The heat wave was real. Suzie squinted into the afternoon light glinting off her pink ’69 VW. How was that still running, she thought, rebuilt and rebuilt? Work?
That’s how. And that’s how she’d keep running. Work. You just had to not freak out. You just had to not over heat.
But it was 125 degrees in Bakersfield. And she, like everyone else, had no air conditioning. And it wasn’t supposed to get better—it was supposed to get worse. She got in her VW and drove with the windows down—no AC– but a breeze was better than nothing. She pulled into the parking lot and waited for a spot to open up. She turned off her car to wait. Ten minutes but it was worth it. Six p.m. – it was a good time to have come. She walked out and got into the cart area.
Barely inside the supermarket she stood and let the air wash over her—air conditioning. Conditioning the air. The security guard asked if she was a buyer or a browser. Browsers could be in the front area with the carts, as long as there was room. Buyers could enter and walk up and down, and down and up—the breeze lifting the sweat from their skin.
She was young and she knew she looked smart. Prescription glasses helped that impression. It all helped her to get into the store where she would buy—what? A soda. The guard gave her a timer and said, “When it goes off–”
She finished the sentence for him. “I know. I have fifteen minutes before someone comes and finds me. And I can’t turn the buzzer off. The cashier line needs to turn it off.”
He side-eyed her and shrugged for her to go in. Of course, he had seen her before. Everyone knew she came in every day—or tried to. Just like everyone else tried. In Bakersfield the temperature had been soaring since the heat wave of 2022. That summer was horrible—but now she thought, stepping deeper into the store, then deeper, then getting lucky…right into the aisle with the freezers on either side of her…well, now that summer seemed almost…okay.
Everyone wanted to be in the aisle with the freezers.
The summer of ’23, ’24, ’25….
But by now, the summer of ’26—was this worse than the COVID epidemic? Who knew—but no one wore a mask in the store. Once you got in here you ate the air like ice cream. Better than ice cream.
Air conditioning. If you didn’t have it by ’22—well, was it worth it? If it’s 95 out, you’re AC will take you 20 degrees down to 70-80. But if it’s 120 out your AC will cool your house to…well, she knew the math.
She stared at the popsicles in the freezer next to her and looked at a package of blue ones. She sidled her way next to the freezer door and reached her arm in. Blue was the coolest color.
The air in the freezer. The air in the freezer.
Rich people were cool, in temperature. But rich people didn’t live in Bakersfield anymore. Anyone who could afford it had moved to the Pacific Northwest and anyone who couldn’t afford to live there, had been forced out.
The buzzer in her hand went off. Damnit.
She took her time going to the check-out—which happened too fast. Her buzzer stopped as long the line registered that she was on it.
She asked the cashier how she was doing? The woman smiled but didn’t answer. Suzie knew she couldn’t be convinced to spend more time with her.
She went outside with her six popsicles…already melting. She opened the package and squeezed open a popsicle. She stood with it melting in her hand. A mom with four kids was standing in front of her. Suzie handed over the box, “Here, they’ll melt fast.”
“Are you getting back in line?” the woman asked. Her shaved head glistened with a tattoo of birds in flights.
“No,” Suzie smiled.
It was way too hot to flirt, thought Suzie. She smiled as the woman let the kids have the popsicles. It had been so hot for so long. Suzie rubbed her own shaved head, sans tattoos.
She walked to her car; the popsicle upended in her upturned mouth. There were birds flying overhead, briefly blocking that bit of sun.
She swallowed the melting popsicle and tossed the stick. And walked back to the woman.
“I’m Suzie,” she said. “Sure, I’ll try to go back in.”
The woman smiled, “We’re getting pizza.”
“Pizza?” Suzie asked.
“Pizza,” the woman said. “I know, it’s crazy. But we all realized they’ve never had pizza.” She gestured to the kids. “So, we were talking about it. Wanna join us?”
She paused and stretched out her hand, “Tamara.”
“Pizza…,” Suzie paused. “That’s – brave.”
Tamara pursed her lips. “Well, I was telling them about pizza…about how good it was… and, like I said, they’ve never had it.”
Suzie nodded. So, pizza.
Tamara said, “We won’t eat until midnight.”
Suzie nodded again.
The kids turned. The sun was setting.
“The sun is setting!” yelled the kid who looked the oldest. They all clapped. Then everyone in the line clapped.
The oldest child looked at Suzie and big-smiled, “Pizza!”
BIO: Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University; and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.
8 thoughts on “Heat Wave by Marie Cartier”
This wave of the future is almost here – Hottest most humid summer in Maine I ever remember…. important what you say about how air conditioners work and don’t… they help but…
As usual a superb story….
yup, global-warming is real and it’s here – and the wild-fires will eventually take out most of the forests, and the animals that live in them (imagine a world without squirrels)… and civilized human greed will clear-cut the Amazon to keep McDonalds in hamburgers… imagine Earth with 90% of the trees gone…
if your entire roof and walls are shaded by any remaining trees, or something else like an awning (you want at least a few feet of space between the roof / walls and an awning) to keep the direct sun off the roof, walls and especially windows, and your house is insulated to the absolute max and you have triple pane windows – you cool the house at night with the AC, and the AC will be able to keep working during the day as long as you don’t open doors or windows… it’s the direct sun on the roof / walls / windows that is the killer – as they simply absorb all that heat and transmits it into the house…
whole house awnings shading the entire roof and walls on the south, east and west sides will soon become the latest thing to keep your home cool – and your electricity bills within reach… the homeowners’ associations will implode…
how did the supermarket’s AC manage to keep working?
i’m not sure how the supermarket kept its AC going- but i’m assuming they also cool down with freezers for the food…thank you for the great detail you provided- i’ll use it in my rewrite <3
Thank you for this wonderful story that so effectively demonstrates that climate change is here and affecting those who are already having a tough time the most. The story would be slightly different in every part of the country – here in coastal New England it would be about coastal flooding the loss of homes that would simply be washed out to the ocean, I would think — but the message is the same: we need to wake up and work together to meet this planetary challenge.
I enjoyed this story. I liked the way everyone had adapted to the heat–dinner at midnight, applause when the sun went down. And we need to see stories like this to understand the real life implications of global warming. I acknowledge that climate change is here and do my best to reduce my carbon footprint. But I also like to think that by 2026 solar panels will cover the roofs of buildings throughout the hot and dry west, generating solar power to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, and also keeping the sun off the roof, as Dragonfly mentioned above. Here in my little corner of Maine, solar panels are proliferating. Lots of houses and government buildings have them. Within 5 miles of my home, two large solar farms were constructed this summer.
this writing originally composed in a writing workshop, thanks to QUEERWISE https://www.queerwise.net/