For a child in elementary school, a day in the middle of summer is an invincible island surrounded by both wonder at the unknown and disregard for anything unpleasant. The last day of school was weeks ago and is little more that a quickly dismissed memory. The beginning of the next school year is in the future. The future meant flying cars and Mars Colonies. September was invisible and unknowable. If it wasn’t happening right now or as soon as the cool of the coming evening, it didn’t exist. Yet while the unpleasant was never considered, any type of wondrous possibility could happen. Evil robots may have replaced the neighbors in the house with the surrounding eight foot wall. A lightning bolt could have almost hit one of us had it not been for a quick dive onto a rubber inner tube. And we all wanted to believe that a giant squid had actually come up out of the local lake and sat on our friend’s face. If he told us its butt stank, we had to believe.
One afternoon while reveling in nothing to do, a friend came into the yard and announced to us that he had found a dead bird. I don’t think I had ever seen anything dead before and didn’t know if any of my friends had either. We were all about 7 or 8 years old. When we played dead in pretend games we copied how actors in the movies did it, splayed out, eyes closed. But most of the time we couldn’t keep our upturned faces from grinning. Of course we all wanted to go see the dead bird.
I think there must have been 5 or 6 kids that set off from the green backyard, teaming with drifting cottonwood fluff, for the quiet afternoon street. There was at least one girl, an older sister. The sun was bright and no-one wore baseball caps back then unless they were in a game. I was the last in the group. Maybe I was a little scared of looking at something dead. We all followed our friend to a vacant lot. Nothing grew there, and at one corner everyone gathered and made a little circle. Dust rose with everyone footsteps. I moved into the circle and looked down. There was a little dead sparrow.
Its eyes were open to the bright daylight. I don’t remember seeing blood or anything broken looking. The only true sign that this bird was dead was that it was lying motionless on the hot dusty ground. I didn’t feel frightened. There was a little sense of awe and something else. Seeing something dead wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I felt just a little relief at this. I thought how uncomfortable the bird would be if it were alive. It must be really dead.
Apparently, however, the bird didn’t look dead enough for another boy and he reached forward to touch it.
“No!” the girl shouted. “Don’t touch it. You’ll get Fizzy-Whiz.”
Now I felt a little frightened. Dead things weren’t supposed to be scary, right? But what was Fizzy-Whiz?
Part of the group of kids looked shocked or as frightened as I felt. The boy with his hand stretched out to the bird, however, looked doubtful. His sister leaned in.
“Mom got Fizzy-Whiz once,” she said.
The boy withdrew his hand. At that moment of our hot dusty afternoon the magic of summer that made anything possible also made very real the condition known as Fizzy-Whiz. The circle around the dead bird widened. Perhaps for each young mind there was a different image of this syndrome. I think the more vivid someone’s imagination, the worse it could be. The boy who had been sat on by a squid almost leaped back.
Second grade started months later. Cavernous corridors and polished wooden floors replaced the infinite expanse of outside. The magic of summer and trepidation of dead things faded to sentence diagrams and word problems. And in the structure, security, and school bells, not everything was possible anymore. Everything must have a rule or reason. But sometimes the most awe-inspiring ideas cannot be squelched even there in the confines of a public education. Because the mystique of summer never completely faded that year. No-one ever even thought about touching a dead thing again.