The Heat of the Day

I wanted to stop and join the old Borrachos at their party, the one on the stoop. I wanted to, so badly, whatever cheap swill they had between them, whatever cheap tobacco in their hand rolled cigarettes, I wanted to stop and join them.

But I was on another errand, one that would prevent me, for the time and possibly forever, from stopping and sitting on the stoop with the day drunks and letting my life disintegrate into the internal deconstruction I was already feeling.

Neither here, nor there, like the old people say. I was between the Barrio Viejo and downtown coming from Kris's place and headed toward my own. The bells of St. Augustine peeled through the summertime deserted streets. “Hey man,” the first one said.

“Hey,” I said. I took a couple of steps closer and into the shade of their building. They say some of John Dilinger's gang had lived in that building. Be that true or not, the place always gave me a creepy vibe when I walked passed it. It was the sort of place that harbored day drunks, who I understood, but it was also a building that kept aging couples, domestic violence and potential creeps who lured prostitutes for snuff films. And even if the snuff films weren't gory on the inside of the old place, the domestic violence was clearly audible from this window or that and noise fell out into the streets.

“I know you,” the other one said.

“Yeah?” I said. I knew both of them. “The coffeehouse or the smoke shop?”

“Aw, shit, man,” the first said. I saw clearly this time that he whistled through missing teeth. “Yeah man, you work at the smoke shop. What's your name again?”


“Like emeralds and shit?” the second one said.

“No,” I said. “Like in Verne.”

“Verne?” the first began. “Shit, sit down here with us and have a drink.”

“Gotta get off to work,” I said. I looked at my watch and looked up the length of their building and to their block of 6th Ave.

“Work?” the second said. They both started laughing. “Man sit down with us and have a drink with us.”

“I want to fellas, but,” I said.

“Too good for us?”

“No,” I said. “Work, that's all.”

“Shit man,” the other said. “Man, they don't care if you're drunk. Really? At the smoke shop?”

“Naw,” I said. I had them figured now. “They only care if I'm on time. I can't be late.”

“Here,” the first said. He lifted the bottle toward me. “Have some.”

I took the bottle, a plastic bottle with an off-brand rum label. “Thanks,” I said. “I better not,” I said. I handed the bottle back to him.

“Come on, one ain't going to make you late.”

I hate AA. I hate NA. I hate SA. And I really hate any douche bag carrying the AA handbook. They all seem to dish out quotes that don't mean anything and they always want you to join. I hate joiners. I hate joining. And maybe, I thought, that's why I couldn't sit down on the stoop with these toothless drunks. “Oh, I don't know,” I said. “One's not enough and two is too many.”

“I can dig that,” the second said. “You come back after work, man, we're still going to be here.”

“Thanks,” I said. I put out my hand and slapped each of theirs. “Yeah. I'll be passing back by this way.”

“Yeah bring some smoke with you, you dig?”

“Yeah, man, I dig,” I said as I walked away. It was all a lie.

I would not be passing back that way. I just wasn't. I didn't live in the Barrio Viejo. I didn't live in Armory Park. True, one of my jobs, the coffeehouse, was downtown, but the smoke shop was on the other side of the tracks, on 4th Ave, and I lived father off than that in Dunbar Springs. Now, it seemed like a far distance because there was so much packed in, but it really wasn't that far. From my place in Dunbar Springs to Kris's house in the Barrio Viejo was not more than a 15 minute walk and that's a saunter's pace. And I going home.

There were these sorts of neighborhoods in Burlington and in Asheville. The sorts of neighborhoods with old apartments where the young people—college students or recent graduates live among the welfare victims and burnouts. I've lived in these sorts of neighborhoods for most of my life. The day drunk stoop is a sad reminder of the condition of the stoop at night. A day stoop will always be covered in cigarette butts, bottle caps, empty cans of beer. The night stoop has laughter even if it isn't from those who are particularly happy. The night stoop has a lonely dude strumming a guitar like a serenading ambush predator. The day stoop has a torn newspaper. A day stoop is the reminder that eventually you can be drunk or at the very least, become drunk again.

I crossed 6th and hustled into the shade on the next block.

There is something wonderful about the desert. At least in the heat of summer all you can really smell are the palo verde trees, creosote and dust—what you can't smell is who you are, or who you might be.

What I was, was dirty. My hands, although I had washed them several times, were very-very dirty. My black t-shirt was grayed with dirt and my jeans? Forget about it. I had been on the railroad bridge most of the night with Kris. We smoked countless cigarettes, drank two six packs of Bud and flattened pennies on the rails when the trains went by. We threw rocks.

Later on, we tried to see how far we could get our tongues in each other's mouths. Then a train would go by, we'd crack a beer, light a smoke and throw rocks.

“Come back to my place,” she said.

“Oh, I don't know,” I said. “Where's Ed?”

“Flagstaff,” she said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. After all, the occasional make out session behind the warehouses by the train tracks was one thing. And even that sobered me up when I considered how big and menacing Ed was. I mean, his neck was the size of my waist.

“He's at a funeral,” Kris said.

“Oh,” I said. “I still don't know.”

“We can keep our shoes on,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“Or we don't have to be polite about it.”


