The pomp and circumstance of the Glorious Fourth has receded like outgoing tide and all that's left is the flat dull surface of superheated asphalt. June's hopeful beginnings lie deep in the past, dreaming in shady pools of memory. Now it's July, down-to-business summertime. Every day is the same: A stretched-out cavalcade of heat and humidity, punctuated by the occasional evening thunderstorm.
Tempers are short. Businesses crank up the A/C, even at 2 AM. Store windows are filmy with condensation, transforming everyday clear-cut interiors to surreal fogscapes. Old men sit on intersection corners beneath unraveling beach umbrellas, selling sugar-baby watermelons and boiled peanuts off their pickup trucks' rusting tailgates. Fans turn lazily on front porches; an ice-choked glass of sweet tea with lemon is the only thing that satisfies.
Children easily found just two weeks before, lustily parading in freedom from organized education, are nowhere to be seen. They hide in the air-conditioned shadows of their houses, their friends' houses; when their mothers shoo them outside to play they cluster in any air-conditioned spot they can find: shopping malls, grocery stores, bowling alleys, swimming pools, libraries. Even though they won't admit it to each other, part of them aches for the long, climate-controlled hours of school.
It's not just the kids. Everyone is off the streets, out of the sun, in the A/C; at 3 in the afternoon everything is bright and hot and still. There's not a car on the street, not a moving shadow to be seen. Outside the bees and butterflies have become true monarchs and the people have given quarter to the elements, for now. The only sad souls out in this oven of an afternoon are those who have to be, and when they make eye contact with each other, a silent plea seems to pass between them - is it five yet?
Mimosa trees are wilting, losing their color and scent; the few blackberries left on bushes are picked over by birds and baked in the heat, nothing but rounded clumps of coal clustered on the briars. In contrast, crepe myrtles bloom in florid hues of red and pink and purple. Trees - only a month ago vibrant and green with new summer gloss - are a tired and uniform shade, blending into each other like one huge organism.
The day drags on and heads into evening; all the while, sunlight hours grow imperceptibly shorter with each passing day. Softball games are won and lost. The tantalizing smell of grilling meat floats in the air of every subdivision. Sprinklers run endlessly - hish-hish-hish-hish-hissssssshhhh... A yellow rind of moon rises in the darkening sky. The evening star hangs on the lip of the horizon like a wet beauty mark. Everything is sleepy, soporific. Everything is slow.
Everything is summertime.