These Fevered Hours

Enjoy this excerpt from Future Perfect Tense by Sarah Harris Wallman (pictured).

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Though she was constantly being shooed into the company of other children, Brenda did not like to play with them or to touch their things. Her family’s Fourth of July party was an annual nightmare: with so many cousins around, an only child was just another tag-player, banished to the broiling outdoors. On the lawn the chaos of charging and wind-milling was punctuated by fake screams as the kids worked themselves into a frenzy.

“Go on,” said her mother when she tried to sneak back into the house, “it’s a beautiful evening.” Summer: it would be light two hours more at least.

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When her cousin Todd breathlessly slapped her “it” she felt his ragged larynx in her own throat. The sensation expanded: she felt his pipes as they one day would be, furred by cigarettes and raked by the burnt edges of dinners in microwaved meal trays—he would eat the “fiesta” one for days on end, enchiladas the size of fingers drowned in greasy red sauce, burning the top and back of his mouth. He would decide that it was the perfect food, or at least the most perfect food he was likely to taste. And then he would obliterate it with long pulls of menthol. He watched other men fishing on his television.

After a few minutes of flailing about the yard, the cousins and neighborhood kids nimbly twisting just out of her half-hearted swipes, she managed to transfer “it” to Laurel (just nicking an ankle as Laurel showboated). No sooner had her fingertips brushed bone than Brenda was frozen in place by the sensation of Laurel’s mouth, chapped from the less pleasant weather of the future, ricocheting breath against a phone’s receiver. She delivered a rehearsed speech and was promptly disconnected.

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“You’re it again,” said Laurel. After all, Brenda had failed to run.

This time, Brenda returned to the house. When she held her mother’s skirt firmly in both hands she felt no unwelcome sensations from the future: just gingersnaps and dish soap and looping cursive on thoughtful notes.

This was back when Brenda’s mother still tried to comfort her, to ease her daughter’s suffering with reason and a little rub between the shoulder blades: “What is it, baby? What is it?”

“I’m it,” whined Brenda with the disconsolation of a little girl who already knows she has little chance of being understood. “There’s no way for me to stop being it.”

Patsy squinted into the sunset through the kitchen door. There was her sister’s child, sitting on the stoop, tying a clover stem around her finger. She directed her daughter back through the sliding glass. “Gretchen dear, could you show Brenda what you’re doing? Y’all just stay outside another hour or so, and then we’ll have homemade ice cream.”

Gretchen was the only cousin not from Brenda’s father’s side of the family. The other children regarded her as slightly sour with tattletale potential. Gretchen considered herself too well versed in life’s injustice to enjoy tag, but she was content to calmly wait out these fevered hours before the fireworks.

“See,” said Gretchen, spreading her fingers to model the clover blossom. “Now I’m engaged to be married.”

“Married to who?”

Gretchen shrugged. “Mr. Nobody, I guess. Here, I’ll make you one.”

Brenda extended her fingers with caution, but did not flinch when Gretchen took hold.

“There. What do you think?”

Brenda gaped at the clover and then back at her cousin. When Gretchen had touched her hand she had felt no sensations of events that had not yet happened. She felt only the gentle pressure of another child’s heat-puffed hand.

“Say, ‘I do,’” said Gretchen.

“I do.”

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Future Perfect Tense by Sarah Harris Wallman

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