We are in the last days of camp. There have been goodbyes already, of children from families who summer here or who are taking a last-minute vacation before September. Most of the staff will go back to school as well, or to an indoors version of their job that swaps glitter and sweat for project reports and funding applications. Soon, I’ll leave Ithaca entirely and go back to school myself. There’s a bittersweet urgency to the water fight today, and the staff laugh with quick forgiveness even as they smell the tadpole water rising from their clothing. It’s not too late though, for new connections. Sarah has been coming all summer but we haven’t talked much. I walk past the hammocks and, when she asks, give hers a push.
“Thanks, Audrey!” she says, and I laugh. “Why are you laughing?”
“I like that you call me that sometimes,” I say. She looks confused as the branch bounces back and forth, describing a loose arc against the earth. I push her again.
“But isn’t that your name?”
“No,” I say and she starts cracking up. The sound rings out, and sparrows fly up from where they’ve been nesting in the straw. She snorts, first like someone-who-snorts-comically-when-they-laugh and then deliberately like a pig.
“You do it,” she says, and I do. We snort at each other for a few minutes. A boy digging in the dirt a few feet away hears us and looks over, snorts. We snort back, in a friendly way, then the boy looks down and we return to our conversation.
“Why did I think it was Audrey?” she asks, laughing at herself.
“I don’t know!” I say, laughing back and giving her another push on the swing. She flies up and back, deep in thought.
“Maybe it’s the way you talk,” she says. “Say, have you seen that movie? Fiddler on the Roof?”
“YES.” I shout with huge and stunned excitement, then add much more quietly, “I have seen it.”
“Good,” she says. “That song, how does it go? If I were a wealthy? Rich?”
“If I were a rich man,” I sing and she joins me for the ya da da da da. We sing together and after a moment I hear her sing “If I were wealthy, I’d be a very very rich man” so I repeat that phrase with her and we harmonize (or as near as either of us could manage such a thing). She looks over my shoulder, towards the other girls at the picnic table.
“Do you want to make something?” Embroidery threads are tumbling thick and brilliant from a tupperware container.
“How about a bracelet,” I suggest. We find a place at the table and she touches her throat, where twenty or so pink threads are bound together in a huge, complicated bundle. Beads are woven in and it is tied with a huge, fluffy knot.
“I can make you one of these,” she says. “And if I show you how to do it, then you’ll know.”
“That would be awesome,” I say. “I love jewelry, and learning stuff.” She nods and tells me to pick five colors.
I choose, three kinds of green plus yellow and pink, and she shows me how to weave them together. The sun is hot on the back of my neck, the wood of the picnic table rough beneath my fingertips as I hold the knot still for her.
“I invented this knot,” she says, drawing the threads through loops, hands moving like ballerinas. “It’s really simple but it looks fancy. So, do you think you’ll get married?” It’s a good non sequester, as things go, and I decide to answer honestly.
“No,” I say. “Not really. How about you?”
“Well,” she says, “I want a baby, so I’ll have to get married.”
“Not necessarily,” I reply. She thinks about this.
“No, I guess you can adopt, too.”
“That’s true,” I say. “That’s what I’d like to do.” She looks at me skeptically, appraising.
“You’ll be pretty busy though.”
“That’s true, too.” I say while thinking, this is the exact conversation I have with myself in the night.
She ties off the bracelet and stands up, asking me if I want a piggyback. I’ll be honest, it’s not often that I get to ride a seven year old around like a Shetland pony, and its hilarious. Sarah is rightly proud of being able to lift me up, and likes to shout for people to watch her do it. I feel like a carnival sideshow, clinging on with my arms and legs as she runs in a small circle. She puts me back down, and we return to the table so she can tie the bracelet onto my wrist.
“Sometimes people take a friendship bracelet and say that they’ll wear it, but they take it off or give it away. If I make you this bracelet, would you sell it or anything?” I shake my head.
“Sometimes my family comes here, outside of camp. We might be here next week.”
“I might be here too,” I said. “There’s one more week of camp to go.” She nods.
“But probably I’ll be here next summer. Usually I am. Are you going to be?”
“I hope so,” I say. “I’d like that.” She nods and I lift my wrist, jangle the coordinating beads she’s tied onto the ends of it. “You’ll see me wearing this bracelet,” I promise. And she grins.