Arizona Heat, a #ThrowbackThursday short story.
I’m still in Arizona, and the weather conforms to its typical mid-July one-hundred-and-teens range. I thought this Thursday would be a great time to revisit the first of my Twilight short stories, Arizona Heat
Alan Zimmerman stood on the condo roof in his pajamas in full view of God and anyone passing by. A pre-dawn wisp of wind sifted through his Tasmanian devil hair, solidifying his reputation as the neighborhood lunatic.
Hands on hips, Amy stared at her husband and counted to ten. Thirty-five years of marriage had not tempered his crazy antics.
“What fool thing are you doing now?” she shouted.
Alan grinned at her, the same lopsided smile that had caught her attention at the hospital dance where they’d met.
“Amy! You’re awake!”
“Who can sleep with you thumping around on the roof like a herd of rhinoceroses?”
“Crash,” he called down from his perch ten feet up. “It’s a crash of rhinoceroses.”
“It will be a crash of Alan if you fall. Honestly, what will the neighbors think?”
“Nobody to see me. The Mart doesn’t open until six.” He gestured to the store three hundred feet away, but his left arm arced wide. His balance tipped, he overcorrected then landed splat on his rear.
“You’ll kill yourself yet,” Amy muttered. She raised her voice. “Climb down from there before you fall.”
Alan stood and sketched a salute. “Yes, dear.”
“Damn fool.” She turned her back and walked through the garage to the kitchen.
She tracked his progress like NORAD did Santa every Christmas Eve. First he grunted as he descended the ladder. Then a clattering and crashing filled the air as he hefted the ladder and swung it around to hook it on the garage wall. A shattering of glass followed—she closed her eyes and prayed he’d not cut himself on whatever he’d broken—then the sound of a broom as he cleaned the mess. By the time the back door twanged open, she had breakfast on the table and had mentally called 911 twice.
“What were you doing up there?” she asked again when he emerged from the bathroom after washing up.
He sat at the table wedged between the kitchen and the living room. “Checking the A/C. I think I can tweak it to make it more efficient.”
Amy slid into the seat next to him. “Call Anderson’s and have them come out. Maintenance is part of the warranty. ”
Alan speared his egg yolk with a toast point. “They’re busy.” He gestured to the digital thermostat hanging on the wall, sending egg yolk and toast crumbs across the table and onto her plate. “It’s ninety-seven degrees. At five in the morning. It’ll probably hit one-hundred-nineteen before the day is out. Units are blowing out like popcorn kernels. I swear the sun crouches behind the horizon right now, sharpening its knives for another day of destruction and death.”
Amy swiped at the mess with a paper towel. “You’re too melodramatic. I don’t know why you complain about the Arizona heat every year. Would you rather be back in Michigan?”
“There ought to be someplace in-between is all I’m saying. Not everyone likes to broil like a lobster.”
Amy shrugged. She relished the dry heat and hot summer days, soaking it into her bones.
“Not everyone hides in the house for weeks on end.” He never came out, sequestered in the condo unit like an air-conditioned turtle.
Alan patted her hand. “Our differences are what makes our life together so interesting. Anyway, I’m sorry for waking you.”
“You didn’t.” Amy collected the used dishes and walked the six steps to the sink. “Julie called. She has the same disregard for other’s sleep time as her father.”
“Julie? Is something wrong?” His eyebrow rose over gray-blue eyes, as sharp at sixty-five as thirty.
“She’s lost their babysitter.” She sat at the table again. “I said I’d come.” She’d not hesitated, not talked it over with him, just said, “Of course.”
“What do you mean lost?”
She waved her hand. “Something about their regular sitter is moving, and they want to find a good replacement. It’ll be for two or three weeks. You’re welcome to come.”
She knew he wouldn’t. Savannah’s humidity would be worse than Arizona heat, and he had professional commitments.
Alan shook his head. “I’ve oral surgery on the first and the conference in Santa Fe.”
Though retired, he still spoke at medical conferences two or three times a year.
“All right. Julie’s working on a plane ticket, but I expect I’ll leave in a day or two.”
“Don’t worry about me. I can make my own meals.”
“I know you can.” In truth, he was the better cook.
“And, by the time you return, I’ll have the A/C blasting out the cold air like nothing you’ve seen before.”
Amy swore he rubbed his hands in glee, but it might have been a trick of the light.
• • •
Three weeks later, Amy collected her bag at Sky Harbor International Airport and checked her cell again.
Where is he? Oh, the infuriating man.
Julie and Paul had found the ideal sitter for their eighteen-month-old daughter, and Amy tearfully said goodbye. In truth, the toddler exhausted her, and she looked forward to returning to Twilight Retirement Village.
As soon as Alan picks me up. Did he forget to plug in his phone again?
She’d not spoke to him in two days, but he’d been at the conference. Add in a day to travel and recuperate—no, he had no excuse to forget her.
An hour later, after countless unanswered calls and text messages, Amy gave up, called Uber, and rode home.
Stepping from the car, she gazed up at the roof.
The A/C is one piece. I expected to see parts strewn across the alley. He must have decided to leave it alone.
Still, she couldn’t shake her sense of unease as she fumbled for the spare keys she always carried and opened the back door.
A blast of cold air hit her like a crash of rhinoceroses.
My God, what did he do?
She left the door open. One-hundred-and-eighteen degrees of Arizona heat collided with the inside air like a Midwest cold front.
The thermostat in the hallway read thirty-two degrees. Amy stabbed the control button to raise the temperature.
The unit kicked in with a sinister whumph.
“Noooooo,” he screamed from the bedroom.
“Alan?” Amy hurried into the room, pushed by the marauding heat wave and panic.
“Turn it off,” he cried.
“What’s wrong?” Their room lay in darkness, the shades drawn, the lights off.
“Turn off the heat.” Pain stabbed through the plea.
“Aren’t you carrying this battle against Arizona a little too far?” She switched on the bedside lamp.
He sat in a corner chair, skin and bone and hair replaced by ice, like a finely carved party sculpture or movie’s special effect. He raised his arm as if to shield himself, and she saw through it to the wall behind.
“Alan?” Amy touched his cheek then pulled away, her fingers wet.
His crystal eyes met hers. “It’s too late.”
Vented overhead air and the relentless Arizona heat dissolved Alan Zimmerman into a puddle of water at her feet.
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