It’s Slice Of Life time again.
One of the prompts this week is A Very Hot Day.
Very apt for this time of year in Australia.
I wrote about the heatwave we’ve been having not long ago, but the recent heat was nothing compared to a few years ago when it was 44 degrees C on New Year’s Day. That’s 111.2 degrees F.
It began late afternoon the day before when the revellers were preparing for New Year’s Eve. The heat began to rise from the cracks in the asphalt, bubbling in stormwater drains, ricocheting whiplike, off the sides of buildings.
I have always thought that birds have the power of prophecy and on that afternoon they were restless, almost mournful, jostling for the best spots in the trees with the largest canopies.
I should have known when the sun set that something was up. The sky disassembled, moving from splendid blue to vivid pink in under an hour. As the night thrust itself forward, a red slash appeared through the pink as if the sky was bleeding from the inside.
We sipped our New Year’s drinks half-heartedly as the heat circled and zinged at our feet, held back by its generals, waiting till morning to strike.
At 6AM it was 30C. By 9AM it was almost 40C. The sky was washed with lemon. The air was being mixed, thickened to a paste. There was a hum, a sort of keening, as if someone was holding a grenade and had just pulled the pin.
By 11AM it was 44C. I put water out in plastic pots for the birds. Within 20 minutes it was too hot to drink and the plastic had begun to fold in on itself like a Dali still life. There were no birds around anyway, they had taken heed of their own prophecy and had found a cool oasis somewhere.
The house we were living in at the time had air conditioning. We thanked our good fortune, turning it on full blast and lay on the couch watching TV and sucking on ice cubes.
Around noon we remembered Bob the Cat. Our neighbour’s cat, we were looking after him while she was lounging around on an island somewhere. He was a Prussian blue with a really thick coat and we couldn’t leave him out in the heat even though we’d been given explicit instructions that Bob stay outside at all times.
He is an outdoor cat, she said. He never comes inside. He doesn’t like to come inside. And that’s that.
In all my years of knowing cats, I have never met one who didn’t like to make themselves at home inside. It was too hot to worry if I was doing the wrong thing so I went next door and carried Bob back to our place (boy, was that cat heavy). He drank an entire bowl of water, planted himself in front of the air conditioner, and slept all afternoon.
As the hours passed and the sun continued to beat down stolidly, we took turns standing at the back door with wet cloths around our necks, listening for the wind. We threw glasses of water on the panting ground and watched as it dried in seconds. We draped tarpaulins and wet tablecloths over trees and plants that looked like they might not be able to endure any more heat and checked for signs of clouds in the unbroken blue sky.
As night fell and insects that seemed larger than usual flung themselves at the windows, we began to despair of a cool change. Eventually it came, a mere insinuation at first, a cool fingertip brushing the edges of our psyches.
By midnight the curtains were streaming into the house. Bob the Cat got up, yawned and decided he was going home, squeezing between the loose boards in the fence with a haughty look back as if to say Thanks, I suppose.
In the semi-dark we lay on top of the covers, still drunk with heat. The air was as still as if it belonged to our ancestors from a pre-industrial age. Slowly, the heat dissipated, and we realised that for hours we had been holding our bodies tense, poised for flight.
The night was blood-warm. A silver haze shimmered at ground level, stray beams of daylight caught by the scorched streets. It was cool enough to sleep. Cool enough to know we had survived. We closed our eyes and dreamed of living underwater. And at last we were at peace.