It is so hot. So hot that, by 7:30 in morning, the basil on the deck droops like little green flags on a windless day. So hot that, at 7:30 in the evening, it takes less than ten minutes to be damp with sweat and sticky with salt and for gnats to be going after my eyes like children on parade candy.
But this evening brings a break in the stifle. This evening I am standing on the edge of my earth, the place where sea oats and sand separate everything that men and women have made from the thing they have never been able, will never be able to reproduce. I am standing on the beach, the shore, and over my head is a moon so round and full that it could have been die-cut, except it wasn’t.
Its light is refracted by flat waves into a troupe of fairies that shimmy and shake across the water into Busby Berkeley choreography. I lift and lower my eyes from one to the other – moon to reflection, reflection to moon – and wonder how I came to be so lucky to be standing right here, right now. I remember how lucky I have been to be here on other nights – watching fireworks up and down the beach on the Fourth of July, dodging driftwood on a long walk in December.
The wind picks up. The waves rise. The fairies kick a little higher, twirl a little faster. The voices down the way drift off as a breeze skips across the sand and tickles my cheeks, picks at the curls around my face like fingers on a harp.
The memories transfigure. I am no longer a grown woman. I am a little girl. I am lying on my stomach, face inches away from a yellow box fan. I close my eyes and fall into the hummmm of the blades slicing the air and shooting the heat away. We are taking turns – Keith, the cousins, and I – sending our voices into the box and hearing them vibrate back out at us, sonorous and deep.
The image blurs and changes. I am in my childhood bedroom. The box fan has been lifted into an open window, turned so that the spinning blades force air out into the darkness and create a current around the house like the one in the river where we learned to swim. It goes round and round and round the house all night long, tumbling through the window, fluttering the curtains that Mama made, kissing my eyelids and lulling me to sleep.
I open my eyes. I am back on the beach.
It is natural, I suppose, to wonder what makes certain images rise to the surface of consciousness. Maybe it is mere proximity or some sort of sensory re-engagement, the smell of salt air or the feel of sand caught between my toes, that makes me remember. That would account for my visions of Roman candles and weathered wood, but what of the whirr of the box fan and the smell of my summer pajamas, all Gain and Clorox? What about this moment, fifty years and a hundred and fifty miles away, would stir them up?
My memory, I have decided, is a cauldron, deep and wide and mysterious; its contents are odd and unpredictable, like eye of newt and salamander tail, driftwood and box fans. Summer is the wizard who heats up the cauldron, sets it to simmering and bubbling, stirs the contents bottom to top.
Boiling over, spilling out to disrupt my present are images – still shots and movies, black and white and Kodachrome – transfigured magically into creatures that engage me in conversation, take me hostage, and demand the only ransom I could ever pay – my total attention. Only when they are sure that I have not forgotten do they leave me alone.