When I was young, Aristotle said that a friend is a single soul occupying the same body.
At least, that is what I was told he said. He didn’t say it to me because I didn’t know him. Not then, not now. He must have said it to Grandpa, who then told me.
I’ve never known Aristotle. He lived in Greece, which is far away from where I used to live when I was young.
But I knew where Greece was. I knew where it was because I had a friend who had gone there with his parents, and his mom kept a postcard of Greece. It said Greece on the bottom left corner of the picture—why would they make that up? The postcard people, I mean, why would they go lying about what Greece looked like?
I call him a friend because back then, he was. There were only a few relationship labels available for people I wasn’t related to. I don’t know if I knew enough about friendship to judge it otherwise.
The picture was a white building, round on top, like… Well, it looked like an upside-down cow udder, I thought, although my friend didn’t think so. And there was blue, bright blue, on top. In the background, far away or far down like it was down a big hill, was water, the ocean. It was blue too, though not the same blue as the cow udder.
“Where do you think he’s standing?” I asked my friend. He said he didn’t know what I meant. So I asked his mom, “Mrs. Paver, where do you think he’s standing?”
“Who, dear?” She was cutting an apple for our snack. She cut apples funny. My Mom cut them in half and then gored out the middle (I say gore now as an adult. I didn’t know the word when I was young, but I think it’s appropriate). She gored out the middle and then the ends, so when she was done, you had two apple halves that looked like tiny cups. Mrs. Paver just cut them in half and gave them to you, seeds and all. You had to eat around the seeds. I didn’t eat the seeds because they had poison in them. My grandpa told me that. Directly, he said it to me directly. He didn’t live in Greece, he lived in Bellevue. That was about forty-five minutes away. Then he came to live with us, downstairs, which was about one minute away.
“Where do you think he’s standing, Mrs. Paver?” I asked her, waiting for my apple half and leaning on the counter, jumping up on it like I was going to hop over. I liked to do that, but she frowned at me so I stopped.
“The man who took the picture?”
“What are you talking about, Dorothy?”
“Greece, over there on the desk. Your Greece picture. From vacation?”
I knew not to call it a cow udder—she had frowned at me about that, too, last week. “He’s looking down on a building and then looking down on the ocean. He must be high up. Where do you think he’s standing?”
“He’s in a helicopter,” said Jeremy, my friend. “He’s in a helicopter, and he’s leaning out with one hand holding on.”
“How does he hold on with one hand?” I wasn’t dismissing this idea, but I had questions.
“Because he’s also holding on with his legs!”
I considered this proposition. Proposition is another word I know as an adult, so I’ll use it now.
“Are there helicopters in Greece, Mrs. Paver?”
“Well, I don’t know. Probably. I imagine he’s standing on another building, don’t you think?”
At this I giggled, because, well, that meant the photographer was, himself, standing on a cow udder, and Jeremy also giggled because he knew why I was giggling. I think Mrs. Paver thought we were making fun of her, though. I think this because she frowned at me again. Although that might be because I was still jumping onto the counter.
“But the buildings are so lovely there. They are all white, so bright white. And the tops are all blue! Jeremy, tell Dorothy what we did there. Do you remember?”
“We went in a helicopter!” Jeremy shouted, and he, too, began to jump onto the counter.
“No. Don’t be silly.”
“There were aliens! And they came down when we were outside and ate our guts!” And he said this in a funny voice. I think he was trying to make me laugh. But I didn’t, I don’t know why.
“Jeremy, don’t you remember the pool? You loved the pool. You swam all day, don’t you remember? You did twenty laps one day. He swims really well, he’ll have to tell you how well he swims.”
“There was a pool,” Jeremy admitted casually, and I nodded, I admit, a bit excitedly at this possibility and wanting to know more. I’d never been to a pool. Well, only the big one I went to once with Grandpa, and it was so cold that I got in and got out really quick. And the locker rooms smelled. I wondered what else was in Greece that wasn’t in the picture.
“Were there lots of cows?” I felt a full laugh inside me, but I held it in. But this time Jeremy full-on laughed, so I did too. Then Mrs. Paver frowned again, not at me but at the apple she was cutting. I felt bad asking about cows.
“Not where we were. We were in a nice resort. So quiet and nice. It was really beautiful. The food is terrific. Have you ever had Greek food, Dorothy?”
“I don’t know. What is it?”
“Well, it’s a lot of things. There are, well, olives. Do you have olives at your house?”
