At 10:30 AM the doorbell rang. Faye noted the time, thirty minutes to kill before she’d have to start getting ready for her appointment. She stubbed out her cigarette and there followed a knock. She got up from her desk, breezed down the hall in her sweat shorts and tee and opened the door. The heat smacked her cheeks. She shielded her eyes from the glare, smelled the baking asphalt. Before her stood the same thickly built UPS man as always, betraying no hint of recognition.
“Morning,” he said, thrusting a clipboard at her, a shoebox-sized package tucked under his left armpit.
“They said it’s going to be over a hundred again today,” she said, as she signed. She handed the clipboard back. He nodded and scanned the paperwork. “Must get hot in that van. That is… well, I assume you have no air-conditioning.”
He lowered his eyes to hers, black like his hair. He tilted his head the right, peering behind her into the empty house.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess.”
“Can I get you anything?” she said. “A glass of water? A Diet Coke?”
“No tips,” he said.
“Oh, just a glass of water,” she said. “I’d say that hardly qualifies.”
He pursed his lips and glanced at his watch.
“Okay,” he said. “One glass of water. I’ve got…”
“A busy day ahead,” she said. “Of course you do. One glass of water, coming up.”
Faye stepped aside. He crossed the threshold, and stopped, scanning the hallway, the staircase, the living room. The scent of his suntan lotion saturated the recycled air. She closed the door behind him as he swiped perspiration from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
“Where do you want this?” he said.
“Follow me,” she said, leading him down the hall towards the kitchen. His keys jangled on a chain. She could feel his warmth, his bulk, his breath on her back. He possessed a solidity that made her feel positively frail, as though the blow of the air-conditioning might lift her off her feet and usher her up the chimney. She entered the kitchen and opened the cupboard. She nodded at the granite-topped island.
“Right there’s fine,” she said.
He put the package down, turned around and leaned back, placing his palms on the granite where he would leave behind moist semi-circles.
“Nice kitchen,” he said. “Looks brand new.”
Faye smiled. She filled a glass with water from the filter.
“Here you go,” she said.
“Thanks.” Their fingers brushed as he took the glass. She watched his gaze slide down her body and come to rest on her bare legs. A moth in her belly beat its wings. He raised his eyes to hers and she held them there. He took long gulps. He let out a satisfied, “ahhh,” and handed her the empty glass.
“Guess I better shove off,” he said, not moving.
“You’re sure you wouldn’t like anything else?” she asked.
“Lots of deliveries,” he said. “It’s only gonna get hotter.”
“Of course,” she said, turning her back on him to rinse the glass. “The Dog Days,” she said. “So to speak.”
“Yeah. Yeah, right.” he said. “What are those again?”
“Excuse me?” she said.
“The Dog Days, I never did…”
Faye chuckled. She placed the glass on the dish rack.
“They’re the hot ones,” she said. She faced the UPS man, his furrowed brow. He scratched his head. “Anyways,” she said, looking at the floor.
“Right,” he said. “Back to work.” He walked out of the room, keys jangling, boots clumping the hardwood.
“Have a nice day,” she called. He grunted and the door closed behind him. She discovered the index finger of her right hand tracing circles around the lump. How long it had been there she could not say. The clock on the kitchen wall read 10:40.
She looked at the package, addressed to her husband. She withdrew a knife from the butcher’s block and ran it through the packing tape, liberating the scent of fresh leather. My shoes, she thought, with mild surprise. She had forgotten that she used his credit card to pay for them. She withdrew them and sat on a stool. They were cross trainers, hideous, all intersecting lines and clashing colors. She laced them up and slipped them on. She had planned to cut down on smoking, get back in shape. She had thought that with a pair of running shoes she might finally try doing some laps around the lake; nothing too ambitious, a few miles a day. Running on concrete was hard on her knees, but she couldn’t stand treadmills, couldn’t imagine a more joyless activity.
She paced the hallway. Back and forth, rubber soles squeaking while her toes wiggled, making certain they had adequate space. She grabbed her keys and burst through the front door into the raging heat. She sprinted up the empty sidewalk, past the row of roasting cars, daggers of sunlight reflecting off their windshields. Sprinklers watering modest, green lawns left a fine mist on her bare legs. She hit the corner and turned around, sprinting back, harder this time. Knees up, fists pumping, she flew past her house, running out of her hair, her lungs, her lump. She reached the corner and doubled over, pressing her palms into her knees. A weight like an elephant sat on her chest. The air was thick. It felt like she was sucking it in through a straw.