84. Greetings From Hell! / by Allie Farris

    Freshly-paved French country roads are splintering and disintegrating; bees are baking alive on the pavement as spiders desperately attempt to sneak inside; and a man was arrested for driving his moped naked on the Autobahn. Europe has fallen on some hard times.
    According to many international publications, "Hell" has arrived in my continent of residence over the past week; and it has been nothing short of breathtaking. Literally. After upwards of 14,000 people died in the mammoth heatwave of 2003, and worldwide temperatures have been on the gradual uptick over the past 16 years, Europe has needed to create a contingency plan for when the sky inevitably erupted once again. Unfortunately, some of us here still need time to adjust to life in the oven.

Day 1

    Like the Vitruvian Man, arms and legs splayed, I lay on my back on the stiff Japanese futon in our master bedroom. Assuming the position of a preserved bug pinned underneath a microscope, I attempt to quiet my thoughts, listening to the whir of the rotating Dyson fan that is doing its very best to slice through the thick air. C lies to my left; I can't see his face, but I know that he's wide awake. Because so am I. Our alarms won't ring for another 20 minutes, but there are already white hot streams of light shooting between the slats of our shutters, peppering the room, and our open door beckons in the Eastern morning light, bouncing off the sides of closeby apartment buildings. I haven't gotten any real sleep.
    My husband gives me a quick kiss and heads out the door to begin preparing for work, only to call for me as soon as he reaches the bathroom.

    "Honey?"

    "Uh…..hmm?"

    "Did you do this?"

    I jolt awake, hopping quickly from the bed, racking my brain as to what embarrassing thing I could have possibly done. I hope it's nothing too disturbing. It isn't; but what is there is incredibly confusing.
    When I arrive at his side, I follow C's pointing finger to my sink, on which is balanced our electric toothbrush, prepared, as if I were just about to brush my teeth (in my sleep), but was called away, suddenly.

    "I have absolutely no recollection of doing that," I say to C.

    He shrugs it off, but I go about the rest of my morning feeling slightly paranoid.
    As C leaves for work, he charges me with the task of keeping the shutters closed, and staying vigilant to the position of the sun as it moves throughout the day, so when it passes a window completely, it can be opened to let the fresh air cycle in. I stand in my pitch black office after he goes, next to my new desk which rises to my upper torso, removing the need to sit at both my piano, and then at my computer for hours on end each day. This little extra effort of standing, even with my straining, battered blinds holding back the UV rays with all their might, is too much for me to bear today. With the restless night behind me, and my joints still knocking, I see no other option than to cart my computer out into the middle of the apartment, away from any and every pane of radiating glass, and work from the kitchen table for the rest of the afternoon.


Day 2

    My eyes open with C getting out of bed, once again earlier than our alarms. Feeling like a truck hit me in the night, I barely have enough energy to roll over. But when I do, I come face to face with our electric toothbrush, sitting upright on my bedside table. I gasp and C runs back in. We stare at it in silence, puzzled. I look at him, shaking my head.

    "Okay, now I REALLY have no idea what's going on."

    Pulling on my stretchy gym polyester and returning our wandering toothbrush to its charging stand; I'm the first to leave the apartment.
    Like a hot wet blanket, the humidity slaps me in the face as soon as I cross through the front doors and out onto the uneven courtyard cobblestones. Even the old cat who lives on the first floor across the street from me has elected not to come out this morning; it's a poignant choice considering his presence is felt on any day with sun or even the slightest hint of weather. He is also a ham and a half to all who pass him by; he charges at anyone with free hands to pet him with. I guess all they could do for him today would be to mat down his dew-soaked fur. I look up and clock the eerie absence of the old familiar hum of window units, even amongst such tall constructs situated so closely together. Everyone has their windows down; no one has air conditioning.

