Phosphorus by James Bates

I’ll never forget when my girlfriend Amy and I spent our first night together. We were juniors at Big Fork State College in northern Minnesota. She had gumption and drive and was working toward a degree in education with a focus on middle school science. I was attempting to keep my grades high enough so I could stay in school and not get booted out. She had a dream of becoming a teacher. Me? I was just trying to get by. Why she liked me, I still don’t know.

In was late afternoon on the hottest July on record. We were both taking summer classes, and when they were over for the day, we met at the commons outside the administration building.

“Hi,” I said giving her a hug.

“Hi, yourself.” She kissed me and asked, “Hot enough for you?” Amy wore a fragrence heavy in sandalwood, a scent I loved. The heat doubled its intensity. 

“Yeah,” I said, suddenly coming up with and idea. “Say, I know a spot outside of town where we could go swimming and cool off.  You up for it?”

She smiled, leaned against me and squeezed my arm. Oh, man, is what I was thinking. That sandalwood was really doing a number on me, not to mention her.  “Sure,” she said. “Sounds like fun.”

Oh, wow.

We drove my old Chevrolet. I had discovered the lake during one of my bass fishing expeditions. To get there we bumped down five miles of a dusty country road before turning off on a winding path barely wide enough for the car. It was another quarter of a mile though second growth aspen to get to the lake. 

There was an open area just big enough for the Chevy where we parked. We got out and walked to the shore. The lake was about the size of a football field, rimmed with cattails and surrounded by a dense forest. The sun was sinking low to the west and with the heat of the day dissipating, the air was fragrant with the scent of jack pine. There not a hint of a breeze and the little lake was as smooth as glass. Our only company was a pair of loons floating out in the middle with four babies sticking close by. If this was what heaven was like, I was all for it. Especially since Amy was with me.

We stood on the shore, both wearing cutoff jeans. I had on a Bruce Springsteen tee-shirt and Amy wore a pink tank top. We kicked off our sandals and waded into the water up to our knees.

I rubbed Amy’s shoulder. It was tanned and hot. “How’s the water feel to you?” I asked just for something to say. She bent down, cupped her hands, filled them with water and dribbled it over her arms. She smiled, “It feels wonderful.”

I took her in my arms, and we kissed and kissed and kissed some more, our bodies molding into one another. It was like we were the only two people in the world. In a way, we were.

On a whim, we decided to go skinny dipping, an admirable idea that didn’t last all that long. Once out of our clothes what can I say? We ended up wrapped in an old blanket of mine on the shore rolling around like there was no tomorrow. I have to say, from my standpoint, it was awesome. Whenever we talk about that night, Amy will always laugh and say, “In my mind, sweetie, I called you Quick Draw McGraw.” Then she always hugs me. “But it was fun, anyway.” 

I agree. To this day I still say it was awesome, Quick Draw McGraw or not.

We decided to spend the night on the shore. No one was around. The night air was cool on our hot bodies, but sometimes we into the lake to cool off some more.

About three in the morning, we waded in up to our necks. We were holding each other and swaying back and forth to our own shared rhythm when I noticed a bright star coming up over the trees on the far side of the lake.

“Do you know what that star is?” I asked, nuzzling Amy’s neck.

She kissed the top of my head and laughed, “It’s not a star, Wade. It’s a planet.” 

“A planet?” I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen one before. “Like for real?”

“Yes, for real. It’s called Venus.”

“It’s so bright,” I said, stating the obvious, and cuddling her some more.

Amy kissed my cheek and said, her breath hot on my face. “Its name comes from the ancient Greek word Phosphorus which means ‘carrier of light.’ When Venus is bright just after sunset, it’s called the Evening Star. When it’s bright in the early morning like right now,” she giggled, “It’s called the Morning Star.”

“Yet it’s a planet.”

“Yep,” she smiled. “Such is the magic of the cosmos.”

I looked again. Venus’s bright light filled a sky studded with what seemed a million stars. I’d never taken the time to really look before. But then again, maybe it was the company I was keeping. I remember being pretty jazzed up that night.

I still am, but in a little different way.

Amy and I have been happily married for fifteen years. She teaches school in the Bemidji school system, middle school science just like she wanted. I own a small garage and repair cars. It’s a good life.

Every summer we go back to that lake and spend the night, except now we take our kids, Michael and Jody. They get a kick out of it. I bring a star chart and show them the night sky. Sometimes Venus is there, sometimes not. No matter what, though, our memories always are. And they’re still unforgettable. You know, what? I’m pretty sure they always will be.

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in nearly three-hundred online and print publications. His short story “Aliens” has been nominated by The Zodiac Press for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. His collection of short stories Resiliencewas published in February, 2021, by Bridge House Publishing and Short Stuff a collection of his flash fiction and drabbles was published by Chapeltown books July, 2021. Periodic Stories a collection of thirty-one stories based on the periodic table was published by Impspired in March, 2021, and “Something Better” a dystopian adventure novella was published in July, 2021, by Dark Myth Publications. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

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