Fiction · 06/22/2016

Degrees

63 degrees: It is spring. We are languishing on the hoods of our cars in the school parking lot, that’s otherwise empty because it’s a Saturday. A Chrysler from the 80s, a Ford truck from the 70s, a Lexus from 1998, a newer model Corolla, and a shiny new Tesla. If it were October and this temperature, we’d already be wearing jackets. But it is early spring and the weeds are pushing up and we are all heady from the winter hibernation.

72 degrees: We discuss going to the swimming hole, which is really just a lake that has been strangled by condo developments until it became a meager reflection of its former self. We discuss it but we don’t actually go. There’s still a bite in the air when we’re wearing nothing.

77 degrees: We go to the swimming hole. We wear oversized vintage tee shirts advertising bands we’ve never listened to. The water is still chilly. The rocks beneath our bare feet are slimy and soft and we clench our toes to keep us steady. We take water into our mouths and spit it upward like we are cupid statues. The water tastes like jasmine and gasoline and it coats our hair and in our wannabe-hippie way, we insist it cleanses our souls.

84 degrees: We are up early. We don’t wear shoes while we run around the grass and balance on a slack line we’ve tied between two trees. We have picnics and sweat slips down our backs when we chase after girls we are crushing on.

87 degrees: We fall into bushes and beds and sandy beaches and make out. Our adolescent glistening sweat tells us we are doing it right. This is passion, we think. It’s what we’ve been told to believe. We believe it.

99 degrees: We have grown lazier. We stay in bed with the sheets pushed to the floor. The power has gone out again so the a/c isn’t working. We say we’ll meet up, but we bail. We stay home, lethargic under the tent of a book and on chairs that rock slowly, or we doze on porches as insects bite at our skin.

102 degrees: Christ, it’s hot, we say over and over and over again. We fan ourselves with pieces of paper: takeout menus, homework, Japanese paper fans we saved from a samurai themed party we threw last summer. We take to our cars and drive fast with the windows down to feel the sandy air on our faces.

106 degrees: We grow irritable. The meteorologists can’t explain the heat wave. It’s hotter in D.C., they say. At least there’s that.

110 degrees: On TV, the politicians’ ties are loosened. As soon as they’re out of the building, their jackets are off too. It makes for a much more casual government. Climate change has finally hit the Republicans, people on social media chirp.

114 degrees: Sandstorms pick up debris of our lifetime. Takeout bags from the burger place. Receipts. Crumpled grocery lists. Post-its and classifieds ads. Children’s sandboxes empty. Gardens lift on the air leaving naked seeds. The birds pick at these hopefully. The phantom wind whips around the corners of our houses surprising us, even though we’ve been hearing it for weeks. The ghost runs his devilish fingers along the siding, letting us know he’s just outside.

117 degrees: Our crimson skin erupts into tiny Mount Vesuviuses.

125 degrees: Plants frizzle and char like roasted vegetables left too long, which indeed they are. Our air conditioning fails. Our electricity fails. Our water fails. Our crops fail. Our hospitals fail. Our long term plans fail. Our hope fails. Our relationships fail.

132 degrees: Our short term plans fail. Our minds fail. Our hearts fail. Our bodies fail.

147 degrees: The sand collects on the leather interior of our vehicles, scratching the CDs left out on passenger seats. They will never be able to play music again. Even if there were equipment to play it on and hands to do it, it would be garbled half-versions of the stories they meant to tell.

150 degrees: First the tires are covered. The wind pushes the sand up more and more until the doors are stuck shut. The sand covers them entirely, leaving metal sarcophagi, to become never visited monuments to commemorate our inventiveness.

162 degrees: We are all dead.

194 degrees: Our vehicles and buildings and the remnants of our hopes begin to melt into silvery solder.

200 degrees: The phantom surveys his kingdom. Finally, silence. The empty desert expanse undulates under its breath. The scorched earth, a map of three dimensional hieroglyphics depicting the life that was. The phantom rolls up the sand, balls it up, feels the grittiness of it, and drops it down, down, down to the earth, burying bodies – ignored carrion – creating dunes where there were none.

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Jennifer Fliss is a fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming with Prairie Schooner; The Citron Review; Cease, Cows; Bird’s Thumb; *82 Review; and elsewhere. Recently, she was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com