We weren't polite about it. And by the time I left her house I had been up for well over 24 hours and things weren't seemingly quite right. All I could taste was the remains of too many cigarettes like an ashtray sprinkled with freshly used dental floss and stale beer mixed with bile. My clothes smelled like the railyard, sweat and Kris's house. My lips smelled like her. That last part was all right.

I looked at my watch. Anything for a shower. Anything for some water. Anything for fresh clothes. What I really needed was three or four good nights of sleep, maybe five gallons of water and a massage. But none of that was going to happen. Ever.

In the coffeehouse, I smiled at my coworker Sherman. The usual suspects sat in their usual places nervously sucking cigarettes and slugging down cup after cup of coffee, stroking themselves for another day of sobriety. They were our clientele, but fuck them.

“I just gotta use the can,” I said to Sherman as I took the key from its regular spot. “Oh, and can I have the lost and take box?”

“Yeah,” Sherman said with a peppy tone. I liked Sherman for a lot of reasons. The biggest one was that he always gave me compliments. It could have been that or that he never asked questions.

I had had a pair of black pants stashed in my locker in the back of the coffeehouse. Someone had left them behind and I could tell they were decent black pants, uniform pants. I didn't know why I had stashed them at the time, but it made sense to me at that moment. The lost and found, or as we liked to call it, the lost and take, would cover me. There were a few t-shirts in there, a few hats, sunglasses—lots of sunglasses.

In the men's room I washed myself as best I could with the warped bar of soap and the paper towels. I washed my hands again, then my face, my underarms, my ass. I changed into the “new” clothes. I ate three starlight mints on the way out.

I looked at my watch when I got back outside. “Fuck,” I said. I hoped that the bus wouldn't be on time. The usual delay would be okay, like an unusual amount of passengers boarding or deboarding in Chandler or some such place.

But sure enough, two blocks later as I saw the bus station, her bus was heading out which meant that she was already inside of the station.

The heat of the day reached the inside of the Greyhound station before it hit the outside. It stayed longer in there too.

No matter how bad I thought I smelled, I was no match for the inside of the bus station. I saw her immediately. I was suddenly thankful for the stench of poor people and lack of sanitation because it masked the cigarettes and beer and sex. “Jules,” she said as I got near to her.

“Jessica,” I said.

“You look like shit,” she said.

“Good to see you too,” I said.

“What would mom and dad say?” she said.

“They're dead,” I said.

“Jules!” she said stamping her foot. “That's just not right.”

“They're dead,” I said again. “I don't think they'll mind.”

“I mind,” she said.

This was true, she minded. She would mind, she was closer to both of them, being three years older than me. I never remembered mom being anything but sick. We were at a movie when my mother died. It was dad then Jessica then me, then mom. Half way through the movie, mom got up, left, then came back. When she sat down, she put her head on my shoulder. I thought she was sleeping. She died sometime before the end of the movie. I was 11 years old. Dad died in a car accident when I was sixteen. He had been drinking.

Jessica had been taking dad's remains—small origami envelops with minute portions of his ashes—all over the country. She and dad, or rather she, had planned trips to all the national parks and national places of importance and a few roadside attractions for most of her life. In a way I was grateful dad was cremated because for nearly ten years and countless trips Jessica was not alone.

“Come on,” I said. “Let's go. You hungry?”

“Yeah,” she said.

We ate greasy omelets on the way to my house. Jessica told me about her new place in Bozeman which seemed nice. She told me about her travels over the summer and they also seemed nice.

At my house, I showed her to her bedroom. I showed her around the house. I gave her the keys to my car. She had expressed her desire for me to accompany her and dad. They were going to Saguaro National Park and Mt. Lemmon and if they were feeling up to it, Bioshere II.

“Listen Jess,” I said. “I work two jobs, I'm in between shifts, I need a nap. Take the car. Have fun. Stay as long as you like.”

“Two jobs?” she said. “That explains it.”


“Why you look like shit,” she said.

I boiled instantly to anger and felt a hangover coming on. “No, that's not why I look like shit. I partied all night, smoked too many cigarettes and drank a shit ton of cheap beer.”

“Oh, Jules,” she said.

“And I fucked a crazy redhead all morning.”

“Oh Jules,” she said again. “I don't want to hear about it.”

“She's kind of nasty, but I kind of like that.”

“Jules! Stop it!”

“Let me shower and get some sleep and we can talk about your visit, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” she said. “I could use a little sleep too.”

“Good,” I said.

“Tucson is really hot,” she said. “The heat really takes it out of you.”

I hugged her. The heat of the day hadn't really infiltrated my small Dunbar Springs house, not until the late afternoon. The swamp cooler worked most of the day making the place cool enough. “Yeah,” I agreed. “The heat really takes it out of you.”



Anthony ILacqua

After leaving his job at the sweatshop manufacturing decorative pillows, Anthony ILacqua became an out of print author of two books you've probably never read. He co-founded Umbrella Factory Magazine in 2009 and was the editor in chief for the first 40 issues. His short fiction has most recently appeared in Lamplit Underground, Alternate Route and Ethos Literary Journal. Meet him here: Anthony recommends Our Center.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, June 9, 2024 - 21:04