It’s been hot for a week. Really hot. The city seems to be crouching down, trying to get as far away from the sun as possible, trying to hide behind itself.
Craig stays at work for a little while longer than usual, lingering in the spluttering output of the air-conditioning unit. It has been a languid day again, with everyone only able to work in slow motion.
The sun has started to go down. He thinks that maybe it’s lost some of its sting and that it might be safe to walk home. He turns off the lights and the air-conditioner, which coughs a few times before wheezing into silence. He hopes it will start up again tomorrow. He closes up the workshop and trudges out into the street.
The few people who are walking around in the late afternoon sun look like he feels – exhausted, drained and tired of being hot.
Craig can feel the heat from the pavement creeping up through the soles of his boots. He drifts momentarily into thinking about running across the hot sand at the beach, followed by plunging into the cool refreshing ocean. It’s a cruel unfulfilled vision.
He opens his eyes and starts thinking about what he’s going to eat when he gets home. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be another plate of limp salad greens and a can of pink salmon. In any case, the fridge is empty bar a few long term science experiments lurking on the bottom shelf.
Normally Craig doesn’t like going into the local convenience store without knowing what he wants. He hates being one of the people clogging up the aisles with indecision. Tonight, he doesn’t care – it’s cool inside and he may not make it home without melting into the road if he doesn’t get a few minutes of respite.
He’s not alone. Everywhere he looks are people walking slowly around in the cool air, while trying not to swap sweat with the person next to them, in front, behind them. In the fruit and vegetable aisle, the only things remaining that you might put into a salad look like they already have been – the day before yesterday.
After circling around the shop twice, he looks in his basket. An onion. A jar of pasta sauce containing “garden-fresh vegetables”, a packet of spaghetti. A vacuum-sealed pack of sliced salami with the “use by” date mysteriously rubbed off. He edges against the tide to the dairy compartment, and finds a wedge of Parmesan cheese, making a point not to check the price.
The crowd is three deep in the freezer section, so the idea of buying some gelato to finish off his “I don’t care if I melt” Italian meal is left behind in the crush.
Craig climbs the stairs to his front door with a growing sense of dread. While his apartment has two floors above it that normally shield it from the heat, the relentless day and night assault has left the rooms searing hot and airless.
He dumps the plastic shopping bag on the floor at the entry to the kitchen, and goes straight to the bathroom and dumps the sweaty clothes he’s been in for twelve hours on the floor. He lasts two minutes under a blast of cold water in the shower, then dries himself lightly, trying to leave some of the remnants of coolness behind.
Clad only in a pair of running shorts, Craig heads to the kitchen carrying a fan. He sets it up on the benchtop so he can cook in its breeze, retrieving the shopping bag from the floor.
The pot of water sits on the stove, threatening to turn the kitchen into a sauna. The exhaust fan above the stove chugs into life as he flicks the switch. It will vainly try to suck the steam out of the room through the layers of grease that cling to its air filter like chewing gum to the sole of a running shoe.
Finely slice one onion. Done. Peel and crush a clove of garlic. Nice to do, if you have some. Fry onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Can do that.
There are a couple of wine bottles in the door of the fridge filled with cold water. Craig grabs one and drinks most of it in one go, straight from the bottle. He grabs a large tumbler from where it sits upturned on the kitchen sink, and fills it with ice.
“If it’s pasta, it must be red,” he says to himself. He finds a bottle of red wine in the bottom of the pantry. The bottle feels warm to the touch, but the dark red liquid splashes onto the ice seductively. He puts the bottle in the fridge, and grabs an unopened one from the pantry and puts it in as well, to keep the first one company in its unfamiliar surroundings.
The pot has come to the boil. He takes a rough guess at how much spaghetti he can eat, and puts that into tumbling water. Followed by another little handful to make sure. Then two more pieces for good measure. He up-ends the jar of pasta sauce onto the onion, and quickly hacks the salami into jagged chunks and throws that in as well. A little red splash of sauce hits the tiles on the wall behind the hotplates, but he doesn’t notice. The timer is set for twelve minutes, then he wraps his hands around the glass of wine and ice and slumps into the lounge to watch the evening news.
The timer beeps and coaxes him off the lounge and back to the kitchen, carrying the empty glass. He refills it and lets the bottle glug a few times into the sauce for good measure. He stabs the timer silent and gives both parts of the dish a stir. Nearly there.
The block of cheese yields its tiny tangy threads through the grater. He does a large handful-sized mound without skinning his knuckles. The pot of spaghetti gushes into the sink, the pasta rescued in the colander. Rising steam fills the room, swirling around in the breeze from the fan.
“‘Now for plating up.” In one swish, the pasta sauce follows the pasta onto the plate.
“Looks good,” he says to the judges. His mouth is watering, and he takes a gulp from the glass of chilled wine.
Craig takes a handful of the grated parmesan and lifts his hand up above the plate, so he can artfully sprinkle the cheese over his creation. The tiny crumbs fall from his hand, but most don’t make it to the plate. They are swept up in the breeze from the fan, blown onto his chest and stomach, where they lodge in his body hair like a light dusting of snow in the forest.
His eyes close and he takes a deep breath. The sweat is starting to run down his back, the meal is sitting there steaming, filling his nose with the promise of some real food for the first time in a week, and he’s covered in finely grated cheese. That is starting to melt.
A deep swig from the glass of chilled wine, and he trudges off for another quick shower.
Author’s Note. This story existed in my head for a long time before making it to paper, so to speak. In the end, it came to life in the Advanced Smash Repairs series as the prologue to Episode 3, Scratch. The main character, Craig, was just the right person for this series of events.