A Night in August
I wore the air like a sticky t-shirt. It was late August, and the last remnants of a hot summer lingered in the thick clouds that began to stretch out across the bottled sky. I walked with my girlfriend through the city park near my neighborhood. I had driven her there with my mom’s car, letting the wind cool us through open windows, as we cruised the quiet suburban streets.
Above us, the clouds were tinted a dark orange with the reflected light of the street lights. Beyond them lay the black skies and purple clouds of the final days of summer. An occasional thin breeze of cool air brushed past us, momentarily pushing away the stagnant heat that remained trapped beneath the clouds. We stood on the grass of the baseball diamond feeling the heat emanate from the ground beneath us, and looked out below us to a deep valley shrouded in darkness. By the light of day you would have seen the walkways and boardwalks of a wetland reserve. Now it was a ravine in a pit of black.
We sat cross legged on the top of a picnic table near the parking lot. The wood was still warm to the touch. I stared out at her, this face of caramel skin, brown almond eyes, freckled nose and hair tossing in the wind.
“Do you think our kids will like you or me more?” She asked. We thought our ignorance was devotion. I felt all of our questions were already answered.
“I have no idea”
“I think they’ll like you more” she said with a smile. She held my face with her hand. We shared a kiss. My lips lingered on the small, soft, invisible hairs of her upper lip.
“I think they’ll fight with me more. I always fought with my parents” She looked down, and fidgeted with my fingers intertwined in her own.
“We’ll get along with them. I think it will all work out”
A hundred yards away we saw unsteady pillars of smoke emerging behind the fences of neighboring houses. The smoke carried over to where we were and mingled with us. I breathed in deeply the aroma of the wood smoke, mixed with the dried perfume on the nape of her neck, and the sweat dried under her arms. I put my arms down to her waist and felt her warmth of her body in my fingertips.
“It’s so cold here” she murmured. It was still at least seventy degrees. But she shivered against my body. I held her closer, and wrapped my arms around her. My back was slick with sweat. We walked back to my Mom’s Lexus and settled into the back seats. I draped her in my arms, crystallized in a moment that seemed sacred. I ran my fingers through the hair that tickled her shoulders.
“I’m going to be so far away” she sighed softly.
“It won’t always be like this, we won’t have time”
“We’ll make time”
“Do you promise you’ll be there for me?”
The night flew by us like the rushing landscape beside passengers in a train. It all appeared as a daze. A songbird began chirping his allegiance to the new day settling before us. She raised one bleary eye towards me. We both had sagging wrinkles of fatigue beneath our eyes. She gave me a smile and a final kiss. We climbed out the back of the car and stretched stiff limbs in the emerging light of the parking lot. The sky above us was beginning to lighten, black turned to gray. Now gray was melding into deep shades of purple. The first few rays of the dawn were breaking through the leafy green branches of the tree line.
It rained the next day. And all through that fall. I remember walking through it without her. The rain soaked my clothes, my hair, my skin. I remember the streams flowing into the road, the rivulets running over sidewalks, cascading into the street where the pounding rain gave it the appearance of boiling.
The weather turned chilly. The long days of sunshine, the eternal sunsets that stretched across the horizon, painting the sky from the Cascades to the Olympics; those days were long gone. Instead I spent the days watching rain batter my windowsill, and nights seeing my breath emit from my nose like soft white tendrils of smoke.
The park is still there. The same field, the same picnic table, the same trees and hills. But the grass is waterlogged and soaked. Muddy puddles grow out every few feet. The table is warped. And the trees have long since dropped their leaves into the cold winter air. The pavement is hard and cold, and the concrete is black with moisture.
That summer ended. Like every summer before it, and every summer after it. I’m much older now. I I pay bills now. I grumble about traffic. I complain about the weather.
This is real life, I tell myself.
I say that I forgot about her. And I did. I don’t know what her voice sounds like anymore. Whether it was soft and mellow, a whisper gently nudging you into a warm bed filled with soft sheets. Or if it was high and affectionate, a mischievous grin looking up at you as it digs its head into your chest and pulls its arms close around you. I don’t know. I’ve forgotten it.
But. But after all these years, every time I feel the moist air of a warm summer night, I still think of her. That girl sitting cross legged on the top of a picnic table in August.