palmer?”

“Naw, Dad. It’s too hot.”

“Well, the way I see it, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” Eddie commented like he just thought of it. “All right. Palmer, you be good now.” Palmer watched his dad back out the driveway and head up the hill to the west side of town.

Heavy lidded, he stared at his phone. No messages. Plus, there was no breeze, nobody around, and nothing to do. Palmer sighed and stared out at their yard. Gravel driveway, big crabapple tree, long grass that his brother Hale was supposed to have mowed yesterday. “Too hot,” Hale had said. And that was that.

Out of the corner of his eye Palmer caught a movement in the grass. Squinting, he saw it was a mouse working its way through the lawn. Nosing at this or that completely unaware of him.

He was reminded of a comic book he found one time at his grandmother’s house. She had this closet, he guessed it was a coat closet, it was just inside the front door, but it had become a catch all for anything that didn’t have somewhere else to be. Long and narrow with shelves and coat racks on each side and a window at the end, it was awash with stuff. When he visited his grandma he always wanted to explore The Closet. He would wade in among the incredible jumble of junk and find the most amazing things.

Once, under old encyclopedia books and a purple pillow, he actually found a trombone. It was so cool. Another time behind a camp trunk he came across a stash of comics from when his mom was a kid. One of those comics somehow came to mind when he saw the mouse in the grass.

There was this girl character, Palmer couldn’t remember her name, who had a pet mouse named Sniffles. In order to have various adventures together, the girl would close her eyes, cross her fingers and recite, “Poof, poof piffles. Make me just as small as Sniffles.” And when she opened her eyes and uncrossed her fingers, there was Sniffles now approximately the size of Tootsie the St. Bernard.

Palmer laughed to himself. Poof, poof piffles. What was a piffle anyway? Make me just as small as Sniffles. Sniffles? A mouse with allergies? He lay back on the porch steps feeling a bit lightheaded. Whew it was hot. Then the world went black. Palmer couldn’t see anything and he felt nauseous. Oh great, he thought, I’m having heat stroke.

Slowly his sight came back as a welcome breeze washed over him. He started to feel better. Not as hot and sticky. He sat up and looked around. The step was HUGE. Like he was sitting on a ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon. He looked left and banged into the stair rail the size of the crabapple tree.

“OMG! I said the rhyme and now I’m shrunk!” Visions of all the movies he’d seen with his dad flashed through his head. The Fly. Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Antz. Bugs Life.

“Sheesh. Now what do I do?” The steps were too tall to jump down from. Essentially, he was stuck here.

Palmer shuddered. He really did not want to see a mouse the size of Tootsie. And he hadn’t even closed his eyes and crossed his fingers when he said the rhyme. And then he realized that he’s forgotten how the girl got back to her real size. “Oh, man.” Palmer could hear the guy in The Fly squeaking “Help me! Help me!”

A rather large beetle trundled across the step. It looked like it was about the size of a football. “Holy-camoly. How small am I?” Palmer held out his hands. They looked full sized. “I feel full-sized,” he thought. Palmer scrambled to his feet. He could just peer over the top of the step. “What’s that make me? Six inches, seven inches tall? Oh, man!” Palmer sank down cross-legged on the step and closed his eyes. Maybe when he opened them again things would be back to normal.

“Hey Palmer! Get up, lazy bones. We’re all going swimming.” It was Hale..

Palmer opened his eyes. A gigantic pair of eyes was staring at him up close. Palmer started to say, “I can’t I’m too small,” when Hale turned away saying, “Hey, Doug, commere. Let’s get this dude going!” Hale wasn’t super large. He’d just had stuck his face up real close. Palmer wilted in relief. He must be back to his normal size again.

Palmer yawned. He glanced around. The beetle, maybe a half an inch long, was just disappearing through a crack in the step. Palmer shook his head. Heck, it was just too damn hot.

“We go in three minutes,” delivered in typical Hale staccato. “Starting…now.” Palmer looked past Hale’s shoulder and saw Doug and Doug’s sister Nancy, and another girl he didn’t recognize in the background. Palmer brightened. “Sure. Hold on. I’ll get my suit.”

“Palmer,” the girl said to Hale, “that’s a funny name.”

“So’s Hale.” Hale said looking hard at her.

“Yea. I guess.” She said watching Palmer bound up the porch steps.

“Two minutes!” Hale shouted.

Palmer turned his bureau drawer upside down on the floor of his bedroom. No bathing suit. He thought about wearing his gym shorts, but that would be too goofy with Nancy and that strange girl there

“One minute!” Hale’s voice sounded triumphant.

Palmer looked around. Gym shorts. Gym bag! There was the bathing suit. He scrambled into it and dashed out onto the porch and down the steps.

“Bye!” Hale was starting off with Doug and Nancy. The strange girl was staying behind, waiting for him.

“Thanks,” Palmer puffed.

