Fiction

Heat Wave

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 FICTION









Heat Wave by Justin Tussing      


Edie Applewhite had been widowed for almost three years. She sat at the kitchen table in a summer dress, holding a BlueCross pen, while sweat from her palms blotted a piece of bathroom-tissue-pink stationary. The soft flesh of her biceps hung off her arms in twin waddles; blue veins marbled her skin.

    
Mr. Pip was Edie’s only companion. A West Highland terrier, he sat beneath her chair. It was one hundred and twenty inside the room. The temperature had been climbing since yesterday, when the air

conditioner had shorted out.

    
It was the middle of a heat wave. It had been hot for days, but the little air conditioner had kept
it at bay. When it shorted, it tripped the circuit breaker in the basement. The heat, which had been growing in the attic like cancer, descended.

    
Edie stared at the plaster ceiling, where sunlight reflected from the sink fixtures. “I was just sitting down to write a letter,” she said, thinking she heard her youngest daughter, Charlene, come in.

    
“Baby,” said Mr. Applewhite, dead three years now. “It’s me.” He sat in the chair across from her examining his hands.

    
“Oh,” said Edie, putting her hands over her mouth.

    
“This is bad,” Mr. Applewhite said, a man who knew about such things, a man who died in a bathtub.

    
“My beautiful man.”

    
“Poppa needs you to listen.”

    
“Let me look at you.”

    
“We need to get you to a cool place.”

    
“I remember how we used to lay together on days like this,” said Edie. “You and I.” She pushed her hair away from her face.

    
“It’s hotter than never.”

    
“You’d call these the dog days.” Sweat beaded on the short, pale hairs of her mustache.

    
“That’s what you call them.” He surveyed the kitchen.

    
“I bought a new refrigerator.”

    
“There you go. Why don’t you open it up, baby. That’s the trick.”

    
“Charlene needs to take me shopping. She’s always busy.”

    
“Forget shopping, baby. What you need is some of that cold air on you.”

    
“I miss our pleasure,” said Edie. “I’ve never known it before or since. I had fidelity.”

    
“That’s important,” said Mr. Applewhite, looking at his hands.

    
“I pined for it. Only you know.”

    
Mr. Pip walked to the bathroom and curled himself around the cool porcelain column of the toilet. He panted; his pink tongue slid back and forth over the linoleum tiles.

    
“Charlene’s got a new boyfriend. His name’s Everett.”

    
“That’s nice, baby, but you got to save yourself here. Are you listening?”

    
“He comes around sometimes to help out. I told Charlene that she ought to make him that roast you always liked, the one with the bacon.”

    
“I had my appetites.”

    
“Laurie’s Mark says Everett stood trial for armed robbery, but Charlene says his troubles have all passed him. He treats her real nice.”

    
“It’s too hot in here, baby. You got to fix it. It’s bad.”

    
“I think Mr. Pip is off sleeping.”

    
“You ought to call the police or the fire department. It’s a heat wave.”

    
“I can’t do that,” Edie said, returning to the paper before her.

    
“Baby,” said Mr. Applewhite. “What are you doing?

    
“That old air conditioner,” Edie said, “I guess it’s not working so well right now.”

    
“It’s not working at all. You have to get one of the girls over here or call this Everett.”


    
“Spring Green,” said Edie, conjuring up

the vacation they had taken against their families’ wishes,

two months before their wedding. “Remember what I forgot?”

    
“You forgot to pack your nightgown.”

    
“From then on.” She drew a wavy line across the top of her page.

    
“When I close my eyes, that’s how I see you.”

    
“What do you mean?” Edie asked.

    
“Coming out of that bathroom. Toward the bed. To me.”

    
“I scared you the first time.”

    
“Not scared, exactly.”

    
“What was the name of that place?”

    
“That’s history, baby.”

    
“I’ve never stopped being lonely for you.”

    
“I didn’t mean to leave. Everything is good. Only right now it’s too hot, baby. I need you to get out of here.”

    
“Last month, Everett and Charlene took me and Mr. Pip to lunch. We went to this place that lets you sit outside at picnic tables. Mr. Pip ate with us.”

    
“You ought to go down into the basement. It’d be cooler down there, in the basement. You’d get your senses back.”

    
“Remember going to the basement while the girls napped?”

    
“Exactly.”

    
“All three of the girls miss you. They don’t say it directly, but sometimes they come over and that’s what they’re thinking.”

    
“I miss them, too.”

    
“I wish you could meet Everett. He came over this winter and helped clean out the garage. I offered to give him your tools, but he insisted I hold onto them. He said he could tell you were good with your hands from how you kept your things.”

    
Mr. Applewhite got up and went over to the sink. “Why don’t you come over here and run yourself some cool water. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

    
“It’s all right, I’m not much thirsty,” said Edie.

    
In the bathroom, Mr. Pip scuttled himself up. He went to the kitchen. He found Edie hunched at the table. Mr. Pip checked his water bowl. He barked.

    
“Mr. Pip, you remember Poppa,” Edie said.

    
“He’s not barking at me,” said Mr. Applewhite, leaning against the kitchen counter. “It’s you. He’s trying to warn you.”

    
“I don’t think it’s so hot anymore,” said Edie. But in truth it was hotter; it was almost a hundred and thirty.

