The sun blared down, drowning out colors and sharpening shapes and flattening everything into paper cutouts giving off shimmering heatwaves that were liquid rainbow invisible.
“It would be better if there were clouds,” Jenn groaned.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Brian retorted, languid as a heat-overwhelmed lizard. “Then it would just be humid, too.”
“I can’t believe we moved here,” she groaned (something that happened at least once a day). As always, she looked at the house, fake adobe with just enough texture that everyone could pretend it wasn’t mass produced. It was worse in there, of course, but she could wish they had a working air conditioning or even a swamp cooler. Or that there were clouds—they were in the shade anyway, of course, in the bush-sized mesquite tree’s shelter, but at least clouds would keep the sun from heating everything to a burns-at-the-touch heat that radiated back at them all as the day went on.
“When do classes start?”
“August 10. Why are you reminding me?”
“Because you can always go up there and use the library for … something. That’s air conditioned.”
“I don’t even have money for the bus. I just got fired, remember?”
“What about the corner store?”
“They kick you out after ten minutes. And I know it’s only a block away, but walking in this heat is not worth ten minutes.” Even sitting in the shade was exhausting; the heat seemed to suck her energy dry as the desert air. She’d thought Pittsburgh summers were bad—but days like this, she’d give anything to have humidity paired with below-90 weather! She’d even take back the snow and ice and awful driving.
“I’m gonna go get us some water.”
“’Kay.” Even Brian moved slowly, as if through tar—of course, the street outside had almost liquefied back to tar. The reminder didn’t help.
The heat weighed her down; memories of summers back home, of garden beds bursting with flowers and vegetables and of that special fresh, dewy smell of summer mornings as the sun came up, would have made her cry if not for the sucking heat. Perhaps that night, tossing and turning and slithering with sweat.
She fingered the keychain she’d gotten on her first day of work—even the cheap plastic was hot! This state—she didn’t finish the thought, couldn’t think of anything serious enough.
Could you drown in heat? It was suffocating.
“How do you survive?” Brian was back; he handed her a chipped pink plastic glass, then sat down with his own blue one, misshapen by a broken dishwasher years ago.
“You get used to it, I guess,” he shrugged. “And never do anything once the sun comes up unless it’s dire.”
“When do you have to go to work?”
“A few hours.”
“Thanks for coming by to hang out. I really appreciate it.”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “No problem.”
“I mean it.”
“Me, too. I miss seeing you around.”
“I just got fired,” Jenn corrected, but she was almost laughing for a second.
“I am sorry about that.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. But still.”
They both let the heat crush them for a few minutes. Jenn drank most of the water in one prolonged series of gulps. It was a relief to set it down; her fingers were sticky-slick with sweat. “This is stupid, okay? Don’t laugh at me.”
“Okay,” Jenn promised as Brian stood up.
“I found these on the kitchen counter inside, and I thought you could use a cloud.” He held up a cotton ball, pulled apart to resemble a mythically perfect cloud, complete with wispy edges. His hand turned dark with the sun’s intensity, his fingers stuck out oddly, and the cotton-ball cloud was far too solid when placed against the porcelain sky—but she smiled.
“It’s not stupid.”
Thanks for reading! I wrote this as part of Rosalie Valentine’s The Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. Head there over the weekend to see what else people wrote for the challenge.
EDIT: Here is a link to all of the entries to the Dash.
And, for the curious, here is my prompt for the story: