Tucked away behind a beige-box subdivision somewhere in a Wal-Mart suburb of an affluent Midwestern city, there’s a small neighborhood park. It’s your run-of-the-mill lower-middle-class affair, complete with four neglected swing sets, a wooden picnic shelter, two overgrown soccer fields and an undersized baseball diamond. During the day, it plays host to local middle school kids, Little League games, yoga-pants joggers, white-sneaker walkers, and moms chasing strollers. At night, it’s empty.
Late on a warm evening in the heart of summer, as the crickets sing and the stars begin to paint the sky, a pair of bright headlights slowly pans across the park. A navy blue, mid-2000s Honda Accord pulls into the gravel lot adjacent to the picnic shelter, the driver door opens and out steps a tall, handsome young man of about 20. Sporting a t-shirt, shorts, white socks, black shoes and a farmer’s tan, he could be the poster-boy for Middle America if it weren’t for his slightly awkward gait, inset jaw and misaligned teeth. He picks his steps carefully as he walks around the front of the car, making sure to roll his shoulders back, stand up straight, and scan the dim horizon confidently. Placing his hand on the handle of the passenger door, he gently pulls and out slips a tall, slender young woman of about the same age. Jeans, t-shirt, nondescript shoes, hair in a bun and a cheap faux-gold cross around her neck, she could be the poster-girl for Middle America if it weren’t for the grace which guides her every gesture, the sparkle which glints in her eyes when she smirks, and the music which escapes her lips when she speaks. She’s too good for that town, but she doesn’t know it. All she knows is that she’s in love with the boy who’s holding her door. She slips her delicate fingers between his, and the two of them wander aimlessly through the field, whispering and smiling affectionately.
Eventually, they end up laying on the luscious grass, ear-to-ear, cheek-to-cheek, gazing up at the stars. They ponder their dreams, their desires, and the life they will one day share. The wedding will have to wait until she finishes school and until his dreams start paying more than dimes, but none of that matters right now. For a moment, they’re at peace. The frustrations of his job are drowned out by the dull hum of a distant highway, and the pressures of her classes are lifted by the expanse of the sky. For a moment, the world is theirs. For a moment in July.
Late on a cool evening in the heart of the summer, while the wind howls and the rain washes the dust from the bleachers, a pair of dim headlights quickly pans across the park. A white, mid-90s Chevy Camaro with two black stripes rolls into the gravel lot, the driver door opens and out slips the young man, his hoodie offering feeble protection as he rushes towards the picnic shelter. There awaiting him is the young woman, slightly bowed and tense, protecting her body from the rain and her heart from a moment she wishes had never come. They sit next to each other, neither close nor far, and resume a conversation which had been too much for the phone. Just moments ago he had told himself he could accept the result of this meeting, whatever it was. But now, as he looks into her disconsolate eyes, his resolve disappears. She’s the best thing that will ever happen to him, and he simply can’t let her go. He begins to remind her of magical memories and unexplored horizons, fighting desperately to keep the flame of their love alive. Her unsure expression slowly begins to melt away, and she weeps.
Eventually, the two of them end up ear-to-ear, cheek-to-cheek, caught up in each other’s arms. They wonder how they ever got here, and swear that they’ll never go back. For a moment, they’re at peace. The uncertainty of the future is overpowered by the roar of the thunder and rain, and for a moment, the world is theirs. For a moment in July.
Years later, on a warm evening in the heart of summer, when it’s too hot for jeans and too cool for shorts, a pair of bright white headlights slowly pans across the park. A sapphire blue coupe with out-of-state tags pulls into the gravel lot adjacent to the picnic shelter, the driver door opens and out steps the young man. He walks around the front of the car, stepping carelessly and scanning the dim horizon, a wistful smile touching the edges of his lips. Placing his hand on the handle of the passenger door, he gently pulls, and from the seat he lifts an old, oversized comforter. He shuts the door, and plots an aimless course for the middle of the field. There, using the blanket to shield his clothes from the stain of the newly-cut grass, he gazes up at the stars, pondering the expanse of the universe and his place in all of it. Somewhere on the other side of town, a baby cries, and the young woman looks with amazement into the eyes of her newborn child, and then with an inexpressible joy into the eyes of her husband. But here, behind a beige-box subdivision somewhere in a Wal-Mart suburb of an affluent Midwestern city, the young man lies alone in the small neighborhood park.
A single shooting star slowly crosses the night sky, burning brightly before sputtering and disappearing just above the horizon. The young man smiles in wonder at the simple beauty of the moment. Then, with a sigh, he rises to his feet, folds up the blanket, and with long, steady strides makes his way back to the car. The engine hums, the tires roll, dust hangs in the air, and before he turns left out of the parking lot, the young man steals one last glance at the field. He slowly applies pressure to the petal, turning West one final time, and leaving behind a moment – a moment in July.
Inspired by the song July by Julian Smith: