the long, hot summer

It was a summer like this one, but hotter, almost ten years ago now. The boiling July sun came and pressed its thumb down on a bank of humidity and used its other four fingers to shift the wind the wrong direction so that it felt as though you were perpetually staring into an open oven. 

Things ground to a halt in that way they only do in a heat wave. Small talk dwindled to a nod. Everything out of the radio was monotone. Plants were wilted and watered and then they wilted again. Papers left unattended curled in revulsion. Kids languished in the afternoon shade and yearned for TV. 

I remember distinctly that around day six or seven of this misery, a bear was spotted taking a long swim across the sound between our island and the next one. With just his nose and ears bobbing above the water, he was a notable anomaly in a bridged channel whose waters were typically spanned by pods of dolphins or tourists on jet skis. 

Despite the bulk of his frame he moved with a steady grace across the current, sometimes flipping himself over and lolling for a few minutes in the cool, inky water. He took such a long and balletic dip that locals had time enough to film it. Unbothered by the surveillance, he finished his schvitz and then lumbered up the ladder of somebody’s boat dock and treated himself to a heady midsummer nap on their backyard hammock. 

Fish & Wildlife were called, but upon arrival, determined to leave him well enough alone. He wasn’t hurting anything, and frankly, it was simply too hot to give a damn. He’ll be on his way soon enough, they said. And as predicted, at sundown, he made his way back down to the waterline and eased along until he found some hospitable woods, into which he disappeared, as great legends are wont to do. 

The bear was something of a local hero that summer. I know how he feels, a neighbor would say. We’ve all been there, I remember telling a coworker as we watched the news video for the fifteenth or sixteenth time. He doesn’t give a damn and I don’t, either. How much more of this can we take? 

People in hell just want a drink of water. 

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