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Summer of '78



The blizzard of '78 was terrible—everyone has seen photographs of cars abandoned on streets and bridges as if rush hour itself had frozen solid, snow drifts piled high as second story windows—but no one seems to remember the heatwave seven months later, rolling in from hell on a scorching and stagnant wind. Owen remembered, but he never let on that he remembered. He never spoke of what happened on that feverish night back in mid-August just as the fever broke and lightning split the heavy night sky and rain poured down to wash away the summer. In fact, he spent a good number of years following trying to forget what happened.

It started with a crash! the night before the heat wave truly started back in early August. Owen snorted and opened his eyes in the darkness. The red, digital display on the clock beside him said 3:15. Owen lay in his bed, listening for the sound to repeat itself, but it never did. He finally decided that it was either a raccoon knocking over one of the trashcans outside, or a dream, and went back to sleep, unable to place his finger upon what exactly was different. Right before drifting off again, Owen realized that he could not hear the half shuffling/half sliding sounds of his upstairs neighbor's pacing footsteps. Albert McAll must have had dementia or something, because all he ever seemed to do was pace, day in and day out. Except now. Owen slipped into a sleep as quiet as his tiny apartment and didn't give it a second thought.

The following day, Owen awoke covered in sweat, lying on wet, cold sheets, with a lawnmower crying aloud a few houses down. He didn't even bother dressing, but spent the day sucking red popsicles and sitting in his underwear before the window fan which did little but blow hot air on him, and being thankful that he was retired. Between the lawnmowers and the fan going all day, Owen never even heard his upstairs neighbor pacing. He didn't even remember the crash from last night until the power went out for a few minutes around four in the afternoon. That was also when Owen realized that Al McCall still wasn't pacing.

Goddammit, Owen thought as he trudged up the back steps after pulling on his pants. Did the old bastard fall? He knocked on the upstairs door, eyeing the overflowing Rubbermaid barrel and its attendant cloud of flies on the landing with disgust. He was already drenched in sweat. The third floor was much hotter than the second. “Al?” Owen called. He noticed a half-gnawed and green-tinged chicken wing on top of the barrel and gagged.

Is he even home? “Are you home, Al?” Owen knocked again. “...Are you someplace cool?” He waited another moment, shot a distrustful final glance at the buzzing trashcan, and left. “Take out your trash,” he mumbled as he stomped down the stairs.

The next day passed, and then the day following, and the temperature inched higher alongside Owen's misery. The fan in the window whirred non-stop, and he had run out of popsicles. It was too hot to walk down to the corner store, but Owen promised himself he would venture out when the sun went down and the street had a chance to cool. The volume on his radio was higher to drown out the fan, and Ron DiMazzio with the weather loudly predicted the heat wave to break by the end of the weekend.

By the end of the weekend, Ron DiMazzio had been proven wrong, and now predicted rain. While the temperature was no longer climbing, it seemed to linger at its hazy plateau and weigh down oppressively upon 356 Spruce Street. Owen's fan had finally burnt out, and he had resorted to lying on the linoleum kitchen floor in his underwear with an icepack on his forehead, thinking back with fondness to the good old blizzard earlier that year.

“Al, take out your goddamn trash!” Owen yelled the following evening. He wore a handkerchief around his nose and mouth like a bandit as he pounded on his upstairs neighbor's door. The stench from the rotting garbage had begun leaking downstairs, seeping into Owen's apartment. He smelled it last night on the mercifully cool breeze that carried it into his open window—sickly-sweet, pungent and putrescent. Not quite unlike a rotting chicken wing.

And then the night of the storm came. The fever broke. The scourge ended. Fierce wind, howling; thunder crashing like the end of the world, rain coming in through the screens and sizzling on the overheated windowsills. Even when the power went out and the red digital display went dark, Owen exulted in knowing that this was it, that tomorrow the temperature would start dropping.

He lay there in bed that night, spread-eagled in his underwear, listening to the rain drumming down around him, smelling that smell, now wet, from the floor above. Anger tinged his exaltation, anger at the sloth of Al McCall, the selfishness. Owen resolved to drag the barrel down tomorrow—it would be much cooler, after all.

But the lightning flashed just then, and Owen watched his ceiling crawl, and felt the first patters of rain upon his face and hands. A leak? And it wasn't until the following flash that Owen realized that his ceiling was crawling with larvae, maggots that had devoured the corpse of the demented Albert McCall after he fell, and after his liquifying remains bubbled through the floorboards and dripped through Owen's sagging ceiling.

Owen tried to sleep in that room afterward, but the stain in the ceiling could never be cleaned; even if the house was to be burned down would it remain. He moved his bedroom, but awoke every night choking with the dreams of wriggling drops of corpse-eating rain dripping into his mouth and onto his hands. He moved and lives now on the top floor of a three-story across town, neurotically announcing his presence.

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