All Summer In A Day is a short story by Ray Bradbury. It is one of my favorite short stories, although it is very sad. It seemed like an obvious starting point for this post. This year’s summer in Britain has been fleeting and intermittent; a few sunny days here and there with a lot of rain and cloud in between. I guess a lot of people assume British summers are always like this but they are not. This has been a particularly bad year. However today actually was one of those rare bright, hot and sunny days and unlike Margot in the short story; I had the opportunity to appreciate it.
It was already hot and sunny when I got up this morning so I went round to my Mum’s house which is virtually empty while we wait for it to be sold. I was supposed to be working, tidying and sorting things out but I decided to take the afternoon off. It was already very hot and sultry by then. A perfect summer’s afternoon requires the right set up.
Our garden is surrounded by hedges and because of the location it is quite private and secluded. This means I can sunbathe topless without fear of being overlooked by any Peeping Toms. So I took a couple of trays out to my favorite flat patch of grass. On one was some sun protection cream, a few other toiletries and a few towels. On the other was some pre-prepared Gin and Tonic in a flask with some ice, a glass, a packet of Marlboro Lites 100s, a little dish of olives in herb flavored oil and a book, “Brida” by Paulo Coelho. And then I relaxed and allowed my skin to cook.
I always start out reading as I lay in the sun. I never get more than a few pages though. Very quickly the smell and feel of the garden takes control of my thoughts and senses and I am gone… I don’t sleep I just drift and my imagination mixes up the present and the past.
The sun makes my bare skin tingle with heat and sweat. There is the slightest of breezes wafting over me. The air is sweet and heavy with the scent of grass and roses and the musty vanilla smell of my suntan cream… I am transported back to my childhood. I am playing chase in the garden with a neighbour the same age as me. My parents are shouting at us for running on the flower beds and damaging the roses. I am scratched and slightly bleeding where I brushed past some thorns, but I don’t care. I am breathless and laughing and the only thing on my mind is not letting Jane catch up with me… In the distance I hear the song of the Ice Cream van… “Mummy, Mummy, can I have one?” I cry as if it is the most important question ever asked. Moments later we are eating our 99 Cornets, the ones with the flake in them. I lick the ice cream off the crumbly chocolate stick. There is a whole at the bottom of the cornet and melting ice cream oozes down my hand…
A few years later and I am back in the garden. This time I am playing a more organised game of badminton with the local kids. I am one of the older ones now. I like impressing the younger ones with my acrobatic dives for the shuttlecock. I have bruises and grass stains all the way up my arms.
Then I’m seventeen. We are having a big family party in the garden. I am smoking and drinking and I have a boy-friend by my side. We kiss and cuddle and give each other knowing looks. I feel ever so grown up, but I am dying for one of my younger cousins to ask me to play with them.
My back is getting hot now. I turn over, sit up, adjust my sun glasses and apply some more sun cream. Then I pour myself a glass of deliciously cool G&T and light a cigarette. I think about reading my book again, but the sun and the memories are too overpowering.
I recall the different beaches I have played on, relaxed on… I remember our many visits to Italy, the beaches just outside Rome, running on the sand, swimming in the refreshing blue sea…
I remember my first time in Venice. I must have been about eighteen, strange that I hadn’t been there with my parents before… I was inter-railing. The train approached Venice via a long bridge out into the lagoon. It was an extremely hot day and a thin layer of mist hung over the water. In the distance the spires of the famous Venetian skyline poked out of the mist like a mirage. Once of the train I went and sat on the steps leading down to the Grand Canal. It was late afternoon, the sky was piercingly blue and the vista of Venice was like something out of a fairy tale. It still amazes me that human beings could build such and eccentric architectural masterpiece in the middle of a lagoon. The whole idea of it is crazy, preposterous… And yet it is there, and I remember sitting on those steps, transfixed by the whole scene for hours.
Back to the present, a slight tickle alerts me to the fact that a spider is crawling up my leg. There was a time when I would have screamed. These days I quite like them. I entice it onto my hand and then hold it up to examine it before gently encouraging it to scurry off into the grass.
I lie down again. Many more memories come and go. They make me smile, but eventually I just give in to this moment, to this summer’s day, to the sun on my skin, the breeze around my toes, the smell of the roses, the taste of olives and gin and tonic, the stickiness of the air, the buzz of the bees, the chirping of birds.
Before I drift off to sleep secure in the knowledge that the shadows of the rose bush will reach me before I am burned, I know that this moment will be added to my list of summer memories.