Summer of Joy was selected as the winner of The Waking's Flash Prose Prize in Fiction/Nonfiction
If "wonder" lived in a bottle, & you shook it out–this story is what you'd get. It's joy, just pure joy. I found myself smacked with a smile by all the playfulness and the imagination. My favorite part: " Quick, we have to drink the last of the rain. It's the sweetest." Such fantastic fun I didn't want to end.
—JJ Peña, contest judge
Me and my older brother Joey are sitting under the back porch during an afternoon thunderstorm. Our parents are at work and Joey’s looking after me. He says the rain is typing out sentences on the porch roof above us and if we concentrate hard, we can make out the story. I listen as I watch water pour down like a snake from the missing gutter spout.
This is our secret spot. We found an old silver dollar here last year while digging a hole for our time capsule. During storms, we like to imagine we’re in a boat at sea, the only ones left alive. That’s when Joey becomes Joy. When I told him once he couldn’t change like that, he said, Yes I can, because this is a magic boat—plus, who doesn’t want joy?
Today, I tell Joy I’m getting hungry.
Close your eyes and wait, Joy says, and something will appear.
The rain is beating like a drum in my ears. I wait and wait, eyes closed, trying to figure out the sentences until finally Joy says I can look. She’s now wearing a yellow dress I’ve never seen before. In her hands is a banana and a small bag of oatmeal cookies.
Where did you—?
Joy raises her hand. Magic, she says.
I smile and eat a cookie until a bolt of lightning strikes close, and I jump.
Don’t be scared, Joy says. The lightning’s recharging the Earth, so that the planet doesn’t stop spinning. Otherwise, we’d fall off.
I smile and peel back the banana. We sit there silently, me eating and Joy in her dress, both of us trying to make sense of the patter on the roof.
After a while, the tapping slows down, and Joy says, Quick, we have to drink the last of the rain. It’s the sweetest.
We scurry from under the porch and dance in circles, our eyes shut, our tongues out, our faces pointing to the sky. I stomp in the puddles, the mudgrass squishing between my toes.
When the rain stops, Joy says, Let’s make a rain man.
What’s that? I say.
Like a snowman, but with rain.
Nut-uh, I say, knowing she can’t do it, but still, I watch as Joy tries to gather water from puddles, as if she’s going to roll it up into a ball. Her dress is wet and muddy and clings to her legs, but she looks so beautiful and happy.
Can we put fish inside the rain man? I ask, playing along.
Anything’s possible, Joy says.
Suddenly I feel the wind through my soaked shirt. I tell Joy I’m cold.
Joy stands up. Well then, we’ll start a fire.
With a firefly!
I know not to doubt her, but still I say, There’s no dry wood.
Just then the kitchen light turns on. They’re home.
Quick, Joy says. Run to the time capsule. There’ll be dry wood in the past, before the storm.
I follow her under the porch and help her dig up the cardboard box we buried, where I hid a new shiny penny and an old doll, and Joey hid a letter to me in the future and some of his old boy clothes.
The porch door swings open and I hear footsteps above us. I shiver, feeling the energy drain from the day, as Joy changes before me as fast as he can.
Nathan Alling Long grew up in a log cabin in rural Appalachia, worked for a few years on a queer commune in Tennessee, and now lives in Philadelphia. Their work appears on NPR and in over a hundred publications, including Tin House, Glimmer Train, Witness, and Story Quarterly. Their collection, The Origin of Doubt, was a 2019 Lambda Literary Award finalist, and their current manuscript, The Empty Garden, was a semi-finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award. Other awards include a Truman Capote Literary Scholarship, a Mellon Foundation grant, and four Pushcart nominations, and scholarships to Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers’ conferences
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