Dissolve and Gather

I wrote this for Story A Day May 2020 (it was a result of the Day 28 prompt) and it was part of StoryFest 2020.

It was the third day in a row that the temperature had risen well above 30 C, closer to 40 if you took the humidity into account.

I don’t much like the winter, but this was a bit too far in the other direction.

I’ve always been one to watch the weather, ever since I was a little girl. I used to lie on the grass, staring up at the clouds, watching shapes gather and dissolve.

But since I have been, as they say, ‘living on the streets’ I have become more fixated on the slightest variations.

A clear sky, a cloudy day. The carress of a breeze or the sharp shove of a strong wind.

A light drizzle, when the temperature is close enough to freezing, makes the difference between whether I need to locate a sheltered sleeping space or not.

I don’t always sleep in the same place, I like to change it up.

My joke is that I don’t want to get too comfortable in any one space, but the reality is that it is better to not have a known location.

There are a handful of places I randomly alternate between. I know there are shelters. You don’t have to point that out to me. I’ve been living like this for long enough. If you want to check out what the shelters are like, I invite you to go ahead and see how you feel about them from a firsthand perspective.

Today, my goal is to stay as cool as possible. 

Along with the heat, the sun is bright and undisturbed, with not a cloud to be seen. It beats down, unrelenting, minute by minute, hour by hour.

I swung by one of the so-called ‘cooling stations’ the city has set up in currently-unused community centres, but it was awfully crowded. The staff were doing what they could to make it possible for people to physically distance, but it looked like a losing battle to me.

Honestly, I don’t blame them, but I also don’t like groups and, let’s face it, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Am I really going to go and stand around in a confined space with marginal air circulation for the sake of keeping cool for a few hours?

There has to be a better way.

I’ve been using an old bandana as a mask because it is all I have. I used to have a buff, but a while back someone stole it while I was sleeping.

The bandana works in a way, but I can’t arrange it to fit snugly, the way public health says we’re supposed to. I worry this is going to be a problem, but there isn’t much to be done about it.

I don’t expect it is actually good enough to stop me from transmitting the virus if I’m positive. I’ve stayed away from others to the extent I can, but there are no guarantees, are there?

I decide to get on a bus. One fare is good for at least an hour and a half, more if you’re lucky and the buses are nice and cool.

Of course, buses are another enclosed space and at certain times of the day, there are definitely too many people on them, but there aren’t a lot of alternatives and it is awfully hot today.

I feel the sweat trickle down my back, settling at the waist of my jeans, which were chafing against my damp skin even before.

Fond memories from my teenage years flirt in the corners of my mind, the overflowing closet of clothing choices, loose and filmy blouses, cool rayon shorts. They flitter through my mind like lovely butterflies that I want to reach out and capture in my hands, to hold on to gently.

I shake the memories from my mind as the bus approaches and stops.

I’m about to drop my fare into the box when the driver puts his hand over the slot and shakes his head.

“You need a mask,” he says through his own disposable blue one.

I point to the bandana.

“Nope,” he says. “Not good enough. It needs to be a proper mask.”

My stomach twists. I knew this would happen.

Damn.

“Do you have disposable masks?” I ask, trying to sound friendly and non-threatening. “I heard that you would have some.”

I’m asking, but I can see an open box between him and the window on his other side.

I’m looking at them as he answers.

“What, masks to give away? You can get your own.”

My eyes dawdle on the box and I wonder if I should say anything. It certainly can’t make the situation worse, I decide.

“What about those?” I say, nodding at the box.

“What, these?” he says, disenguously, as if he has only now noticed them. “Those are for essential workers, people who need to get to their jobs.”

He doesn’t have to say they’re not for people like me, that is of course painfully obvious.

“Now get off,” his voice is harder now. “You’re delaying these good people who need to get somewhere.”

Unlike me.

The bus drives off along the dusty road, leaving me on the sidewalk. If anything, the sun is shining even more brightly now than it was before.

The top of my head is hot and the weight of my backpack and the uncomfortable damp stickiness of my black tshirt and jeans is more than I want to deal with right now.

I haven’t eaten today and it is after twelve and I’m sure that, in addition to the heat, is what is making me dizzy.

It is hard to think striaght and I am trying to figure out where I can go, what might be open.

I walk uncertainly down the street, feeling increasingly weak.

I have been doing this long enough that I have a mental list of places I can try, depending on the situation, the circumstances.

But these days so very little is open. The usual spots, the ones I head to without even thinking, are all closed.

The foyer of the main libray branch has been shut for ages. And, honestly, even if it wasn’t, I would be hesitant to hang around in such a small space, where appropriate physical distancing is all but impossible. 

None of the coffee shops let anyone inside anymore, including those ones where they didn’t used to care how long you spent as long as you stayed unobtrusively in a corner. These days you can only order or pick up. No one gets to hang around.

Even the public part of city hall is off limits.

My usual routine of making the rounds, staying until my welcome is worn out, is gone and there is nothing to take its place.

The sky is a bleached out pale blue in the dazzling brightness of the sun.

I stumble on the flat sidewalk, the dizziness worse now.

And I notice clouds, light grey, small fluffy clouds forming in the sky and I wonder idly if it will rain.

That would be welcome.

One of the clouds begins to change shape and I stare up at it as it begins to reach down towards me.

It is as if it is taking the shape of a hand.

I am mesmerized and I watch as it comes closer and closer towards me.

Then it is right above me and it reaches around and under me, scooping me up in its fluffy palm.

And I lean back and relax and I feel a sprinkling of light rain that cools my face, my head.

I close my eyes and sink into the cloud.

2 thoughts on “Dissolve and Gather

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