The barometer just outside the window, the one I bought from L.L. Bean in the middle of winter, reads 90 degrees.

It is, of course, hanging in a patch of shade that it shares with a dried-out spider’s web and a torn scrap of leaf from last autumn.

It is Sunday now, and still no one has returned from wherever locals go on the Fourth of July weekend. To the beaches in the south? To camps on the lakes, I suspect. There is not a sound on this dry, hot afternoon, no cars or sirens. It is Día de Los Muertos, truly.

Hot summer days come with an eerie silence that remind me of Sundays in my early childhood in St. Louis. Sundays during the war truly were full of days of the dead.

Joseph Conrad must have been thinking of St. Louis when he wrote “Heart of Darkness.”

“The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.” It was like that.

It was such a day when everyone in the southern part of the city, both rich and poor, drew their yellow window shades against the burning sun. No, I didn’t think of Conrad then. I found him in big-city air-cooled libraries, with writers like Hemingway and Truman Capote.

Hemingway wrote, “The thing with heat is, no matter how cold you are, no matter how much you need warmth, it always, eventually, becomes too much.”

And Truman Capote: “Hot weather opens the skull of a city, exposing its white brain, and its heart of nerves.”

I was given Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” by a summer girl from Vassar, who wore lime-green glasses and read it to me.

“An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.”

None of those quotes are flowers that Maine wears in her hair in the summer, which is why I’m still here, but it describes perfectly the mid-August Sundays of my childhood, when the few friends I had all had grandparents who lived in what they called “the country,” those bits of farmland far south of the city.

They had horses, they told me, and pigs and chickens and old tires hanging in trees, screened-in porches and ceiling fans.

On those hot Fourth of July nights, they had sparklers and burned railroad flares in the street that left an acrid fog late into the night. I had none of that, but I dreamt of them.

On one particular day, my mother, now widowed, had put my little sister and me down for the usual afternoon nap on a linen sheet spread across the oriental rug in the living room, turned on the black fan and gone to her bed, until the afternoon angelus bells from the convent would wake her for supper.

On this restless hot day, I crept away from the sheet and sat under the grape arbor in the yard, looking for some movement, human or animal. A wandering mongrel crept down the alley, wisely keeping to the shady side.

“Hot enough for you?” he seemed to say, and then moved on.

O’Neil’s saloon on the corner had its wooden Venetian blinds drawn and the doors locked. The old, historic firehouse directly across the street baked in the heat while the small band of old firemen in their wife-beater undershirts and baggy summer pants dozed in the cool, damp darkness.

No alarms sounded that summer. It was the summer of the cicadas and crickets, when one of those rare summer winds came up in the trees and scattered the fireflies, which we always called “lightnin’ bugs.”

It’s not over. It’s still July, the tri-colored month that only hints of heat.

August is coming, with splendid music and, sometimes, lots of heartache. August. She’s the last girl we dance with, as the songs of summer fade.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.