For those who not live here in South Carolina or in the South, we experience a lot of heat in the summer. So hot a cannibal needs not to cook you when he approaches you on the street, since all of your organs have been fried, your meat browned to perfection. So hot you cannot use body spray lest you become combustive outside. So hot– well, you get the idea.
When the heat index spikes well over a hundred degrees for several days in a row, we finally feel summer arrive. Before, we enjoyed the cool upper nineties, a brief respite of solid heat for those of us like me who do not have air conditioning in our cars. On such days when I don’t go to work, we try to avoid driving. With the windows down, the wind blasting me. Every stop light is a fresh Hell to suffer through, the heat a pressing claw on your neck, drawing sweat like blood from your body.
It is not so much that there is high humidity but instead a wall of heat that passes through the atmosphere. An army of heatwave-fisted boxers punching you in the jaw again and again.
What we do on these days, we try to stay at home. Turn on fans to sit in front of with a book. We drink water, or at least in the South, sweet tea which is considered more nutritionally valuable by merit of having magical Southern powers. Yesterday, a Saturday, the movie theatres were so packed out, lines formed well onto the street, around the block. Inside waited cool salvation for the masses who are willing to shell out twelve dollars for the air conditioning– and some Pixar movie or a film about a potty-mouthed stuffed bear.
I made the mistake of going swimming at noon on Friday and suffered for it, dipping my body into a body of water that the sun had already rose to boiling temperatures. It’s so hot, Facebook friends from Maine or California complain, the temperatures there rising into the eighties. And here, the sun is a cruel fixation of summer, the indelible monument of the South, forever hovering above our heads. Wielding life and death, light and darkness, heat and exhaustion and cloudless sky.
Heat is a Southern tradition we cannot escape any more than slavery or the tendency to stretch our vowels. During deer hunting season, first time hunters smear their faces with blood; in the summer, the sun replaces blood with sweat and drenches not just our faces but our bodies. The discomfort of sweat is something you get used to, though. Even the rivulets of liquid sloshing in your armpits, perpetually streaming down our back, glistening on your chest. Sweat becomes a new skin that leaves us sticky, wet, and rancid.
It has not rained for more than three weeks, despite a tropical storm blowing near our coasts. The storms shuffled around our city, flooding Florida, sprinkling Georgia. But here, the land is dryer than Gizmo the Gremlin before he belonged to an irresponsible teenager. And each day, he hope for a downpour. Something so torrential, the pine limbs snap. Something so powerful, the buildings shake in the wind. Even if we fail to venture into the storm, we pray for the end of the heat.
Already it is hot, and it must only get hotter.