"Yellow Brick Road"
A summer-camp counselor is responsible for putting on a play.
“Yellow Brick Road”
Copyright © William Auten
Money, money, money. Matt drains three jumpers in a row from inside the paint while waiting for Kira and the kids, but he stops celebrating and slouches after his sight darkens and the rec center constricts him. The kids file down the hall; Kira counts heads and calls out names. Matt and Kira grin at each other when Sue steps out of the office, dons her sunglasses, and bolts for the parking lot behind the center. The gym doors fling open, kids rush in, and trudging to the water fountain, Matt fills his bottle, careful not to touch the nozzle where every camp kid drooled, sneezed, or sucked on. He towels off, his wheezing slowing, the constriction easing but not letting him go, but when Gail emerges from the office, carrying a clipboard, he would run sprints up and down the court if they could launch him out of here, into anywhere but where he is, and far from what he assumes Gail has waiting for him.
The kids multiply around Gail when she tells them about the papers on her clipboard and when “roles for the play” spread through the gym. Kira breaks up a jump-rope argument. Three kids vacate a spot next to Kane, and Matt slinks that way, hoping Gail will lose him in the gaggle. He leans over the boy’s drawing, and Kane—bedhead; purple-gray bags under his eyes; blue juice ringing his mouth; mismatched socks—crumples the superheroes he summoned.
“Starting over?” Matt half looks at Kane, half checks where Gail wanders through kids and flags down Kira.
The boy clips his pen near his collar stains. “It’s not what I saw in my head.”
“Yeah. Join the club, buddy.”
Gail, on her tiptoes, waves at Matt and the office.
Matt tells Kane he wants to see something. “Anything. Even if it’s just flowers.”
“I drew flowers last year.” Kane sighs at the gym’s spaceship-like lamps.
Shouts and laughter dissipate behind Matt as he plops at his desk.
“It’s that time of year.” Gail tops off her juice cleanse and hands Matt a printout.
PLEASE JOIN US FOR OUR SUMMER-END PARTY ON THE FINAL FRIDAY OF CAMP! FOOD, FUN, AND A PERFORMANCE OF THE WIZARD OF OZ! EVERY CHILD WILL HAVE A ROLE (CAST & CREW). SEE GAIL FOR ACTING AND COSTUMES, KIRA FOR SOUND AND LIGHTS, MATT FOR PROPS.
“No Babes in Toyland?”
“We’ve done that for years. Now that Sue’s retiring, we’re going to change it up. Our version of her favorite movie.”
“So, not Silence of the Lambs?”
“What about the ones she goes to in the middle of the day?”
Gail wipes pulp off her lips and kicks off her sandals. “I want to send her off with something special. A new chapter for everyone.”
The center’s front doors open, and daylight pours in and backlights security screens bolted across the office windows and holes shot into a corner. Ollie and Mollie’s mom approaches the office. Matt stands, but Gail, barefoot, floats over, verifies the brother and sister can leave, and wishes them a magical weekend.
Matt flops back into his chair. “That’s not much time to revamp everything.”
“We can recycle some things. And start fresh with others. Here are my notes and a script.”
He thumbs through her pages, passing over SWORDS HERE, OIL CAN, HEART MEDAL - PAPER OR FOIL - M.?, FLYING WINGS, CASTLE - K. OR M., ***MAGIC WAND***.
“Giorgio found it online, and I tinkered it for us.”
Matt tosses the script on his desk alongside a photo of his cat.
“It’s going to be what we all need. You’ll do great. Thank you, Matt.” Gail smooths her dress and greets more parents picking up their kids.
Before heading back to the gym, Matt checks his calendar and says to himself, The play will be over, but I’ll still be here. He imagines the return of fall and winter at the center: he’ll coordinate the judo, Wing Chun, mindfulness, GRE, personal-finance, and arts-and-crafts instructors and classes; take inventory of the kitchen after Addictions Anonymous meetings; resolve the backlog of Sue’s email and paperwork; block out Gail who, he assumes, will apply for Sue’s vacancy—and block her out if she does’t get it; kick himself for not asking out Kira before she starts her senior year at Southern Methodist—or asking out any girl he runs into. He leans forward when Kane toddles from the gym, folding his drawings, but Matt does not see Derrick, the man who, Kane snapped, correcting Kira one day, “is not my dad.” Matt sinks in his chair as a woman signs out Kane, and on their way out, she smiles at Matt who quivers as when he last saw her—stripping under stage lights striking her cherry hair; her left shoulder swinging ghostly weight; her missing arm.
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