“Sear,” if it were an onomatopoeia, is the sound the smoke alarm makes: “Sear, Sear, Sear.” Scraping through the friction caused by the phlegm-thick air.
Steam curls from the cracked-open bathroom door. Seductive tendrils, smoke-like, deceptive. It is the steam which has set off the alarm, steam which cannot clear the stagnant air of the apartment.
Sweat pools at the base of my spine, clinging to my t-shirt as if in desperation, as the smoke alarm sears the air, protesting the lies it has been told. I flap a towel at it, my arm already tired before I raised it.
The alarm grinds through the air a long time.
A grey felted sky has been rolled over the city, and everything is dulled. The sky’s the color of an athletic sock, the kind you get in packs of six. It’s the color of the bottoms after one hike that stays even when they are “clean.” The day feels used before it has really begun. It feels like second-hand cigarette smoke tastes.
Heat turns our conversations into repetition. People arrive at the office.
“It’s a hot one out there today.”
“Ugh, my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning.”
“It’s boiling out.”
“It’s a real scorcher.”
We have this conversation every morning. And it is two minutes so, whatever. It’s not really wasted time. Like how calories don’t count if you just nibble at the brownie.
“What can I do to cool my house down?” I ask.
“There’s nothing you can do about it.”
We talk like fans. Our conversations rotate through heat, fans, and resignation, heat, fans, resignation.
Hot air cycled back, blown over us, and cycled back.
In Colorado, all you ever hear is:
“Well, at least it is dry heat.”
But I remember the rainy summer, when thunder cracked the sky like a glow stick on long summer evenings rushed into the wild darkness of stampeding storms, which we saw from inside, where, spread out on the floor, we listened to my mom read Narnia as understanding of the symbols sprung up like the dandelions that would crowd each other in every sidewalk crack in the morning. We knew all the secret meanings of the world, then, after we discovered words could mean two things at once.
Everything feels like newsprint on my fingers, now. It leaves a residue on me. Like the papers I used to start the stove the summers worked at the historical house. But there are other warm stories, other words we can burn.
I wait for the glow of sunset to leave the blinds before I open the window. Then I wait for a breeze to come through. Facebook scrolls up before my eyes, but I am going so quickly and so numbly, it doesn’t even feel like I’m doing it. I don’t even know if I’m scrolling into what I saw last night. It all looks familiar. Area 51. “The Border.” Heat from the computer soaks into my thighs. But I do not move. It’s too hot to move. I could get up. But I sit in the discomfort, I’ll sit in it all night. And I could get up and try something, but even getting up to refill my water is a chore.
“It’s boiling out,” I tell my roommate.
“It’s so hot,” she says.
We look at the window, willing cooler air through it.
I turn on the kitchen light and look up, my sweaty feet stick on the floor. I watch the blades of the ceiling fan turn, dragging each other through the air. I remember when we were small and we thought what fun it would be to ride it. We tied string to a laundry basket and stood on all our library books stacked on a wobbly chair and taped it to the blades with a chip of scotch less sticky than the popsicle rings around our lips. We would fly.
It is too expensive to fly in the summer. We know. We are grown now. Electricity is expensive, too. I shut off the fan.
I lay in the dark, but I am not naked. My window overlooks the street where the soft rumble of bad motors and good stereos murmurs like arrhythmia in the fevered night. What if someone were to see through the window? My nakedness is precious to me, but I feel my dirtiest, my grossest on summer nights. Last weekend, when we finished moving in, we couldn’t use the shower for three days. That was the worst.
I pull up the clammy sheets even as they stick to me. This is the melted Eden, shame clutching a shroud drifting off because there is nothing else to do except wait for a change in the wind.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.