california, sweating like fire
Another short about Paulie. This time he replaces myself in a piece aching straight from real life, like the heat of summer.
She held me, put her arms around my shoulders as my head laid in her lap, one temple cupped curve smooth with the shape of her thigh. Our skin sweated instantly on contact it was so hot; we were instantly clammy and uncomfortable like vinyl against each other, but we stayed this way, praying for a cool breeze.
It wouldn’t come, though, and she stroked my hair, up from the roots, her nails scraping gently over the nape of my neck. She leaned over and her words pressed breath against my skin. It was hot and the whole world, dark and nightly, it was stagnant and suffocating. Even the dried up blades of grass sweated from non-existant pores, like fire. Her lips hovered above my ear and made shapes with hardly any sound, just these strange chapped shapes over the curve of my ear.
She lifted her head before I heard the sound of the old truck, and she tracked it with her eyes. Her hands stilled and I clutched her legs, sweaty, sweaty things, so hot –
Then the shimmer of headlights glammered through all the dead brush and I turned my head to glare into the light. It would pass, wouldn’t it? We could stay on the porch here, creaking on the porch as we barely moved, the tension as brittle as the endless acres of dead grass leaves. They would break in the slightest breeze. Please, I thought, the truck must go on. I wanted no cure, no cure except satiation.
The truck stopped, rolling over the mix of dirt and gravel. The headlights flicked down and off, and I watched her search the darkness for the face of the driver.
She rose, said something, standing out there in the circle drive of gravel, in the darkness. The elastic waistband of her shorts cut into the soft flesh between her waist and hips, there on the sides, ruining the curve. She had cellulite on the backs of her thighs, but 98 degrees at night is too hot to care about these things. She was too beautiful to care about these things. I would never, ever tell her that.
The driver wore jeans and work boots, a baseball cap and an old shirt, and I gripped my arms, as if I should be cold in only cut-offs, barefoot against the dirt. I had to grip my arms very tight.
His name was Chad. He came over and stood before us as she sat back down on the porch steps next to me. He was her age, older than I was, and worked at the recycling plant. His truck was old and blue, all metal, with no idea what plastic was, or automatic steering. He wrecked his last truck on the 41, out near the Ranchos, in a single-vehicle barrel roll.
“I fucked up my shoulder,” he said.
“For me it was.”
I slapped off a mosquito and rubbed away the bright streak of blood with the heel of my hand. There was one on the pale bulge of flesh above the elastic band of her shorts. If I slapped it, it would jiggle, and so I watched the little black thing suck her blood out, a trickle of sweat rolling down between my shoulder blades.
A jingle sounded out through the open truck window and Chad darted back to answer his phone. He had to leave, but made time to say goodbye. Then he slammed the truck door and riled up dust as he peeled out.
“We had AP Chem together senior year. Man,” she said against the heat. “that’s four years. How did we get so old?”
I looked down at her toes and the chipped orange polish. I didn’t know how we were getting old. It was happening, though, slowly. How were we becoming part of the world so quickly? How were we owning cars and paying bills and getting college degrees? How was all of this happening, and how did it all feel like nothing?
“I don’t know.” I said.
I scratched my head and pulled my hand away, dissatisfied with the amount of sweat I felt in it.
“I’ll be twenty-three this year.” she said. “My mother was married at twenty-three.”
I couldn’t say anything after that. I just wanted to sweat against her again.
She leaned against the post and stretched her legs out across the step we shared. She was so far away her feet didn’t even touch me.
I looked out into the darkness, ears perking at the sounds of far away engines. All the smog in the air, and the stars still shone through; the moon was still there, half there, yellow and old. If we were other people, maybe something would happen. Where had Chad gone? And what went on in his life? There were girlfriends and fights and drunken nights; family drama and moving in and out with friends. One life touching hundreds of others, a cell phone constantly ringing, a life lived against the noisy backdrop of countless souls pretending not to hate themselves.
We sat on a porch, quiet in the night. I didn’t love her, but I wanted to. Other people, I thought — if we were other people.