    Holmes Place, the name of my gym (located on the top floor of Globus), is thankfully quite empty when I arrive at 8:15am. Thankfully, because the more people there to take up floor space, the less the tiny stream of fresh airflow can be felt. This morning is a lost cause, as even the management have acknowledged the underwhelming performance of their cool air system, and have flung open all of the windows, in an apparent last-ditch attempt at avoiding the creation of a hotbox situation for its more high-maintenance clientele.
    J, my young trainer fluent in both French and English (speaking with a heavy east-London accent), is finishing up with his first session of the morning as I arrive. I go up the stairs to the rowing machines, and by the time he comes to begin with me, pools of sweat have already begun forming on my running t-shirt. I look at J, disappointed in myself before the session even begins.

    "J, I'm sorry about this. I'll give you everything I've got today, but I'm afraid it won't be particularly mind-blowing."

    "What's up?"

    "It's just this heat, man. This heat...haven't gotten any sleep, can't stop sweating. I grew up with A/C everywhere. This is really tough for me."

    "Really? I'm sorry—I was thinking about going for a bike ride up in the mountains today," he grins.

    "Look, you're insane, I get it,” I laugh, “But just kick my butt today and don't be surprised if I pass out."

    He nods, and then goes about choosing kettlebells for me to wrench and pull and swing across the room. I am happy by the end of the session, as I most always am, but after walking back home in the now after-10am sun, I am practically crawling towards my door.
    The rest of the day is spent with my laptop on my chest, lying on my back, in the dark, on my futon, with the Dyson blowing directly at my face.

Day 3

    C's alarm sounds in our sealed, shadowy cube. He stands and flings open the bedroom door, showering white neon unceremoniously across my face as if to say, "We're in this together." I groan and reach for my cell, trying to blink the light from my angry eyes. My Pixel registers my fingerprint and flashes open to reveal, to my surprise, the last thing I searched for and actually clicked on before falling asleep. Again, I have no memory of this.

CARTOON SLEEPWALKER TOOTHBRUSH

    It is a website selling a weird, multicolored cartoon toothbrush holder for children. I lie in bed wondering if I may need to order one of those lockable sleeping burritos for C to strap me into each night, if this weather doesn't let up soon. My next attempt may be to steal toothbrushes from our neighbors.
    The day drags on, and I've begun to get the hang of raising and lowering the shutters, and following the sun on its trajectory. However, I find, for all of my attempts, the heat is not so easily beaten.

    C comes home at his usual time, but like J, is not so overly fazed by the lack of air conditioning as I am and is not feeling like he is short of breath 25 hours out of the day, so he elected to walk home from his office two miles away, going uphill. He washes off and changes, coming to meet me in the kitchen as I lean like a wilting flower over the stove, nursing a bubbling pot of chicken Tikka masala.
I break.

"I can't do this, honey...I have headaches, I'm getting no sleep, I'm tired and emotional and I just don't think I can deal." If I weren't whining so hard, I would be crying.

    C doesn't say a word, but as I'm talking, spiraling, going around in circles and making excuses as to why life without air conditioning will be the death of me; C reaches into the freezer and pulls out a purple ice pack. He places it on my forehead; my frown immediately softens. He holds it to my back, then up against my collarbone; each time I let out a small yelp of surprise, before melting into a relieved sense of calm. As the once rigid pack becomes pliable, he leaves it balanced on the top of my head, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek before heading back to the living room and starting up his computer. I remain in the kitchen, with a new expression across my lips. I continue to stir the simmering pot.

    Before the sun goes down, I look out to see the steam rising off of the lake, in a haze so thick that it obscures the mighty Alps behind it.
    That night, we lie down in bed with all of the windows and doors wide open, a citronella candle flickering just outside the balcony door. We kick off the duvet long before we finally find the will to sleep.

-Epilogue-

    Sunday morning brings with it something different, albeit a still-early, bright-as-noonday sun drenching our weary faces. C and I dutifully rise; I stand in the middle of the apartment watching C raising the shutters of the living room. It feels like we are emerging from our bunker, prepared to be met by a post-apocalyptic landscape.
    He opens the door, and tests the air with a stretched arm outside. A look of disbelief washes over him; I see his shoulders relax as he takes his first full step out onto the balcony. He walks over to the next window, the pane directly in front of me. I can hear him say to me through the glass,

    "Hey! It's not so bad!"

    I make my way to the bathroom and reach for my toothbrush, which I find still charging on its stand where I left it last night.