Summer came to town and we were all caught with our drawers down, or with our comforters up, rather.
“The sign by the bank read 86 degrees,” Sean said with awe as he sat down on the front steps. He had shucked his work clothes in exchange for shorts and a tank top. The beer in his hand glistened, slick as it was with plump droplets of sweat.
“The first 86 of the season always feels more like 100,” I said trying not to sound whiny, my skin prickly as the familiar all over sweat of muggy east coast summers took root in every one of my 70 inches. The cat wound his body around my ankle and the only thing standing between my foot and a firm kick to his hindquarters was heat induced lethargy. Fine gray cat hair clung to my leg, curling against my sweat. I’ll get you in the fall I thought with a halfhearted sigh as I leaned back in the grass, wishing I were by the lake, or better yet, in the lake.
“Think we could set the air conditioners up tonight?” This was unfair, since we both knew that it would be Sean hossing the unwieldy units into the windows, cursing as the cords came up short, stopping inches shy of the outlets. Drenched with sweat and no doubt sporting bloody knuckles, he would most surely be alone while I orchestrated a series of minute and forty five second activities, each creating a greater ruckus than the last ensuring that any calls for help from upstairs fell on deaf ears.
All thoughts of air conditioners and anything more exerting than sweating were forgotten as we slipped into the stupor of the thick, stewy afternoon heat. The girls sat in a makeshift pool playing with the whirligigs dropping from the trees. The cat, having found my legs unsuitable for his needs, was sprawled on the sidewalk, looking remarkably like a flying squirrel who had made his last flight. The dog was panting from her self-dug trench in what had once been a mediocre flower bed, bits of limp hosta poking out from beneath her jet black flank.
Nightfall brought no relief from the heat. We both knew the upstairs of the house would be nearly unbearable.
“I’ll go put the air conditioners in,” Sean said with resignation.
“You want help?”
“No,” he said emphatically. “You just keep those girls occupied.” And he was gone, the sound of his footsteps were quickly eclipsed by the shrieks for music and forts. Books. Crawling. Peanut butter. Juice. I gave one longing glance at the door hoping that my night would end with cool sleep in clean sheets beside a peaceful Sean, but knowing our track record with seemingly easy projects in this house suggested otherwise.
I tried not to worry about the sounds that followed. Thunderous shudders rocked the ceiling over the computer, Sean unleashed primal grunts, but to his credit did nothing to expand the colorful vocabulary Briar has picked up through our home improvement odyssey. After a while I was so engrossed with the girls I forgot about the air conditioners.
“We’re set.” He was soaked, but I saw no blood and his mood was calm. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I said a silent prayer of thanks.
“Hey girls, say thank you daddy. We’re going up to bed and he made it so it won’t be hot.” They raced for the stairs and began a mad dash-crawl to be the first up to the bathroom. I walked behind, a hand hovering behind each diapered backside, the air cooling as we went higher and higher. Standing in the hallway as the girls scampered after their toothbrushes I smiled. I relish this simplicity, this fulfillment of satisfying a need, providing for my family. And specifically doing it with Sean.
Later, when the girls were asleep, cool in their beds, Briar’s fancifully adorned with faerie sheets, Avery’s with classic blue gingham I watched them. Briar was turned, parallel with her pillows, a thumb tucked in the waistband of her diapers and a halo of curls framing her face, her sock clad feet poised for the next quarter turn she’d make, like the hands on a clock in the great big bed of hers.
I crept down the hall to Avery in her dark room. I strained to hear her breathe from the threshold of her door, when I heard nothing I stepped closer. Still nothing. I felt a stir of panic. She’s not breathing, I can’t hear her. I reached my hand in the crib and touched her back. Breathe! Why aren’t you breathing? Why can’t I hear you? I felt her move beneath my hand, but I still heard nothing. My mind raced, and then I stopped. My eye caught the moonlight streaming through the tree outside the room, a dappled pattern danced on the floor in rhythm with the hum. The hum! The whirring of the air conditioners filled the upstairs, the cool air riding on waves of sound. Again I felt her little body move, and as I looked into the crib, Avery sighed contentedly, loud enough to be heard by my ears.
My silly, worrying ears.