The sun blinds me. I try to look away, it reflects off the residue of dew on everything around me. It's not making this easy for me. Sweat on the coils of the AC is mocking me. I can't decide if it’s just the dew or if it’s another indicator.
I have to look up to relieve my eyes. What should be a pretty sky with its blue-red reminds me that I have to hurry. My eyes wash across the lesser moon that looms ever large in the sky. I know it won't be visible much longer with the clouds coming. I already feel the humidity the clouds bring with them.
With longing I glance at the remaining dew. I lick my lips feeling the dews fragility knowing New Terra is unable to embrace it. Our big mother star burns it off and tosses it back into the air around us. I can feel her smothering comfort rolling down my flesh. It's making me feel parched, squeezing me dry to burn my sweat from my skin. It's been less than an hour of sun, yet I feel as though its mid day.
I wipe my forehead with the thin sleeve of my chenille overcoat. My eyes watch it change color under the light. This distracts me from the affectation of my skin. I feel as comfortable as I can in this heat, having cast off my barmaids outfit in exchange for a sports bra and short shorts. I'd be more comfortable without the overcoat, but modesty prevents that. Not too much modesty though, I have left it unbuttoned.
I contemplate going back inside the bar with Jack, but it's going to get worse inside with the AC broken. I could make Jack come out here to do this. Then he'd have to completely replace the whole thing. I'm trying to help him avoid that. I look down upon my work.
Ants are dancing on the clots of fractured clay around the air conditioner. Seeming unperturbed by its spurious attempts to restart then die and restart again. Though, they have dissipated considerably since I shut the AC down completely.
I finish bleeding the system. It hasn't leaked out but it acts like it’s blocked somewhere. It could be one of these ants or a whole colony. The seals on this thing are worn enough to invite intrusion.
I carefully pull the reclamation canister and my rigged filter off the assembly. Hooking up the can of compressed air I give the system a good blow. I can hear the problem, Jack would likely not. It quickly disappears as whatever was there breaks loose and hits the palm of my hand. I'm thinking we're not out of the woods yet. Feeling uncertainty of the future, I make the sign of the cross and say a few Hail Marys. That could be sacrilegious, because I don't consider myself religious. Everything looks good to my eye. Well, as good as it can. I need to recharge the system.
First I cap it and test some pressure on it.
It's a bust. I mean a real bust. The leak is so evident I see the few remaining ants being blown hither and yon. Normally I'd give the wrench a good toss. I've not been using the wrench for fear of making things worse.
I ask myself why I'm doing this.
Turning at the sound of the back door opening fortuitously I can see Jack's head sticking out. He squints under the sun. He says, “Angie, how we doing out here?”
Stepping back from my work and looking at Jack, I say, “Hot, sticky. This damn stuff is worn beyond its warranty period by almost a decade. Could use some better sealant. A few new parts.”
Jack steps out. I watch as he shifts his slightly rotund midsection. After some difficulty he's standing on the stoop with the door shut. He's round not fat, but definitely not buff like the Tom's who strut around the bar. He looks to me to be in thought before he does a half dance with the door again to make a hasty retreat. I hear his grunting and grumbling as he disappears and the door closes. I'm thinking he can't stand the heat. But, his head comes out again. This time he lands in the sand. The door slams itself.
With a sheepish expression he offers me a bag.
He also offers a glass of amber liquid.
I wave a hand and say, “Thanks. You know I don't drink that stuff.”
I’m clutching my chenille together in front. I’d have to let go to grab both. I turn my back towards him as I take the sack.
Jack waves his hand pointing at the glass and says, “It's tea, with sugar, the way you like it.”
Embarrassed at my own lack of trust, I take the tea from his huge fist.
I set the bag down and look inside. It contains everything I need to do this job proper. I give Jack a well deserved harsh look. I say, “Great, make me do this twice. Where were you hiding this?”
Checking the ground for ants, I stomp around a bit. I sit. The ground feels cool. That's not good. That means I'm warmer than it is. I sip the tea slowly. "Thanks Jack, I really needed this tea."
Jack shrugs, wiping his fingers on the towel draped over his shoulder. He says, “Yeah, Sorry. I'm bad. I know. But, I listen and I picked this up a week ago. Figured it was due to quit soon.”
