The temperature had seared to 98-degrees. I didn’t want to leave the air conditioning, and neither did Sam, but we both knew we needed to get out of the house. It had become the summer’s version of cabin fever, sizzling days forcing the world to stay in doors. How many more emails could I read, Facebook posts could I reply to? I had finished two books I’d been reading. I rearranged my clothes closet. And Sam was restless. She had found socks from the hamper and was chewing on the toes. She had taken shoes from our closets and clothes from the laundry room and had brought them to the first floor. It was something to do; something to occupy her time, while the world outside soaked itself in sweat.
“One time around the block,” I say to Sam. “We can do this.”
We step out the back door into a wall of humidity—dense, heavy air. Sam usually jumps from the stoop to the walkway, but not today. She moves slowly, purposely, as if being slowed by the shear thickness of the atmosphere. Sam looks at me, as if asking if I’m sure about this.
“Come on,” I say, leading her through the gate to the driveway out to the front yard.
A reminder here: Sam is a black dog with curly, thick fur. It must be unbearable.
I told myself not to complain. Not to moan about the weather. Accept it. Enjoy that it wasn’t a day in January. But as we round the first corner, I am already sweating and Sam is panting. There is no denying how unpleasant this weather is. Even the flowers planted along the edge of a neighbor’s property appear to be wilting.
I slow my pace and allow Sam more time to sniff and meander in the parkway. Slow is the way to go, the only way to go.
Why do people move to South Florida? Or Arizona and the ridiculous 110-degree heat? Those I know who live there tell me the heat, unlike the Chicago cold, does not keep you for going outside. As I watch Sam slump around the second corner, and I feel the unrelenting sun on my neck, I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. These temperatures would keep a desert lizard in doors. These same people tell me it’s easier to acclimate to the heat of the south or southwest, but I’m not buying that.
Sam and I walk north now. I wipe sweat from my forehead. Sam looks up at me. Can we go home now?
Up ahead, I hear voices, children talking, laughing. Standing in the driveway of a small home on the east side of the street, I woman is holding a garden hose by her side. A young boy and girl stand near.
“You want to run through it?” the woman asks, squirting the hose at the children’s bare feet.
The kids appear tentative. Unsure.
The woman squirts the hose again, inches from them. “Come on,” she encourages. “It’s fun.”
My father used to set up a garden sprinkler in our yard when I was a kid. We’d get on our ill-fitting bathing suits, my sister and I and a few of the neighbor friends, and we’d run back and forth through the cold water, over and over, for hours. Does anyone run through a sprinkler anymore? I’m certain this woman with the hose in her hand, who may be about fifty years of age, has a similar memory. And she wants the young children, most likely her grandchildren, to find the joy in the simple act of cold water on bare skin in the heat of a summer day.
The two kids are still not yet ready for the spraying water, not certain of this generations-old activity. It appears foreign to them, some how prohibited.
“With our clothes on?” the boy asks, smiling.
“Sure. Why not?” the woman says.
You can spray it over here, I think. Put it on streaming and squirt this old man and his dog. Soak us!
The boy and girl look at each other, as if hoping to find courage in togetherness. The boy giggles. The girl giggles. The woman aims the hose over their heads and offers a quick spray, water droplets fall on the children and they scatter to escape. The woman laughs and aims the hose directly at them, the steam chasing the kids as they dart across the driveway into the lawn, attempting to outrun the attack, their high-pitched screams carrying down the street.
This has Sam’s undivided attention now. She’s alert and seems to have forgotten all about the heat. The laughter, the joy of summer, has won her over. Even in the insufferable intensity of a late June day, there is happiness. And Sam, like all of us, finds it infectious. Pulling her leash toward to the sounds of children, Sam is aware now of only them, of their delight, of the woman’s playfulness, and for a moment, the day is glorious.
We turn the north corner and head west and south again toward home. The hum of a window air conditioning unit cuts through the nearly impenetrable air. Other than this, with the children behind us and out of sight, there is little sound now. Even the birds are not chirping. It’s as if Mother Nature has thrown a heavy hot blanket over the neighborhood, numbing signs of life. Sam falls back into tired steps, her head hanging low. I wipe accumulated perspiration from the back of my neck and brow; the sting of salty sweat forces me to close an eye. I rub it to find relief.
It had been only a few minutes before, for a few brief moments, that two children and one black dog found an oasis in the sun. For a tiny piece of an afternoon, the pall of a merciless day vanished. And although the walk was one we had not looked forward to, and had the makings of a miserable memory, it had reminded me that summertime, like childhood, does not last forever, and that the sweet burn of the sun is to be celebrated for what it is—the opposite of winter, a season in which to surrender.