“No worries,” she said staring at his flushed face and tousled hair. “I’m Julia.”

Palmer ran his hands through his hair and attempted to regain some poise. “I’m Palmer,” he said.

“Yea. Let’s go.”

Palmer walked alongside Julia looking at her sideways so she wouldn’t notice he was staring. She’s beautiful, he thought. He watched her soft fluffy hair dance as she moved her head. “You know Nancy?” he asked.

Julia answered with a big smile punctuated by a dimple in each cheek. “Nancy’s grandmother is my godmother.”

Palmer looked puzzled.

“When I was baptized, of course. Don’t you have a godfather?” Julia’s voice was like music. Low when she said “of course” and a flutey soprano when she said “godfather.”

Palmer shook his head. “I don’t think so…”

Julia’s curls bounced. “Well, anyway, that’s how I know Nancy. We used to play together when we were small and are still friends. Nancy’s smart and fun.”

Palmer realized he wasn’t as interested in Nancy right now as he ordinarily would be. He watched (out of the corner of his eye) how Julia illustrated what she said with expressive hand gestures, long fingers tracing shapes in the air.

“You play the piano?” he asked apropos of his thoughts.

“How’d you know?”

“Just guessed, I guess.” Oh, man, that was a lame answer, he thought.

“I’m studying Debussy.” Julia didn’t notice. “Did you know that In Arabesque No. 1 you have to play three against four?” Julia’s fingers were flashing in the sunlight. “Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I just can’t.”

Palmer nodded. Then thought it might be better if he shook his head. Was three against four even a real thing?

They walked quiet for a while. Up ahead, Doug and Hale were teasing Nancy. Finally, she had enough and turned back toward Palmer and Julia. “I’m walking with you guys,” she called. “These dweebs belong in a zoo.”

When they caught up to her, Nancy started whispering to Julia right away about something that sounded like “strappy sandals.” Though it could have been “crappy handles.” Or maybe “birthday candles.” It was just too hot.

Palmer sensed that he was not included and drifted off to join Hale and Doug. Funny, he never noticed that Hale was starting to grow a beard. Maybe that was right at 15. He remembered watching his dad shave when he was little. His dad reaching down to put shave cream on his face. How it smelled like clean and felt like whipped cream. I wonder when Hale will start shaving, he thought.

Hale was still practicing the quarter flip — rolling a coin over his knuckles. He was actually getting pretty good at it. He’d start with the quarter between the first and second knuckle on his hand. Then, by moving his fingers he edged the quarter over the top of the next finger until it was wedged between that finger and the next. The hard part was going from the pinky under the palm back to the thumb to start again. At that point the quarter would usually hit the ground and Hale would swear.

Doug was…well, just Doug. A little older than Palmer, younger than Hale but in the same grade. Doug was smart, but he treated Hale like a hero. Doug had on a cap with a rearview mirror. As they walked along, Doug would adjust the mirror so he could see Julia and Nancy.

“Where’d you get that cap, Doug?” Palmer saw the cap said “Boston Est. 1630.”

“My brother Sheldon. He’s on a sculling team at Boston U. It’s a sculler’s mirror.”

“Lemme, try it?”

“Sure. Knock yourself out.”

Palmer adjusted the cap so he could see Julia. She and Nancy were talking. Suddenly she looked straight at Palmer and mouthed “I see you!” pointing two fingers to her eyes and then to him. Palmer hurriedly handed the cap back to Doug. “Cool,” he said forcing himself not to turn around to check if Julia was still looking at him.

“Why’s your face so red?” Hale stared at Palmer.

“Dunno.” Palmer walked ahead.

They were almost at Crawford Lake. Swimming at Crawford Lake was not in the lake at all. There was a fenced off outdoor pool with a diving board, lap lanes and a kiddie pool where a lot of shrieking was always going on. Nancy and Julia caught up and they all pulled out their ID cards at the gate. Hale and Doug went first, then Nancy. Palmer hung back and let Julia go first.

“Can I see your ID?” the college student working the gate asked Julia. Palmer watched astonished. Julia just stood very, very still, staring at the gate keeper and saying nothing. The student gate keeper looked a bit puzzled and finally said, “Um, okay. Go ahead.”

Palmer showed his ID and followed everyone into the pool area wondering what it was he just saw.

The pool was packed. There were mothers standing waist deep in the water talking to each other while watching their pre-schoolers in swim fins paddle about. There were grade school splashers and senior lap swimmers and college student lifeguards paying attention but bored out of their minds.

Palmer left his clothes in a pile with the others and stood at the edge of the pool. The sun sparkled on the water. Palmer looked for Hale, Doug, and Nancy — or, Palmer squinted in the glare, maybe that was Julia. He thought he saw Julia with them he now wasn’t so sure. Nancy seemed to look like Julia or maybe it was Julia that seemed to look like Nancy.

