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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Heat

In the morning I woke up to the sound of flutes. When I looked out the window-- the one that doesn’t have an air conditioner since this heat wave has caused a shortage and you can’t find anything but a box fan within 50 miles of our town-- the six-and-three-quarter-year old Jake, and three-year-old Avery, were marching down the driveway in their underpants, playing on plastic pennywhistles.

The heat can do strange things to a town, let alone a street. What seems bizarre and unacceptable on a downright cool day of say, 85 degrees, seems perfectly normal when it’s nearly 100. In this free state of New Hampshire anyone can go topless, and I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth in the past two weeks, some too gruesome to describe. So not even Lucy, our dog, barked at the shirtless pennywhistlers, who didn’t have any potbellies or cleavage gone south. She just watched as they proceeded into the street where their musical instruments were abandoned for street chalk.

“Whatcha drawing?” I yell over.

“A volcano. It’s gonna throw up lava all over the place!” Jake smiles. “And take at least 2 brown pieces of chalk.”

“Isn’t molten lava orange?”

“Not this one,” Jake says.

With volcanoes erupting before breakfast and the Weather Channel telling me it’s already past 80 degrees, I know this isn’t going to be a writing day. After 2 scorching weeks composing in my bathing suit and sweating over my PC with a cold compress on my forehead, I finally succumb. The only decision left is which pool to jump into. Either the Mr. Turtle pool on the one side of us, or the deluxe, above-ground in the back of Jake and Avery’s house.

I choose the above-ground, make a pitcher of iced-tea and follow the spewing chunks of brown lava all the way to the deck, where I promptly get squirted with guns as big as the one’s in those Rambo movies.

“What toy do you want?” Jake asks me.

“What are my options?”

He shows me a circular raft that’s see-through, which you can apparently walk on but looks impossible to figure out how, a bunch of regular, run-of-the-mill noodles, and a giant beach ball. Then I see it-- a big yellow sea lion smiling at me and bobbing behind Jake.

“I’ll take the sea lion,” I tell him. I’m thinking this is a lot more fun than writing all day. And for once I really do feel like a neighbourhood mom, since I got my stepsons when they were already in their teens and never had to contend with tri-notch squirt guns, splashing, and learning how to dive or swim like an otter or a dolphin.

Avery gets tired of his wet swimmers and throws them off, spending the rest of the time buck naked, prancing on the deck. It doesn’t even garner one raised eyebrow from the mothers lying on their zero gravity chairs.

By late afternoon, the Mr. Turtle pool is being filled and lawn chairs placed around a giant umbrella.

“Cannonball!” Dennis shouts, bounding into the tiny pool, fully-clothed and fresh from sports camp.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I ask him.

“Not if you got shoes on,” he laughs, showing me his gummy smile, where two front teeth used to be. All the kids take turns jumping in the tiny pool. The only one missing is Riley.

By the end of the day I’ve used up all my bathing suits, showered 3 times and collapse on the front porch for my nightly ritual of postcard writing to promote Little Joe. That counts for writing time, too, doesn’t it? After I finish the stack on the porch table, I realize I’ve written the 1000th one. But I’m too sun-baked and tired to celebrate the milestone. That would mean actually getting up and retrieving the red velvet cupcakes from the fridge.

Riley rides up the sidewalk to our steps. “Hello,” he says, so quietly I can barely hear. “It’s been a real sad day,” he finally murmurs. “Wicked sad. We had to put our dog to sleep. My Dad gave her a drink, but then her head just flopped in the water and he took her to the vet and they put her down.”

It was all I could do not to cry-- his big blue eyes looking up at me, wondering how something like that could happen and not quite knowing what to do, or how to feel.

“It’s okay to be sad about it,” I tell him. “Wicked sad.”

He keeps riding his bike in circles on the lawn.

“And to cry,” I sniffle. “A pet is part of the family.”

He brings the bike in closer, still focusing on the lawn.

“How about journaling all the happy memories you had with your dog? Make a scrapbook with pictures in it that you can look at anytime?”

He gets off his bike and sits on the steps.

“Fifteen years is a good long while for a dog,” I say. “A miracle, really.”

He nods again. “We still got Lucy,” he says. “I can hear her bark all the way to my house first thing in the morning. And Pickles.” He points to the black and white cat splayed out on the lawn, exhausted by another sunny day.

“You still writing the same book?” he asks.

“No. Postcards. To let people know about the book. I’ve got half a box left till I’m finished completely. Would you believe I already wrote a thousand?”

“Isn’t your hand sore?”

“Yeah, but I don’t write them all at once, just about 30 at a time. I thought I’d celebrate with a red velvet cupcake. Would you like one?”

Riley shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. Never had a red velvet cupcake before.”
I go get the box and show him the stash.

“Can I smell it first?” he asks.

“Go right ahead.”

“Smells like a candle,” he smiles, grabbing one. “I got five dollars saved up,” he tells me in between munches, “to buy Little Joe. Think it’ll cost more?”

“Probably a bit more.”

“Just sell us two for ten,” Dennis squeals, roaring over on his bike. “Cupcakes!” he says. “I love cupcakes!”

“They smell like candles,” Riley tells him.

“They’re red velvet cupcakes,” I say.

Dennis bites into one. The icing squirts out in the space left open when his two front teeth fell out.

“Gross!” Riley laughs.

“Yeah, well, you stink,” Dennis says, taking out a nerfball from his pocket and pelting it at his brother. “Like a red velvet cupcake!”

“Ouch!” Riley says, laughing.

Lucy comes to the window and gives the brothers a furious round of deep, woofy barks.

“Bye Lucy!” Riley says. He belts the nerfball back at Dennis and they head out the driveway, mouths smeared with red velvet icing. And I guess Riley will be okay without his dog. I take the last red velvet cupcake out of the box and dig into the icing. I’ve got plenty to celebrate.

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