HeatFor the Summer Heat Challenge 2018
Written for the CABB 2018 Summer Heat Challenge
“And the heat was a medium which made this change of out-look possible.”
– L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
The heat of the day persisted.
After the sun disappeared from baking the concrete and glass, the warmth lingered; even beneath the city, listening to music selected to evoke the summer, they could feel it. It caused Vincent to discard his cloak and Catherine to forgo the usual mandatory shawl. Even in the Tunnels, the heat could invade.
Vincent sat close enough to touch, but he wasn’t. Unusually quiet, eyes shut, cocooned, he’d barely spoken three sentences since he’d arrived to escort her to “their spot”. The plans for this concert had been made over a week ago, but now Catherine wondered if he regretted inviting her. Had she done something, (thought something, felt something,) she shouldn’t? Guilt bathed her in unwelcome extra warmth before she consciously chose to throw it off.
“Penny for your thoughts, Vincent?” she whispered as the opening snare and flute of Boléro drifted down to them.
He didn’t look at her, eyes still closed, when he answered, “Are they worth so much?”
The jibe was directed more at himself than her, but she replied quickly
“You know they mean everything to me.”
It sounded too earnest to her ears, yet, he had to know, didn’t he? Was telling him the cure for this mood or the cause of it? And did he know how damn inconvenient a mostly one-sided bond could be?
He shifted on the cushions he had set out for them. “I know, Catherine.” He took her hand in his, lacing fingers, pressing their palms. “My thoughts are not … tell me yours instead.”
That I’m worried about you? That our time together is as beautiful and complex as this piece of music, but also as stubbornly circling.
Of course, she didn’t say that. She reached with her free arm to touch the bricks above them.
“I never noticed bricks retain heat before. See, feel it.” She took their joined hands and extended them while turning his willing palm towards the wall. She pressed it in.
He nodded. “They soak up the sun and then radiate the heat as the world cools,” he explained.
“I knew that,” she said bringing their hands down and into her lap. “I guess I knew that, but I only understood it tonight.”
He didn’t look at her, gazing instead on their joined fingers. “You do that,” he whispered, barely discernible above the oboe and horns taking their turns retelling the melody.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“When you’ve been in the sun I …” He didn’t finish, and the music was louder, taking their words away.
Her heart beat faster than after a run. He meant something by what he’d just said. Did he know about her time in the meadow and after? Did he know she’d been thinking of him that afternoon? Could he pull that from her feelings? How fair was that? And speaking of fair, how was it right that he was more sensual, holding her hand while listening to stolen music, than any of her former lovers had been at the height of their attraction?
Her day had been full of him, even in his absence.
She had taken off from practical pursuits. It had been too hot to pick up dry cleaning or go grocery shopping. Instead, she had followed her heart into the park. She needed green grass and shady paths. Her father’s voice, still, (thankfully) fresh despite it’s loss, reminded her to be careful, but be bold. A slight trace of wariness lingered during her run, but once she had finished and taken off her shoes to feel the grass and earth under her feet, she couldn’t regret the time given over to the nature of the place. She had soaked up the sunlight and heat on the great lawn like a teenager and thought of Vincent.
Even if she’d only ever seen him in the darkness, she could imagine him so strongly in the light. She had imagined him there, with her, lying in the grass. Was he made for the sun, she had asked herself. Who would he be then? What would he look like? She couldn’t help but wish him into the world and the light with her.
Ravel’s melody kept its relentless repeating, but it was starting to swell, to build like the heat of the day that had driven her home that afternoon.
When she’d returned to the apartment she’d showered but didn’t have the will to dress afterward. The warm wind stroked her skin from the open balcony doors while she fell in and out of sleep, thoughts of melting and changing lives, enveloping her. She woke in time to meet Vincent, but just barely.
The strange piece came to its crashing, discordant end, followed by roaring applause from the park symphony crowd. When the clapping eased, the conductor introduced a piano solo, but for the life of her, Catherine couldn’t say what it was, her mind being elsewhere. It was easy and quiet.
“I meant,” Vincent continued their conversation from before, “When you are outside, taking pleasure in nature, I can feel your joy. It was beautiful.”
She smiled. He wanted so much for her. “It wasn’t just the sun and day, Vincent.”
Their eyes met.
“I was thinking of you.”
He pulled back a bit.
“Me? You were thinking of me?”
“Of course. I want to. I …” How could she make him understand? “I think of you so often.”
He shook his head. Did he think she was lying?
“You don’t believe me?” she asked, doubt carving her voice into a needy thing.
He shuddered at her question but didn’t answer, and heat all at once assaulted her face again.
Did he know where her afternoon thoughts had gone?
Before she could think she placed her hand over his and held her breath.
For long moments he didn’t say anything, then shook his head again, as if he were having an argument with himself.
Finally, he said, “To save my sanity, Catherine, I cannot believe.” Then he added snarling through clenched teeth, “I must not believe.”
Yes, he knew.
She jerked her hand away.
She felt unmoored.
“I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say, and the silence spread.
Catherine closed her eyes, hoping that the new melody would take away some of the confusion. Instead, it filled the space between them with solitude and melancholy, like plans ruined by a rainstorm.
If she could still feel the heat from the wall behind her back, why was she suddenly so cold?
“Catherine, please …” Vincent groaned as he inched closer, his instinct to keep her safe, to fix her hurt, seeming to get the better of his temper. “I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“No, Vincent.” She said, pushing back against the helplessness. He would not apologize for his feelings, just as she was not apologizing for hers. “You cannot help what you feel. I cannot blame you for that.”
She pivoted back to him. “But you promised me truth, Vincent.”
“Yes,” he conceded, after a time. “We promised each other.”
“Then … I want … tell me.” She reached out again.
“Tell you what, Catherine?” he countered.
“Tell me … anything.”
“What can I tell you?” he demanded, his fist clenched under her fingers. “You can’t want this, Catherine.”
Their eyes met, and she was certain now. He knew.
They’d skirted this before, this feeling. It wasn’t ethereal, or virtuous. It wasn’t flowers or feathers; it was skin and bone. It was passion, passion that bled into anger and back again.
She was not afraid.
“I do,” she answered.
She wanted him. She wanted everything.
“Fine,” he said. His fist turned and caught her wrist.
He was close, closer now than he’d almost ever been, except in the dreams she barely allowed to live in fear of disappointment.
“Should I tell you,” he breathed, “that I always know when you’ve been in the sun? That I can smell it on your skin?”
He pulled her wrist close his lips, showing her how he found her scent.
“I can feel it radiating from you, despite the night and being here,” he murmured, looking up, catching her eyes, and it sounded like a promise.
He let go of her arm but drew nearer.
“Should I tell you that you bring me light from Above and I bask in everything you offer, even when I know it will burn?”
He was so close now, he blurred, enveloping her, becoming everything in her vision and a voice whispering into her ear, into her skin. “Should I tell you I know when you think of me? That I revel in it.”
His arms wrapped around her. They trembled as if he were trying to hold back but couldn’t.
“Should I tell you, I want you to think of me?”
She shuddered as his questions traveled her body, transforming her, the heat radiating through her, transforming them.
His lips brushed her throat, asking another question.
There was no doubt. She could only answer one way.
“Yes,” she breathed, melting under the warmth of his claiming kisses.
And throughout that night, the heat persisted.
The music for this work:
Boléro, by Maurice Ravel
“Raindrop”, Prelude, Op 28, No. 15, by Frédéric Chopin