Palmer decided maybe it was Julia after all when a voice behind him said, “Aren’t you going in?” He swung around. It was Julia. He looked towards to pool again and there was Nancy just disappearing under the water. She bobbed up again 10 feet away.

“Come on, Palmer!” Julia did a straight dive off the edge of the pool. “NO DIVING!” the lifeguard shouted blowing her whistle.

Palmer lowered himself into the water. It was cold at first and he was tempted to splash water on his arm like his dad did. But he didn’t want to look like a sissy. He took a deep breath, ducked down under the surface, and looked around. There was Julia three feet away, sitting cross-legged on the bottom beckoning him with a smile, bubbles coming out of her nose.

Just then two small boys splashed through in front of him. He broke the surface out of breath and looked around for Julia. Puzzled, he took a deep breath and went under. There she was still sitting cross-legged on the the floor of the pool. She must have been holding her breath since she dove in.

Palmer bobbed up feeling a little freaked out. This girl was unusual. She did mention a godmother. Maybe that gave her strange powers somehow. Palmer ducked under again. Julia wasn’t there. He swam under water looking in all directions. He came up spluttering and there was Julia sitting on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the water laughing with Hale and Doug. How did she get there so fast, he wondered. It was sort of annoying. He swam a lazy crawl over to the group.

“There you are!” Julia said.

“And there you are.” Palmer was a bit grumpy.

Nancy swam up. “Beat you all to the other side!” And took off.

Palmer swung around and, by golly, there was Julia right behind Nancy. He took off after them, pumping, two strokes to one breath. Panting, the three swimmers hung on the far side of the pool watching Doug and Hale racing each other. They all hauled out of the pool together and stood dripping in the sun.

“I can levitate,” Julia said suddenly. “Wanna see? You all have to look at me and concentrate.”

Hale smirked. “No way!” Doug was already doing the force of gravity math in his head figuring Julia must weigh 100 pounds like Nancy. Nancy was watching with a bemused look on her face.

Palmer squinted as the sun glared off the pool. Julia’s bathing suit was twinkling with water. Her hair was wet and stuck in curls around her face. Here shoulders were strong as she stood on tip toe. Slowly she rose above the ground. Maybe 6 inches. The sun shown on the wet footprints where her feet had been..

“No way!” exclaimed Hale. “No way you can levitate!” Palmer turned to look at Hale. He heard a thump and looked back. Julia had fallen in a clump to the ground.

“Thanks a lot, Hale!”

“Not me! What about Palmer?”

Doug said, “I hear thunder.” They all stopped to listen. The lifeguard whistled, “Everyone out of the pool! Thunder.”

Julia and Nancy were toweling their hair. “Let’s go back home before it starts to rain,” Nancy said. “Here,” Julia said and pressed something into Palmer’s hand. It was a hair clip in the shape of a butterfly. Palmer hastily stuffed it in his swimsuit pocket before anyone else could notice.

They started out with Nancy and Julia in front. Another clap of thunder and it started to drizzle. Nancy and Julia started to run. Palmer watched them dashing away in the rain as it began win earnest. Hale and Doug were arguing the weight and gravity thing. Doug’s position was that even such a light weight like Julia couldn’t overcome 9.8 newtons per square inch. Hale, to save face, just changed the subject saying if Julia was a “light weight” then Nancy was a welter weight. Doug didn’t take the bait as they walked on and the rain came down.

Doug and Hale headed for Doug’s house. Palmer didn’t feel like hanging out with them anymore. Back home he flopped on the porch steps and let the rain beat down on him. That was the strangest day he had ever had. And he wasn’t sure he wanted another one either. He lay back with his eyes closed and replayed all the strange things Julia said and did.

A crack of thunder and a flash brought Palmer out of his reverie with a start. Sitting up he saw his dad pulling into the driveway.

“Hey there, son! You still on the front steps? It’s almost one o’clock. Come on in out of the rain and have some lunch.”

Palmer stood up a bit unsteady. He looked down and he wasn’t wearing a bathing suit. The spot where he was sitting was dry. Hadn’t he gone to the pool at all? Hadn’t he seen Hale and Doug and Nancy? Hadn’t he seen Julia at the bottom pf the pool or “levitating” whatever that was? “Was I dreaming the whole thing?” he thought.

His dad threw is arm across Palmer’s shoulders as they stood on the porch watching the rain pour down. “Canvassing called on account of rain,” Eddie said, pleased with the baseball analogy.

Palmer stuck his hands in his pockets as he leaned against his dad. His fingers felt something he didn’t recognize. Not a rock or a phone charger. He pulled his hand out and looked.

It was a butterfly hair clip.

Butterfly hair clip

Story by Caroline Meyers, ©2020

Photo credits
Photo 169527728 © Kukotaekaterina |
Butterfly hair clip © Caroline Meyers