“I love olives!” Jeremy shouted, jumping higher and higher. I noticed that Mrs. Paver didn’t frown at him. In fact, she smiled, pleased that he had remembered this food he liked. Or maybe because he remembered something about Greece.
“You probably have olives—well, no, I don’t know if you’ve had olives ever. They are small things, green or black. Very salty.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, but Jeremy said, “Those black ring things, your Grandpa gets them on pizza.”
“Oh, those things. I know those. Grandpa likes them on pizza. I pick them off because they look like slimy, burned Cheerios.”
“Yes, well, Jeremy liked them a lot. You should try them.”
“OK! Do you have any olives?”
“Do I—no, not now. Here’s your apple. Come sit down. Do you want peanut butter?”
I said, “Yes, thank you,” and she brought it over to us.
“Sit down, both of you. Jeremy, do you want—”
“Mom! These are green! I hate green apples. Where’s the red ones?”
“Oh, did you want a red one? Jeremy, you didn’t say. Well, come here, pick one out. I’ll cut you a red one.”
Now I was in a pickle. Not really, I was in a kitchen chair, but in a pickle is a figure of speech. That is something my Grandpa says, too. I was in a pickle because I also hated green apples. I didn’t want to complain, but I wanted to make sure that if Jeremy was getting red ones, I got one too. But I had already put peanut butter on mine, so I felt it would be a waste.
“What, Dorothy? Do you need a red one too?” I looked down at my plate and back at her. She looked ugly right then. Her eyes were half open and her mouth looked upside down. I always thought she was frowning, but maybe that was just how she looked. I could tell she was angry.
“No … but, please, can I have some milk?”
“I’m just getting it. You and your milk. Jeremy, you want juice?”
I did love milk. Better than juice. I felt bad, jumping on the counter like that and making fun of Greece. My Mom looked like that sometimes, ugly and angry. I felt bad. I was mad at Jeremy for wanting a red apple. Why couldn’t he just have a green apple? Why didn’t he say what he remembered about Greece when his mom asked?
“Mrs. Paver, I’d like to try Greece food. I think I’d like to try it. Do you have an olive?”
“What, right now? I don’t have any open, Dorothy. I’m not opening a whole can of olives. Eat your apple. Here’s your milk.”
“Greece is really lovely. They have sun all the time, imagine that! Though, your skin, you’d have to be careful.”
I looked at my skin, it looked fine to me. But what did I know. How did she know about my skin—what did she know that I didn’t?
“Mom got sunburned, didn’t you, Mom?” Jeremy grabbed his juice and sucked it through the straw. They had those juice boxes that were really cool—you put a straw in them, they were silver on the outside. My Mom only got the worst juice, the worst. That is why I liked milk, so I wouldn’t have to drink that juice my Mom sent.
“I didn’t get sunburned, I was just out a bit too long. The sun is so strong there. Remember what I told you about the sun, why it’s so strong?”
“Mom got sunburned and had a line on her back. Show us the line, Mom?”
“No. Because we’re closer to the sun there. So it is stronger, it’s not like here.”
“Do you have my skin, Mrs. Paver? Is that why you got burned?” Maybe she knew about my skin because we had the same skin.
“No. See how white yours is, Dorothy?”
I looked at my arm. It didn’t look white, not white like the cow udder buildings in Greece. It looked more pink. I wasn’t quite sure. I looked at Mrs. Paver’s skin. She had a lot showing under her chin and above her shirt. It was the color of the ham Mom makes at Easter. I said that to her.
“A ham? Gee, thanks.”
I nodded. It felt good to make her smile, for once. I think she was smiling.
“Mom! Dorothy’s family goes to a lake for vacation. They all go up, lots of them, and to a place on a lake and fish and stuff.”
I nodded. He was right. In fact, our lake vacation was coming up soon. I liked it. I had cousins, and Grandpa went and Mom and Dad. And Dad sat around in these colored metal chairs that made noise when you moved in them. His shirt was open, and he drank beer (I hated beer. Grandpa gave me one once and it was horrible), but the big cooler with beer always had lots of Snickers, really cold, so I liked that. I could eat one for breakfast if I wanted.
And we went swimming in the lake. You had to go out on the dock to get to where the swimming was good. If you waded in from the shore, you sunk in the muck—that is what it’s called when there is no sandy bottom—and you got leeches. Leeches are so gross, they are slimy, black things that stick to you, and Mom had to pull them off with toilet paper and then you bled. It doesn’t hurt, though, but they are so ugly. They look like olives.
Dad was always talking about sandy bottoms because our neighbors had one, or made one, and we didn’t. Dad always got upset about that.
