The Literarian

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            I sweat…        

            It is 10:36 P.M.  The night air outside the open windows of our home is filled with the sounds of all manner of crickets, their trilling chirps alive like a mid-summers eve symphony.  Somewhere in the East the hum of passing traffic can be heard, a low sound that rises ever so steadily then falls as it passes into the night.  A train whistle sounds in the distance, growing louder as it approaches our town.  The vibrations of myriad wheels grinding on steel tracks can be heard rather than felt, a consequence of our distance from its crossings.

            These are the sounds that could be heard.  Yet all I hear, now, lying naked atop my still made bed is the whirring of the box fan perched precariously in the open window, angled just enough to maximize the amount of warm air passing over my sweating body without falling from the frame.  The smell of the moist, otherwise pleasant country air is masked by the faint stench of sweat as I lay perspiring, unable to find sleep.

            Searching for any relief from the heat, I rise slowly and - after considering it a moment - pull on my still sweat-moistened boxers that I had removed over an hour before.  I walk gently down the hall, careful not to make any noise that may awaken my wife or son; both are light sleepers, and the consequences of awakening either of them at this time of night is never good.  The creaking of a floorboard just outside my separate bedroom gives me pause as I stop, holding my breath and craning my neck carefully to listen for any signs of arousal from the other rooms.  Except for the droning of the fan, the house is still. 

I make my way carefully into the kitchen to search for relief somewhere in the refrigerator.  As I pass by the kitchen nightlight, I cannot help but turn to peer at the digital thermometer sitting on the counter.  I am fearful of what I know I will find, but the curiosity and the need to justify the reason for my sleeplessness laid only an arm's length away.  It shows 81.8 degrees F outside, 90.1 degrees F inside.  That’s warm, I think to myself.  The clock on the microwave reads 10:38 P.M.

            Opening the refrigerator door, I reach inside for the remainder of a two liter bottle of some generic cola, gulping it down before turning the water tap on very low to rinse out the bottle.  We recycle.  Swirling the container carefully, I dump the water slowly down the sink and use the damp washcloth to wipe away any errant drops of water until no stains could be seen.  I wipe the perspiration from my brow, neck and cheeks before laying the cloth over the edge of the sink as it was before.  Still uncomfortable, I open the freezer and pull out the previously opened half-gallon carton of artificial chocolate chip-flavored ice cream.  Drawing a tiny scoop from the can of assorted utensils seated atop the opposite counter, I begin to diligently reduce the contents of the container until an inch or so is gone from the top.  I am no longer perspiring as profusely.

            Placing the much-reduced carton back into the freezer, I rinse off the scoop and replace it carefully so it resembles its position in the canister prior to my removing it.  It would not do to have somebody inquire the first thing the following morning as to whether or not I got up in the night to have an unhealthy treat.  I was uncomfortable now, the concoction of dairy product and soda mixing uneasily in my forty-something stomach.  I never recalled having this problem twenty years ago…

            Now fully awake, I quietly step over to the cupboard and open “my” drawer, reaching deep inside, my fingers moving deftly over the wallet, keys and odd papers until they felt the small, rectangular packet wedged carefully near the rear of the drawer, out of visible sight.  I turn and move toward the sliding glass door and open both it and the screen gently, taking great care to make no sound.  Closing it after me, I step out onto the pressure-treated wood deck and stare out into the darkness of the night.  Tipping the pack on its side and tapping lightly, I extract a lighter and a thin, cherry flavored cigar.  It was one of the few pleasures I allowed myself though my spouse had lamented often how they would surely be the cause of my death.

            I lit up and inhaled greedily, the waft of unseen smoke filling my lungs the way a man fills his lover in the throes of passion.  Although she was probably right, at this moment, I needed the smoke to settle my stomach, and I puffed slowly but steadily until only the butt remained.  Afterward, I tossed it into the yard, a few orange embers scattering everywhere like tiny, dying fireflies. 

            The sounds that I had imagined lying just outside my window were all there, of course, along with the heavy, damp night air.  Had there been a towel setting over the edge of the deck railing, I was certain I could wring water out of it though it had not rained in days.  Normally able to take great pleasure in peering at the moonless night sky, it was cloudy and did little to soothe me and prepare my mind for sleep.  It was not a cool 81 degrees but rather a warm one, too warm.  I leaned over the rail to look down upon the silhouette of my flower garden before returning to the “oven” when I thought I felt it, just for a moment: a breeze.

            I was uncertain.  Had I espied a leaf or two on the branch of the maple tree just above our deck moving?  For an instant my heart leapt with joy, but like the flare of a shooting star, so too did my elation burn and die.  The air was calm and still.

            She was right, too, and I knew it; the cost was just too much.  We already had trouble paying our monthly expenses without dipping into savings, and the price the utility company charged for even a few hours of blissful sleep was outrageous.  If ever anyone needed proof that the War was not about oil, I thought to myself, this is it.  The prices for energy - even electricity - were at the highest I had ever remembered paying. 

            Equally uncomfortable as I stood perspiring on my deck was the thought - the vision, if you will - of a half-stooped, shrunken and shriveled old man lying upon some infomercial-style geriatric bed on a similarly miserable July evening begging an equally old and shriveled woman, “Can we turn the air on now, honey?"  It seemed to me at that moment - tasting the salt from a bead of sweat running from my forehead to the corner of my mouth - that perhaps just a few nights spent in air conditioned comfort in the midst of summer’s blaze was worth more than money. 

            It was a fleeting thought.

            Retreating into the house, I replace the pack of remaining cigars back into the recesses of my drawer and turn to stare at the clock: 10:57 P.M.  Anticipating what I would discover next, the fact that I was indeed right did little to comfort me.  The thermometer read 81.7 degrees F outside, 90.1 degrees F inside.  I pick up the wash clothing hanging over the edge of the sink and wipe my eyes and brow before replacing it exactly as I had found it.

            I walk slowly but steadily down the hall, the warm, moist breeze from the window fan striking my wet, salty body as I enter the bedroom.  I pull off my sweat soaked boxers and let them fall to the floor, sitting my pasty butt on the synthetic, man-made fibers of the unturned bedspread before finally lying down.  The clock on my nightstand read 10:59 P.M., six hours and one minute before I would have to arise for work.  

            …and still I sweat.

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