The heat is unbelievable – it’s 2am and the window’s open. Behind me the fan sputters and groans, been on for the last three days straight. Pushing the thick air past me, back out the window, only to return again, warm and overly familiar like an abusive lover’s embrace. Otherwise it’s stagnant, no breeze, no wind, no hope of relief in sight like maybe San Francisco’s famous fog would save us all by suddenly appearing and settling in for the night. My apartment’s like a kiln and I guess that makes me akin to the clay pot that’d be baking away inside. The one window that’s across the room, gapping open on its hinges, is just a formality in that it really offers no reprieve from the heat, because there really isn’t any cross ventilation to speak of, because to get any kind of breeze you’d have to leave the front door wide open. But you just don’t leave your door open to the hallway unattended all night, because who knows who might want to come inside to hang out.
Tonight is so hot, the prevailing atmosphere so dead, that there’s none of the usual familiar noises coming up from the street like there regularly is. Obviously it’s too hot for hustling, too hot for crime, too hot for dope dealing, too hot for standing on the street corner watching the dust settle. Though the occasional car drives by with the stereo blasting, the thudding bass vibrating, someone shouts and then it’s quiet again, in the immediate vicinity no one seems to be playing music, not even a television set. Somewhere a dog barks, out in the hall someone laughs, a door closes, my neighbor bumps the wall again, and something falls down with a thud.
The phone rings. I stare at it as it sits there on my desk. Who’d be calling me at 2am? But even before I pick it up I know that it’s Nadia, close to tears, asking me questions: she wants to know why men suck, she wants to know why she gets treated the way she does by the men she picks to be in her life, she wants to know about a lot a stuff that I haven’t the foggiest idea why things are the way that they are. But reluctantly I gotta answer these questions, reluctantly because whether I like it or not I seem to have been one of those men that have made her life suck, reluctantly because she’s still my friend and sometimes telling her the truth sucks for me as well.
We talk for a few minutes. She seems to think that I moved to LA and though she is surprised to find that I haven’t she really wants me to meet her somewhere tonight. Like some neutral place, like a street corner, or… I’m not really sure where or even why. When we were going out she wanted me to tell her that I loved her. When we lived together in that crack hotel on Folsom Street we grew apart. Then by some strange coincidence she moved into my building, living in the apartment two doors down from me for two years. Now she’s with her boyfriend sharing a place over on Howard Street for going on 9 months and when she calls it’s usually isn’t for something good.
Outside there’s the sound of a gun-shot. Three times the resounding echo follows the bullets being discharged, the reverberations falling short in the dark, dead air. Sounding so close together like automatic fire, it’s over and done with in a few seconds and then the night is still again for a few minutes. Until the sirens start up, distant at first, followed by the sound of a car accelerating. Below my window, through the alleyway, I can see the oncoming flashing lights. With the screeching of tires serving as an intrusive introduction, the sudden sound of activity down on the street makes its way up and into my open window: the electric static of police radios, the sounds of running feet on pavement, the shouted orders of some one in charge echoing off the surrounding buildings.
With one ear to the phone I’m still patiently listening to Nadia giggling about some movie with pirates, asking if I’ve seen it. Then talking about old times between us, she seems like she’s starting to be Ok. Abruptly her voice changes, like someone just walked into the room, or maybe I’m just imagining this. Then she says she has to go, makes me promise that I’ll call, and hangs up without saying goodbye.
Blankly I stare at the computer screen, phone still warm in my hand, listening to the commotion outside. Within a few minutes I hear the cop cars pulling away as the alley’s walls go dark, the shadows and silence returns, the street light across from my window blinks to life and then goes dark again. Lethargically I turn my desk light off and close the cover to my laptop, putting it to rest. There’s no way with this heat that I’m sleeping tonight, although I am tired from writing on my computer all day. Eyes weary, my mind dull, a weird cabin fever-like sensation starts creeping up on me. On the floor by my bare feet is a liter of lukewarm water. Unscrewing the cap I drink a quarter of the bottle before putting it down, a circle of perspiration marking the rug where it used to be.
Over my shoulder the fan continues to spin. Sitting here I close my eyes. Abruptly the phone begins to ring again and with a practiced movement I turn it off and open my laptop. The glow from the screen eerily illuminates the room. Somewhere, very faintly, I can hear Marvin Gaye singing about the children. Moving my foot I knock over the bottle of water. The spilling sound almost wakes me up, my left foot splashes a soggy carpet, dreams of better days fills my mind and I am gone.
This was published as “Talking With Maria,” in SoMa Literary Review, June Issue (2009)