Friday, September 26, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 3 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 3 of 4:

I continued down the road. I took off my shoes. There weren't any cars. Although the man who sells UFO kites was still parked on the west side of the highway. His sign had changed. It used to read "UFO KITES $10." He had added the words "EVERYTHING MUST GO" to the bottom. As I walked past he slathered white sunscreen across his flushed flesh. He was wearing a straw hat with the brim flipped up, a severely ugly bathing suit, and some well-worn purple flip-flops. He looked like John F. Kennedy with a couple of earrings. Maybe he was in the navy at some point.

"Where you think you're going?" He shouted lazily from his lawn chair.

"Just down the road a bit."

"You live around here?" He added. I could tell by his tone that he didn't really care.

"Yeah, I live down in the Three Palms Apartments."

"Really? Mind if I ask how much you pay for something like that?"

"Four sixty. Plus utilities."

"Really?" He pulled his head back and the skin on his neck folded up. "Do you like it much?"

"Oh yeah, it's got a great view." I told him what I tell all the people who ask. Mostly only tourists ask me how I like my apartment. In Florida everyone makes the balcony sacrifice. If you want to see the ocean you pay five times more than you would if you want to look at sea oats in front of a line of pine trees.

"Maybe I should look into getting a place there. I'm looking into moving you know. It's just that I'm waiting to really get up on my feet. You know, financially. I'm trying to save up to get my daughter to college by selling these damn things." He sat forward. “She wants to be a baby doctor. You know, deliver babies.”

"Yeah." I pretended to be interested.

"I mean I can't just go out on a limb and take a chance like moving into a snazzy apartment like the ones at Three Palms. I don't have that kind of security. Oh well, one day." He sat back.

"How much?"

"Ten dollars." I thought the kites might be drastically reduced.

I reached into my bathing suit pocket and pulled out a twenty that had been through the wash several times.

"I'll take two."

"Sure thing! Do you have a color preference?" He inquired honestly.

"No. Just whatever you have will be fine."

"Okay. Here you go." He handed me two long strings with kites attached. They fluttered in the wind twisting around each other like sea serpents.

"Thanks. So I'll see you around."

"Yup. I'm here every afternoon." He waved as I walked away. I just turned and went, like it was a regular day, like it was a regular conversation, like I wasn't consumed by fear.

When I got to the beach nature had gone a bit askew. There were sea turtles hatching. Sea turtles aren't supposed to hatch in the daytime because the sand is too hot to crawl on. Normally, they hatch out of their eggs then crawl to just underneath the surface of the sand and wait there until it's cool enough to make the mad dash for the ocean. The movements of one turtle inspire the others so that when one breaks the surface, so do all the others, and all three-hundred or so baby sea turtles burst out at the exact same time. Nature.

Why is this happening now? It's almost noon and the blast made the temperature rise even more. The turtles were braving the hot sand like they didn't even feel it, flapping their tiny flippers as fast as they could go, chasing each other towards the water. Their backs each caught a single shimmer of blue light that sparked across the sand in waves. Most of them made it to the water. I hadn't the heart to tell them that it's tainted. Their one chance at life has already been poisoned.

I walked a few hundred feet down away from the turtle’s nest to where the sand was fresh white and I couldn't see any footprints. It was warmer there, but I sat down anyway. I took deep lethal breaths and my mind wandered. A short while later, I'm really alert.

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