This summer city heat. Enough.
In the cool catacombs of my memory, summer is different. Farmstands of peaches shaded by oak trees. June bugs losing their way. The swimming pool concessions stand with its licorice ropes and Sweet Tarts. Corn-on-the-cob turned in butter. The hum of insects surrounding dusky porches. Thunderstorms approaching with a warning rumble over the hills. The desparation of a hand-cranked window to pull the heat from the back seat of a parking lot car, even as our teeth chatter, our hair still wet from swim practice.
Not this heat, this stifling, ever-present, concrete-bound heat.
Two nights in a row last week I slept on my camping mattress in the front room, trying to imagine away the sweat tracing a sleepy path down my neck. The skins of peaches pucker on the kitchen counter, cold water runs warm and the lights flicker, threatening 2003 all over again. Outdoor tables at restaurants sit empty, challenging. Everyone walks more slowly, moisture forming Rorschach images on the backs of their shirts.
I'm hot. I'm unbearably hot.
In a booth at Prime Meats, sitting behind a cucumber garnished cocktail and a tray of oysters on ice, I whip out a fan, trying to pass it off as a sartorial eccentricity until I'm offered an ice-cold wet towel from the freezer by one of the waiters. "You look like you could do with this."
Never let them see you sweat, we were told. I pretend we're in a Fitzgerald novel, languishing on couches and holding condensating glasses to our foreheads. The air conditioner is doing its best, but even its best is not enough. When a cold towel is offered to my booth neighbors, I advise them to hold it against the crook of their elbows. The woman declines, even as sweat begins to collect at the nape of her neck.
We hope for rain. It comes, and for a moment, the oppression is lifted. And then the sidewalk sizzles the droplets away, traffic whizzes again down the streets, slowing wipers and scattering the moisture in the wake of hot, puffing tailpipes. The whole city is wrung dry like a wet towel, and then left carelessly on a radiator.
The trees are shedding their leaves. We are shedding our layers. Bare shoulders trying not to touch each other on buses. Shirts desparately unbuttoned, hair lifted high off the neck. Toes peeking out from every shoe. How much more can we take off?
How much more can we take?
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.