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California sun

The wind is hot, parching and, satisfied that I have tortured myself in it for long enough, I stoop to extinguish my cigarette in the cracked, dry earth – expecting no different fate - that is just beyond the narrow band of shade which is my respite at the rear of the house. In pressing the butt to the ground, the burning end comes briefly in contact with the end of my finger and, shocked, I react but, the heat is no more, or less, pressing or insistent than that of the air around. I let the cigarette fall into a half-full, small, cracked, pink plastic, planting pot and then lick the fingertip that has been singed; the end of my tongue is as dry and barbed as a cat's.

Beyond where I stand, narrowly darkened, the world has been made a pale canvas of subdued greens and greys under the overpowering brilliance of the sun. Steps away, the ground falls away as a steep incline of herb, native chaparral and the occasional struggling citrus or avocado tree with leaves that droop, protecting themselves from the overpowering solar rays as the locust vines spread their talons along the ground, digging in, strangling. I wipe the perspiration from my forehead and, exhaling as though to propel the accumulating heat from my body, slide the door open, slip in and rapidly close it behind me.

“Getting hot,” I offer to the cooler air inside.

Gus is at a small desk in the large open space, scribbling incomprehensible formulae on scraps of paper.

“Is it?” He does not look up. The sound of his pen is fine sandpaper against the notepad page torn free of its spiral, wire binding.

I nod and stare at the floor, still feeling the heat radiating from my body.

In this heat, everything moves slowly. Slumped in the shade, two wolf-sized, fair coloured, guard dogs are uncomfortable to see, their movements sluggish to brush off the resettling flies, tongues pendulous, eyes lidded and unfocussed. Their fur sheds against rough, pine bark or to the touch. In the hot wind, it swirls and eddies - like the snow that will never come but to the mountain peaks – collecting against the corners of the house, drifting on the arrid air.

I pad softly – my sock-clad feet damp - across the cool, slate floor and slump onto a couch piled high with overstuffed cushions. From a vent below the high beam in the ceiling, I can feel a whisper of freon-refreshed air against my exposed skin. I pluck a sweating bottle from its puddle on the floor and take a sip. The beer has gone stale and lukewarm. I swallow reluctantly and allow my head to fall back against a cushion, panting like a dog. On the mantle, the pendulum of the clock continues to swing, tick-tocking into silence and stillness.

“Getting late,” I suggest without stirring from my motionless state.

“Hmm?” His answer is noncommittal. The pen continues to scratch.

The mantle clock chimes the hour and I jump, my nerves drawn taught by the heat.

Somewhere, beyond the dullness of my immediate perceptions, there is the surprising sound of spattering water; perhaps Lisa is taking a shower or the gardens are being sprayed down outside. Without the water, the sun, relentless as it is, would bake the plants to the root in a single day.

Water, here, is life – the only barrier between the relative verdance and life of this valley corridor and, scant miles away, beyond a range of rugged, granite crests, the barren desolation of the desert, stretching more deathly far than a void in a vivid imagination.

The window rattles, driven by a gust of dry hot air and I stop, the warm, beer bottle suspended half-way between lips and baggy, canvas shorts already marked by dampened rings.

Gus is still – lost in his own meanderings – the pen hovering. Lisa has not reappeared. The sound of spattering water has ceased.

The clock pendulum swings noisesomely.

I turn toward the window but, beyond, there is nothing to be seen – only blazing, brilliant white.

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