The Ghosts in the Heat Wave
“I love you,” I said to the tot. She grabbed ahold of my face and rammed her lips against mine, which is the only absolute way I can be sure that the tot loves me in return—a good, proper face grab. I stood upright from the position I had taken crouched in front of the tot’s stroller. We carried on.
The heat sat on our skin like a pack of mosquitoes intent on breaking through the skin barrier. That heat wanted inside. It couldn’t, so instead it wrapped itself tightly around every angle of the human body, settling there for the long haul. I walked slowly down the street wearing my blanket of heat. The sun was just beginning to set so that the fluffy clouds were getting that vague pink look to them—a pleasant color that isn’t too dramatic. It signals to all humans within their air conditioned homes that sunset is near, and therefore walking around with a heat blanket might be tolerable. I thought about the night before.
The night before I was standing on my back porch, just an hour or so after dark. The tot and her brother were eating ice cream cones with the neighbor boy, a fellow tot. I was babysitting the fellow tot and had just set up a perfectly picturesque moment. I turned my phone upward to snap a picture, when the fellow tot started pointing toward the door. Being a tot of few words, he preferred his gesture.
“You want to go in?” I asked. I couldn’t understand the response he gave me in his garbled tot language, and after a few rounds of this I broke the rules to allow him to take his dripping ice cream back into the house. But still, all was not well. He stood with his nose pressed to the glass of the French door while making Halloween appropriate sounds. I couldn’t quite make out what he was imitating. A monster? He was gesturing then, and imitating some scary sounding creature.
A tot in elegant dress beating a tree with a stick.
A man’s voice broke me from my thought. I looked up to see him sitting on the porch of a house I was passing. “It’s a heat wave,” the man called out, fanning himself. I nodded politely. “Going to be a hundred and two this weekend, with a heat index of a hundred and ten,” the man continued. I made a polite commiserating comment and kept moving. You can’t stop with a heat blanket on, or the blanket gets thicker and hotter. It is something related to outrunning the heat.
My feet continued onward as those clouds turned a less vague pink. Live oak branches were heavy with moss over my head, lazily hanging there, too lazy to sway in a breeze in such heat. The breeze was too lazy to blow in such heat. The heat faded from mind slowly, as the monster sound crept back in.
Wooo-ooooo-oooo! The boy continued, pointing firmly to the blackness of night just off the porch. What is that sound supposed to be? The boogey man? Is this his way of saying he is scared of the dark? I had been trying to place that stereotypical sound for about thirty seconds when it dawned on me. It was the sound a ghost in a cartoon makes. I raised my eyebrows at the boy.
“What do you see?”
“Ghost, ghost!” The boy suddenly seemed to find the word, and gestured onward. I looked at the blackness. I saw nothing, but that wasn’t surprising.
That’s what I get for moving into a house with a road running past it that was built two hundred and forty years ago. Ghosts of tired slaves digging up palmetto roots to make a road fit for a carriage. Ghosts of British soldiers marching along as the heat blanket draws sweat from their bodies. Ghosts of barefoot Florida Crackers weaving cattle in and out of the road with the silent steps of an outcast. Ghosts of natives that walked the trail for hundreds of years even before the slave and the soldier and the Cracker. All walking in that same heat that I walked in then.
All a boy needs in a heat wave - water and a tractor.
I rounded the curve, heading back to my origin and my destination. We were making a slow and steady circle with our companion, the heat. The heat was invisible, like so many things that exist or don’t exist, depending on the perception.