I was glad Jeremy said this about the lake because he and I had talked about it, and he wanted to come, and my Mom said it was all right.
“Mom, can I go with Dorothy to the lake?”
“What? You can’t just invite yourself on another family’s vacation, Jeremy.”
“No. Dorothy asked me. Can I go?“ I nodded, this was all true. My Mom had said it was all right.
“No, I don’t think so. You have soccer camp, remember? You love soccer camp, you don’t want to miss that.” Soccer camp sounded like fun. I knew Jeremy didn’t like it much, but it still sounded like fun. “And then after that, we’re going to Marley Beach. Remember? That’s in Bermuda, Dorothy. Jeremy, your Dad is so excited. We couldn’t go last year because of the storm.”
Mrs. Paver was doing dishes or wiping the counter or something, so she wasn’t looking at us. Jeremy made a face at me, kinda like he was upset for a second about not going and then remembered he did like Bermuda and that was all OK. I didn’t know where Bermuda was, but it must be nicer than Greece because Jeremy was much more excited about it.
“I’ve never been to Marley Beach.”
“Very nice. We go each summer. Lots of sun, like Greece, but they have beaches there, unlike Greece. Lots of sandy beaches, great swimming. Jeremy learned to swim in Bermuda—remember, Jeremy?”
As she spoke, Mrs. Paver began taking things out of the fridge, food. I think she was thinking about dinner. I wondered what she was making, but there were a lot of large bowls, and I couldn’t see inside. Then she turned on the stove. It clicked, and whooshed, and the flame heated a big pot. I didn’t know what was in it.
Then there was part of me, a small part, I don’t know…. It occurred to me that maybe the Pavers would invite me to Bermuda.
I didn’t know where it was, or what it was, but it sounded pretty neat. And I could certainly swim fine—they wouldn’t have to teach me. I thought maybe she didn’t know, so I told her.
“I learned to swim at the lake. It’s not easy because you can’t go in from the shore because of the muck and the leeches. You have to jump off the dock. But I can dive off, I could dive when I was five years old.”
I looked at Jeremy. He was eating his red apple, probably thinking about Bermuda. I looked at Mrs. Paver, who was cutting things with a loud knife.
“Are all the buildings white, too? In Bermuda?”
Jeremy nodded and ate a piece of apple. He made a face, opened his mouth, and spit the apple out into his hand, a long string of spit connected to his mouth. Because … I don’t know why, he just did. Then he took the bit he spit out and put it on the table. It was just sitting there, chewed-up apple. I thought it was gross, so I handed him my napkin. He didn’t seem to understand, so I took my napkin back and covered it, the half-chewed apple.
“Some are white. But not like Greece.” Mrs. Paver was oblivious to the apple situation on the table and was still answering my question about Greece. Or Bermuda, I forget what I had asked, and I had only said it to be nice. All I could think about was the chewed-up apple, it was really grossing me out. Finally, I stood up, pushing back my chair and taking the chewed-up apple, with the napkin, over to the trash.
“Excuse me, where is your trash can?”
Mrs. Paver was peeling carrots over the sink. She leaned back from her waste to make room, indicating the trash can was in front of her, under the sink. I bent forward to put it in the can, her pant leg touched my shoulder.
“You don’t want the rest of your food?”
I stood up and she moved back close to the sink. I smiled. Her face was still ugly, though. She smiled back, quickly, then her face re-frowned, and she peeled carrots, really fast, I mean really fast. Click, click, click they went. I didn’t answer, that it wasn’t my apple, that I had finished mine even though I didn’t like it, that it was her son’s and he spit it out, that he didn’t have a napkin and I had cleaned it up for him. I just looked at her and smiled. Tried to think of something else nice to say but I couldn’t think of anything.
“You peel those carrots really fast.”
“Yes. We’re going to have dinner soon. Speaking of which, do you know if your Mom is coming to get you, or do I need to drive you home?”
She didn’t invite me to Bermuda or Greece. Not that day, not any day. Jeremy went to summer camp and sunny places like Bermuda, and I went to the lake. Life has a way of happening, especially when you are young.
That was the last summer we were friends, though we saw each other in school and we weren’t enemies. Soon after, Grandpa died, and that is all I can remember from that year. Memories have a way of taking over truth like mad tyrants, and I don’t like to let them.
I don’t think Aristotle was right about the single soul. I don’t. But if he was right, it wasn’t fair. To my soul, I mean. I think my soul had a lot more fun in Jeremy’s body than it ever did in mine.
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