    
“He barked to warn you,” said Mr. Applewhite. “You’ve started dying.”

    
Mr. Pip laid his head down on Edie’s feet. Mr. Pip was dead.

    
“He’s tired,” Edie said.

    
“No, baby, the heat got him.”

    
“Mr. Pip, say something to Momma.”

    
“It’s the girls’ fault,” Mr. Applewhite said. “I can’t forgive them.”

    
“Don’t blame the girls.”

    
“It’s just a crime,” he said.

    
“Mr. Pip is sleeping,” said Edie, moving her knees to look at the body of the dog.

    
The refrigerator whirred.

    

Outside, the yard was the color of corn meal. At the base of the fence, a narrow green shadow

prevailed. A picket line of clouds tried to divide the sky.

    
“I’m alone now,” said Edie. “Everyone’s left me.”

    
“I’m here, baby,” said Mr. Applewhite. He was sitting at the kitchen table again, naked.

    
“You got quiet.”

    
“We’re just waiting now.”

    
“Keep me company,” she said.

    
“Tell me what else you think about?”

    
Edie didn’t say anything.

    
“Are you blushing?”

    
“I don’t think so.” Her face was splotchy. “I made Charlene buy more of your shaving cream because I used it up missing you.”

    
“You missed that smell.”

    
“After you shaved you’d climb onto the bed and kiss me.”

    
“I forgot. I did.”

    
“Yes.”

    
“Your chair’s moving.”

    
“It is,” said Edie. She managed to hook an elbow onto the table while the chair slid away.

    
“Umph,” she said, sitting on the floor. “It’s cooler here. You’re naked.”

    
“It’d be cooler still in the basement.”

    
“You didn’t ask if I was okay.”

    
“Are you okay, baby?”

    
“I’m fine,” she said. “I didn’t really fall. I put myself down.”

    
“That’s good.”

    
“You were worried, though.”

    
“You had me for a moment.”

    
“Scared,” she said.

    
A breeze rubbed against the outside of the house, but the windows were closed. Something crashed in the distance.

    
“The trains are still running,” said Mr. Applewhite.

    
“No,” said Edie. “Everett has a motorcycle, that’s him. He and Charlene are coming.” She lay out on the floor, Mr. Pip was half under one knee.

    
The crashing got closer. Thunder. The clouds eclipsed the sun and, for a moment, the world sighed.

    
“You got to pray for rain,” said Mr. Applewhite. “That’s all that could save you.”

    
“Mr. Pip hates the thunder. He’s shaking.”

    
“No, baby, he can’t shake anymore. That’s you.”

    
“I’m not afraid,” said Edie.

    
“You’re a strong girl.”

    
“I am,” she said, “but I’m always missing your body.”

    
“That’s nice of you to say.” Mr. Applewhite stretched in the middle of the room.

    
He held his hands in front of himself and did deep knee bends. He touched his toes.

    
“It’s three years in October,” said Edie. She pulled the hem of her dress up to her knees. The dog was pinned beneath her legs; his tongue poked out of his mouth.

    
“What are you doing there?” Mr. Applewhite asked.

    
“You remember,” said Edie, inching the hem up her thighs.

    
“I remember the last time.”

    
“You shouldn’t have risked your health.”

    
Mr. Applewhite walked over to Edie. “The bath afterwards is what caused it.”

    
“You were always so disciplined about your bathing. The doctors said you had the stroke and then you drowned.”

    
“I was there, baby.” He watched the progress of her dress.

    
“I heard the water dripping into the tub. I called to you, but you wouldn’t answer.”

    
Edie’s dress moved above a triangle of white cotton. “Can you see?” she asked.

    
“I can,” said Mr. Applewhite. “Perfect.”

    
“Lay on top of me.”

    
“This isn’t helping. I’m trying to help.”

    
“It’s what I want.”

    

“Maybe we could go to the basement?” asked Mr. Applewhite.

    
“I’m too tired to move,” Edie said. “We have to stay right here.”

    
Mr. Applewhite lowered himself onto his wife.

    
“Lay on me.”

    
“I am, baby. This is me.”

    
“This is our pleasure,” said Edie. “I’ve missed it.”

    
“Me, too,” said Mr. Applewhite.

    
“Poppa,” said Edie, “you’re not breathing.”

    
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m not.”

    
“I understand.”

    
“Should I move?”

    
“It’s fine,” said Edie. “You’re a comfort.”

    

“If it rained, that could suck the heat away,” said Mr. Applewhite. “Everett could bury Mr. Pip out back. There’s a shovel in the garage. You could see Mr. Pip from your bedroom and the kitchen.”

    
“The heat is good for me.”

    
“You might think so.”

    
“It’ll be fine either way. I feel the heat pushing through me.”

    
“I should say a prayer for Mr. Pip.”

    
“Stay with me, this is what I’ve been needing.”

    
“What you need is rain, baby. There’s no other way.”

    
When the clouds passed the sun beat on the roof some more.

    
“I never stopped wanting this.”

    
“I can’t hear you, baby.”

    
“Closer.”

    
He put his ear over her mouth.

    
“This is our heat,” said Edie. “I feel us making it.”













©2000 Justin Tussing and Nerve.com, Inc.