It was almost September. I was entering fourth grade; my sister, Lucy, and our friend Paige were entering fifth.
That summer, Paige’s uniform was khaki pants, a thin pastel headband, and Merrells. She was obedient and immune to pain, and she was forever inventing worlds to make our lives more interesting.
We took a few shutters and nailed them together (a task that earned Paige two throbbing and swollen thumbs) to use as a bench in our tree. After that, we built Skedaddle, a complex of tough white rope tied again and again among the branches of a tree until it was as stable as a jungle gym. We fashioned a primitive, bucket-based bathroom in the basement. We built a maze-like obstacle course with strategically placed mints for incentive. We posted fliers all over town for the course, aimed at children who (shockingly) never came.
Fittingly, it was Paige who spotted Squishy Lummox as we were walking along the sidewalk to the elementary school’s back field.
“Guys, wait,” she said in her signature Paige voice, a cross between a whine and a mouthful of something sticky. “Take a gander at this.”
It was an enormous caterpillar-slug hybrid, neon green, plump, and corrugated. It was, in my memory of it, at least eight inches long. The caterpillar showed no signs of life, but it didn’t seem dead, either, so we maneuvered him into a shoebox and brought him—slightly wet and with two blank black dots for eyes—home.
We plucked some grass and constructed a water dish out of a leaf that curved upwards. When that was done, we set about naming our new pet.
“How about Squishy?” Lucy suggested.
It was good, but it wasn’t original enough; the three of us prided ourselves on our unwillingness to bend to the naming trends of the graceless ten-year-old masses.
“No,” Paige said. “Let’s call him Squishy Lummox, because he’s squishy, but he’s also slow and clumsy.”
We stared down at Squishy Lummox, who was lying motionless on the thin layer of grass in the shoebox.
After a heated debate, we decided that Squishy Lummox would live under the shade of a stout Japanese tree. It was our secret meeting spot, a hideaway just big enough for the three of us. We placed the box gingerly under the tree and played another game, probably one involving hanging unstable buckets from trees, acting out the Nancy Drew book series, or coaxing Paige to eat the mold from the ceiling of the basement.
We forgot about Squishy Lummox until the day before school started, about a week later. I don’t recall who eventually remembered him; it might have been a joint chorus of panic: “SQUISHY LUMMOX!”
We three dashed to our small red Japanese tree and pawed through its branches, frantic with worry. One of us found the shoebox and snatched it, setting it on the grass. Our three heads knocked together over it, our hair—Lucy’s and mine dark brown, Paige’s sandy blond—draping over the carcass.
Squishy Lummox was undoubtedly dead. He was brownish and dried out. His skin had cracked like chapped lips. His little mouth was even parted in a parched O, as though he had died asking for water.
Immediately, we launched into a cacophony of blame for Squishy Lummox’s death, hurling accusations rapid-fire.
“You didn’t give him enough water!”
“You were so stupid to think that the tree would give him enough shade!”
“You didn’t even love him!”
When we were tired of squabbling, we gave Squishy Lummox a half-assed burial (a hole two inches deep, a small mound of dirt, and a popsicle stick to mark the spot where Squishy Lummox’s rock-solid corpse would rest in peace) and moved on to wheedling Paige to squirm through a thin, rusty pipe at the beach to prove that she was indeed a daredevil.
It was our last almost-September together. The following year, Lucy and I started at a different school, leaving Paige to brave public middle school by herself. When she fell into a crowd of girls who eventually abandoned her, Lucy and I went over to her house to cook ramen noodles and watch “That’s So Raven.” Paige buried the headbands and the Merrells. She tried her hand at applying mascara.
When Paige was entering ninth grade, she announced that she would be trying out for cheerleading. It was just a joke, she said, a game to see what would happen. Lucy and I watched in bemused dismay as she practiced her cheers: rolling out the barrel; the “hello” ditty to greet the opposing team; sacking that quarterback; the touchdown celebration. Her mouth was set in determination, her hair was tied back in a ponytail secured with a red ribbon, and her nails bore a coat of pale pink polish. The little changes betrayed something we didn’t want to unearth: that maybe Paige’s transformation wasn’t such a game after all.
Paige made the squad and donned her new uniform on game days. It was a death of another sort, not as dramatic as Squishy Lummox’s but mourned all the same. When Paige left, I cornered Lucy to express my alarm at Paige’s rapid transformation.
“I guess,” Lucy said, “she’s reinventing herself.”
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.