“The Summer People”

by Kelly Link

Fran’s daddy woke her up wielding a mister. “Fran,” he said, spritzing her like a wilted houseplant. “Fran, honey. Wake up for just a minute.”

Fran had the flu, except it was more like the flu had Fran. In consequence of this she’d laid out of school for three days in a row. The previous night she’d taken four Nyquil and fallen asleep on the couch, waiting for her daddy to come home while a man on the TV pitched throwing knives. Her head felt stuffed with boiled wool and snot. Her face was wet with watered-down plant food. “Hold up,” she croaked. “I’m awake!” She began to cough, so hard she had to hold her sides. She sat up.

Her daddy was a dark shape in a room full of dark shapes. The bulk of him augured trouble. The sun weren’t up the mountain yet, but there was a light in the kitchen. There was a suitcase, too, beside the door, and on the table a plate with a mess of eggs. Fran reckoned she was starving.

Her daddy went on. “I’ll be gone some time. A week or three. Not more. You’ll take care of the summer people while I’m gone. The Roberts come up next weekend. You’ll need to get their groceries tomorrow or next day. Make sure you check the expiration date on the milk when you buy it, and put fresh sheets on all of the beds. I’ve left the house schedule on the counter, and there should be enough gas in the car to make the rounds.”

“Wait,” Fran said. Every word hurt. “Where are you going?”

He sat down on the couch beside her, then pulled something from out under of him. He held it out on his palm, one of Fran’s old toys, the monkey egg. “Now you know I don’t like these. I wish you’d put em away.”

“There’s lots of stuff I don’t like,” Fran said. “Where you going?”

“Prayer meeting in Miami. Found out about it on the internet,” her daddy said. He shifted on the couch, put a hand against her forehead, so cool and soothing it made her eyes leak. “You don’t feel near so hot right now. Joanie’s giving me a ride down. You know I need to get right with God.” Joanie was his sometime girlfriend.

“I know you need to stay here and look after me,” Fran said. “You’re my daddy.”

“Now how can I look after you if I’m not right?” he said. “You don’t know the things I’ve done.”

Fran didn’t know, but she could guess. “You went out last night,” she said. “You were drinking.”

Her daddy spread out his hands. “I’m not talking about last night,” he said. “I’m talking about a lifetime.”

“That is — ” Fran said, and then began to cough again. She coughed so long and so hard she saw bright stars. Despite the hurt in her ribs, and despite the truth every time she managed to suck in a good pocket of air she coughed it all right back out again, the Nyquil made it all seem so peaceful her daddy might as well have been saying a poem. Her eyelids were closing. Later, when she woke up, maybe he would make her breakfast.

“I left two hundred dollar bills by the stovetop,” he said. “Which leaves me but fifty for gas money and prayer offerings. Never mind, though, the Lord will provide. Andy will let you put groceries and such on the tab. Any come around, you tell em I’m gone on ahead. Ary man tells you he knows the hour or the day, Fran, that man’s a liar or a fool. All a man can do is be ready.”

He patted her on the shoulder, tucked the counterpane up around her ears. When she woke up again, it was late afternoon and her daddy was long gone. Her temperature was 102.3. All across her cheeks the plant mister had left a red raised rash.


About the Author

Kelly Link is the author of three collections of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. Her short stories have won three Nebulas, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award. She was born in Miami, Florida, and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question “Why do you want to go around the world?” (”Because you can’t go through it.”) Link and her family live in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press, and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.