I pull my feet closer to me until my hiking boots touch where my bare thighs meet the hem on my shorts. Taking a very short break I touch the cool glass against my legs then I move my feet away to make room. Feeling contorted I try to reach the bag so I can I pour the parts in my lap. Flattening it on the ground I carefully lay the parts upon the bag in a row.
Feeling light headed and giddy for a number of reasons including the heat I exclaim, “Wow. All shiny and new. I hope this doesn't come out of my paycheck.”
I start to work again, this time I take up the wrench.
Jack says, "Only if you mess it up and I have to buy more parts." I watch him step into the little shadow offered by the structure of the bar. His gaze falls out across the desolation toward the line of trees that mark the lower edge of the mountains.
I look into the sky, looking for clouds. To me they are as scarce now as the ants are at night. I know that at night the clouds sink down covering the ground like a cottony blanket. The sun comes up to burn these away in short order. For a number of hours the moisture hangs in the air before clouds return like a colony of ants. I feel the need to hurry. I'm already overheated.
I catch Jack following my gaze, he says, “If this takes too long I can make an exception. Let you use that cot in back.”
I recall the first time Jack made such an offer. I'm not sure what he expected to get out of it. Whatever, he didn't get it. I feel comfortable with Jack though, you only have to say no once with him. With confused and possibly misplaced disappointment I recall he hasn't made such an offer since. But, I've been diligent about getting home early.
Huffing a couple of times, I stop to sip at my sweet tea. I look at Jack. I say, “Na, That's okay. I'll get home just fine. It's much cooler up in the mountains.”
Jack nods. As I work I can feel him become focused on his observation of my own intent process. He says, “Where and how did you learn to fix stuff?”
This is not the first time Jack's asked this. I say, “I dunno, it just came to me one day.” I stop and think about that. I'm certain each time I give him the same answer.
I hear Jack scoff. He half laughs and says, “Yeah, sure, don't tell me. You could go to town, take the test, and get licensed. No longer have to deal with the Tom’s here. I'm just say'in you'd have a good chance at a better career.”
I finish my work, check for leaks, fill the line, and bleed the air from the system. Everything is sealed and tight. Gathering Jacks tools, supplies, and decadent parts I stuff them into the bag and wipe my hands on the bag.
I see Jack raise his eyebrows. I nod, and watch him slip back inside. In short-order the conditioner comes on and begins to cycle. I wait and watch. After some moments, feeling some relief, I stand. I look to the door.
Jack’s hanging half in and half out. His gyrations are giving me a headache. I think he's torn about doing something or rushing in to enjoy the cooler air.
I wave and say, “She's all good.”
I see Jack decide and he falls upon me giving me a fatherly hug before I can move. He says, “You do good work.”
I shrug out of his grasp, put some distance between us. I do like the way he refrains from adding, for a clone, at the end of that sentence though.
Jack’s arms fall to his sides. He grins, “I'm serious. About schooling. I'd help pay for it. If you was my daughter …”
I shake my head, I say, “You'd miss me. Maybe you need to get yourself a real daughter.” As I think about that and what he tried that first night I think, maybe not.
Jack waves his hand. He says, “Na.” He goes quiet. I'm unsure which he has said no to. Then he says, “You still could come check and make sure everything is in working order.”
I finish my tea and hand Jack my glass. He bends down to the spigot, gives it a short blast of filthy water.
I say, “That's okay, Jack. We have a good arrangement. I don't need to be indebted to you forever.”
Jack shrugs, looking toward the hills. Pulling the towel down he works the corner into the glass to polish it. Jack says, “I know you don't like working Toms.” His head points. “Like that one inside. Just a tourist. Passing through. Now with his face plastered to the table because he thought he could ply you with a few drinks.”
I'm looking at the ground. The ants are back en-masse. Back to worship this humming deity. I'm almost pleased to have restored their continuity perhaps their existence.
I shake my head to clear it of Jack’s merciless words.
Turning away, I step towards the hills. They are the first leg of my journey into the mountains. This thought tires me. I'm not looking at Jack. So, just to be certain he can see I'm leaving, I shout, “I'll see you tonight, Jack. Take care of yourself.”
I need to get away from the heat.
Copyright 2012 J.L. Dobias