The groan of cicadas wafted through the screen door into the kitchen. Sunlight dripped off the faucet and ran into the studded, green linoleum, wavy with age, stopping just before two children lying flat on their backs, eyes languidly observing speckles of reflected light trace their way across the white ceiling, like an old, broken kaleidoscope.
“It’s hot,” moaned a boy. He dragged his forehead across the shoulder of his already-damp t-shirt.
“Your big mouth is only making it hotter,” shot his sister.
He tried to suck air through his nose, but his jaw jerked open when he exhaled, mouth dry from the humidity.
He turned to his left, “When’s Mom get home?”
“When she gets home,” she answered. Then she hiked the edge of her pink, cotton dress that was dotted with blue forget-me-nots up to her waist, revealing black tights that hugged the inside of her knee. “And she’s not gon’ turn on the air conditioner for you, either,” she cast him a side-eye, “if that’s what you’re thinking.”
He returned his attention to the ceiling, then lifted his hands. They were wrapped in damp kitchen rags—all their ice cubes melted hours ago. He got up to run his fingers under the faucet.
“I don’t know why you keep doin’ that,” she said. “It can’t help that much.” She fanned herself with her skirt, the edges fluttering with the speed of a humming bird.
“It helps,” he contested. Then he slipped the rags off and turned the faucet handle.
She lifted her torso off the floor, “Mama’s gonna be angry you runnin’ up her water bill, again.”
“They’re hot,” he said.
“What’s new?” she said and slumped back to the linoleum.
The sun shined on his palms through the water coursing over them before it dripped into the sink. He splashed some water on his face, but the tap never ran cold when it was above 90. Everything was miserable, he thought. From his soggy shirt to his sauna house to his lukewarm water. He watched the water glide over the lines in his palms and wanted some relief. But sunlight kept streaming through the pulled curtains in an uninterrupted tide. Another parched breath between his sagging lips. He was too hot to be hungry, but his stomach growled, anyway—he would have to wait until Mom got home.
He hated the summer.
He wished he was sitting in a cool living room with a nice ceiling fan, one that worked. He wished he didn’t always have to ask before cutting on the AC. He wished the sun wasn’t so hot. What he needed was for all the summer heat to sink into his hands so he could just wash it down the drain and be done with it. So he could finally start breathing, again.
“You turned the hot water on, stupid,” spat his sister from the floor. She was watching the steam float up to the ceiling.
“No, I didn’t.” He snapped back to the sink; the hot faucet was off.
“Yeah, you did,” she said, sitting up, again. “How come there’s steam coming out of the sink, then, huh?”
He stared at his hands under the water for a long second, and then whispered a dry, “Help.”
“What?” she said. “Turn the water off.”
“Tina,” he said louder. “Tina, help.”
She stomped over to the sink, “What do you not understand about—” Suddenly she couldn’t speak. She looked at his hands, then back at him, then at his hands, once more. “What did you do?”
“I don’t know,” he said, tearing up. “I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know—”
“Stop it, Terrance!” she screamed.
“I can’t!” he cried. “Help, Tina! You have to help me!”
Her eyes darted around in a sharp panic. She flicked the other handle on the faucet, but no more water came out. “Stop it!” she shrieked. “You have to stop it now!!”
Tap water was evaporating before it even hit the bottom of the sink.
“I said I can’t!”
“I can’t! Help me! I can’t stop it!”
Then the curtains lit. Tina watched as the fire licked its way up to the ceiling. She grabbed Terrance by the shirt. The moment she dragged him away from the faucet flames leapt up two feet in the air in front of his face. She kicked the door open and threw him on the gravel outside that made up their driveway.
“Over here!” she commanded.
But he couldn’t see her through the fire erupting from his fingers.
“Terrance!” she screamed. The fire was too hot for her to get any closer. “You have to come over here!” She was standing in the dirt patch around the basketball goal.
“I can’t see you!”
He stumbled towards her voice.
“Quick!” she shouted. “Put your hands on the ground!”
He fell to his knees and laid his hands out in front of him.
She immediately threw as much dirt as she could grab between her fingers onto his arms. The flames hissed but did not dim. She kept digging her purple nail polish into the dirt and tossing it onto her brother.
They both looked up when they heard sound of tires crunching gravel. It was Mom, in her old, grey sedan, speeding to the front of the house, now completely alight. She jumped out of the car and spotted her children for a brief moment of relief.
“Mama!” Tina shouted, “Mama Terrance needs help!”
She ran over to Tina and yanked her daughter back behind her. “Don’t you move,” she told her.
“Help, Mama,” Terrance pleaded, “I can’t stop it.” He could see her figure but couldn’t discern any details through the fire.
“Terrance,” she called. “Stand up, boy. Quick!”
He stood up, hands outstretched, like he wanted a bandaid.
Then she marched over and struck him as hard as she could across the face.
He dropped to the ground, face down. The fire fizzled and then dispersed completely right in front of his dazed eyes. After a moment he could hear the vague sounds of his mother on the phone to 911, then felt her fingernails dig into his shoulder as she rolled him over—she was making another call.
“David,” she said into the receiver, house ablaze behind her. “Come and get your son.”