It’s been thundering for more than an hour, yet no rain. With each rumbling in the distance, my anxiety grows. The windows in my car are slightly open and the charcoal briquets are on the deck, but I’m afraid if I rush outside to close the windows or bring the charcoal inside the storm will dissipate and the rain won’t come.
This is what it’s come to, superstitious behavior and feeling like I’m on the precipice of weeping for days. Whenever I hear someone, usually someone older, talk about the summer they’ll never forget “when the heat was so bad birds were dropping from the sky,” I smile and think to myself how it couldn’t have been that bad, everyone likes to embellish a story or two. Not anymore.
I know for a fact I will remember this summer and how the sound of the crunching brown grass beneath my feet as I walk to the community mailbox almost makes me sick to my stomach. Or how I’ve added to my prayers each night an ardent praise for allowing our AC to make it through another day and each morning consider rushing outside to bless the struggling unit with holy water. Or how each evening I fill my watering can and douse the diehard few flowers still vibrant in their pots on the deck, refusing to allow the Kansas drought to wither them to yellowed stems, thinking if I let them die I might wither away along with them.
I’ve now created playlists on my iPod of songs with “rain” or “storm” in the title, almost 4.5 hours of rain summoning music I keep on repeat. I watch the skies, urging any tiny cluster of clouds to blossom into thunderheads and drench the earth. On Friday, when a small shower moved over SW Wichita and passed too quickly over campus, I ran outside and stood in the parking lot, letting the warm droplets splatter my clothes, skin and frizz my hair. It was the best four minutes out of the entire day.
Until today, I’d yet to let the heat win. I”ve continued to be busy going to concerts, riding my bicycle on Friday through Old Town, sitting on the patio in the humid evenings, and venturing out in the hottest part of the day. But this morning, I didn’t feel like fighting. I chose to hide inside, blinds drawn, AC chugging, fans whirling, and read a book. I picked it from the pile of summer reads I’d intended to rally through before Labor Day weekend. I’d only read one from the stack of seven before selecting a book today by Alice Hoffman, Fortune’s Daughter. In spite of the heat, I brewed a cup of tea, sat in my favorite reading chair and opened to the first page…
“…As the temperatures hovered near one hundred degrees the days melted together until it was no longer possible to tell the difference between a Thursday and a Friday…(coyotes) followed the scent of chlorine into backyards, and some of them drowned in swimming pools edged with blue Italian tiles…tap water bubbled as it came out of the faucets; ice cubes dissolved in the palm of your hand…for miles in every direction people just snapped, lovers quarreled in bedrooms and parking lots, money was stolen, knives were pulled, friendships that had lasted a lifetime were destroyed with one harsh word. Those few people who were able to sleep were haunted by nightmares; those with insomnia drank cups of coffee and swore they smelled something sweet burning, as if a torch had been put to a grove of lemon trees sometime in the night.”
Even in books, my one true means of total escape, the Kansas heat finds me. On the opening page, I am reminded I will never forget these long days of superstition, silent prayers, awkward rain dances, and a heat worn like an itchy serape, reddening my chest and sending slow caterpillars of sweat down my back. Many years from now I’ll recall burning my fingers repeatedly on the car door at lunch and sleepless nights spent pondering a move to Colorado or Washington.
I”m just waiting for those poor birds to begin dropping from the sky.