Heat (New York City, 1975)

by Kathryn Kulpa

One of those August days when the heat presses its huge, sweaty hand down on your neck and every blouse you change into wilts against your burning skin, when you fill the bathtub and flap your feet like a duck and think how maybe drowning wouldn’t be so bad, as long as the water was cold; a week of that heat, and no AC, of course, not in that shitty apartment, and we were riding the subway to my mom’s, the girls all dressed up for their dance audition though God knows how I’d pay for it if they got in, I’d have to ask my mom for help and hear it all again, how if I’d married a decent man instead of that druggie bum I wouldn’t be raising two kids on my own in a one-bedroom apartment and borrowing money to keep food in their mouths and clothes on their backs, let alone dance lessons, where was that going to get them, I should send them to computer camp, that was the wave of the future, on and on like a mosquito buzzing in my ear, we hadn’t even got to her place yet but I could hear it all in my head like we’d been and gone, and so when we finally got up to her apartment and leaned on the bell and she didn’t come to the door I thought what the fuck, like I’d just been talking to her and where had she gone, only she didn’t come and didn’t come and I kept pressing the bell and pounding the steel door, I thought she had the TV on loud or was in the shower or something, the girls kept lying down to try to see under the door but I told them not to get their dresses dirty and then it was five minutes and then it was ten and I got scared and knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked if he could call the police and he said he would, said how hot we all looked, would we like to come in for a Coke, and the waves of air conditioning lapping over us from his open door and the kids hissing please please and he looked like a nice enough guy, whatever that means, because like my mother always says, I wouldn’t know a nice guy if he punched me in the face, and I should have wondered why I’d never seen this neighbor before and why my mother didn’t answer the door and why he was getting ice cubes and pouring drinks and handing out little pink party napkins and doing everything but calling the police but I was so hot, so damn hot, so tired of being hot, tired of being poor, tired of being tired, and I heard the ice cubes pop when the Coke hit them and all I could think was how good that first sip would be, how cool it would feel going down.

Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash fiction chapbook Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus). She is a librarian and a flash editor at Cleaver magazine and also leads writing workshops. Her stories are published in Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Her work was selected for Best Microfiction 2020 and 2021. Find her at kathrynkulpa.com /@KathrynKulpa

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