-- House Stuff
-- Heat Dream
Artwork and Photography
-- Mistry Trees
-- Let it Begin
Des. Her gold shoes. Gold hair. She’s in a one-piece bather, toilet paper bulged between her thighs. Monthlies don’t make Des cover up. Des needs to breathe. Des is red wine.
The heatwave is sixteen days old. Des feels pinkish and wheaty and electric. Eagles and herons circle above the street, their wings oily with hot cloud. Wind breathes the windows open, litters kelp and clay on the kitchen floor. Sweat and sand cling to Des’s elbows and the backs of her knees. Her whole house sags—wallpaper wilts, the bed melts. Des is thankful for this heat, how it dries the endless laundry on the clothesline.
Des sits in front of coffee, drinks it slow. She’s already awake, does not want too much morning on her tongue. She’s fifteen, taller than most boys. She prays that coffee will stunt her.
The population of Maple Beach swells June through August because of summer-dwellers who rent cabins along the seawall. They survive off rum-and-cokes. They have loud, s’more-mouthed children. The cabins are simple—a bathtub, stove, complimentary kettle. No dishwasher or shower or laundry.
Des and her mother live year-round in one of the cabins. Her mother won a washing machine in a contest and hooked it up in their kitchen pantry. Des loves the earthquake sound of clothes getting clean.
Markie at the door, leaning on her bicycle, a linen bag slung over her sunburnt shoulder. The Montgomery kids' wetsuits, she says, have bent her spine. The number of renters is up this year and the girls launder for over thirty families. Maple Beach: Come taste the syrup of the Pacific.
They sort clothes by colour and Des tells Markie her dream:
At Braker’s Bar, a place she’s never been. It smelled like freshly poured concrete. No tables or chairs. Peanut shells fossilized on the floor. Gilded photographs of saints posing with produce. Oh not real saints, Hollywood ones. Laurence Olivier with vine tomatoes around his torso. Stallone waist-deep in cranberries. Marlon Brando and a basket of lemons. The restaurant was boarded up from the inside. Sand kept filling up and up. It filled Des’s eyes and mouth and nose.
Just a heat dream, says Markie. Markie has a small face with loud pores. Markie has amazing legs. Markie makes the heat look good.
Des gathers the dark clothes, breathes in body odour and ocean brine. Socks shed behind her as they head toward the kitchen to begin the wash. What do you mean a heat dream?
Markie tugs her collar, yells Sex! then helps herself to a towel by the sink, blots her cheeks. Des throws the clothes in, adds bleach, grated soap, tea tree oil. She pours creamer in two glasses of lemonade because that’s how both girls like it. They cheers and drink. The house is sweating more than them.
Des and Markie’s driver’s licenses are hot off the presses. For bigger loads, they gut out the back of Markie’s brother’s van, making room for Hawaiian shirts, denim everything, Sunday Bests—all bright, all born-again. Markie is sixteen and scheming. She has slept with three of the boys renting cabins with their families and she’s washed all their sheets since.
Des stares at Markie’s makeup, dreams up a Markie that looks more like her. She tints Markie’s lips from violet to pale pink, gives her kind blush on her cheeks, fishtail braids instead of a toque and eyeliner.
Markie tells Des one of her birds has a broken wing. The budgie that complains, she says.
That’s the one that shat on me.
It’s how he handles strangers.
Des has only been to Markie’s house twice. Her whole family talks to things. Her father once asked the wall-clock to fast-forward through dinner. Her brother mourned his dead Xbox by praying to the controller. Her sister apologized to a piece of salmon before taking a bite. At Markie’s house, the one rule is to always keep the radio plugged in by the fridge on volume 20, station 103.4. The radio plays day in, day out, to ward off raccoons from breaking in through the cat door. Markie’s father read an article that they hate the frequency, the noise. Why they don’t just seal the cat door, Des has never asked.
Markie unzips her thigh-high boots and lets them melt to the floor, all leather and witchlike.
Where’s your mom?
Des’s mother left Friday on her boyfriend’s boat. Her mother believes he is the right man for her because he named his vessel ‘Ramona’s Chariot’ and spray-painted it gold for their one-month anniversary. Ramona left Des eggs, bus tokens, extra clothespins.
When’s she get back?
Des says I don’t know and Des wants to dance in fire hydrant mist. Have you noticed the air has a spice?
The two girls suck in as if through a straw. There’s spit on Markie’s chin. Cinnamon? Des nods. The living room’s cayenne.
Markie pulls a used condom from her pocket, tosses it into the wastebasket, says she had fun with a new renter’s son. Des buries the thing, Kleenex after Kleenex. Tea tree oil scent swallows the room. The washer roars.
How strange it is to know a town by laundry:
There’s the guy who works at the gas station, his butt-crack perpetually exposed. His clothes are rags, rags, rags, or as Des phrased it to him, distressed. He changes oil for free if you give him a book title. The kneeholes in his jeans show his worn-out heart, years of impractical bending, and the alimony he quietly pays.
There’s the lady who plays Thursday Bingo in sweat-stained Disney tees. Her kids have long moved away. She uses her son’s dauber for luck. Her shirts stained red from too many B-7’s shows how much she must miss him.
The dog-breeders off the main road gave Des fur-coated sweaters in hopes her and Markie can wash away the memory of the three stillborn samoyeds delivered last week.
The eighty-seven-year-old lady who lives with her daughter while waiting to die. Today, Des and Markie must wash her delicates. Markie spreads four nightgowns on an ironing board and the girls assess the damage. They’re are all ankle-length, periwinkle, satiny.
The girls scrunch their faces. Urine. The woman’s daughter had given them the laundry embarrassed that her mother is a bed-wetter. She said she began soiling herself at night after her car was broken into. A doctor told her she does it to mark her space—that in her sleep, she finds her space to be dreadfully comforting.
Des and Markie put on rubber gloves, soak the silk in iodine. They take a shot of gin so they don’t over-think touching piss. If Ramona was home, she’d roll her eyes and remind Des of all the diapers she’d lovingly changed without liquid courage.
A stain by the crotch won’t come out. Markie yells Out, Damned Spot! but Des does not find it funny. Stains ignite a pain in her. They look alone and wrong. She dabs it with vinegar and a dishcloth for a long time. No change.
Markie says Oh well. Markie is late to deliver towels, bikes off along the seawall. Des scrubs and scrubs with no luck. That night, she sleeps with the lights on. Ramona does not come home.
Morning heat wakes Des. Steam on skin. The room is so hot it hurts. The cabins on the street look like softened candles from an old church. Markie knocks on the door. There is a bird talon in her hand. The heat did it, she says. The heat fried our radio.
Markie tells Des the radio overheated yesterday, all ash and static. She doesn’t know what time it decided to die. A raccoon took the silence as an invitation. In the middle of the night, it had gone after the budgie with the broken wing whose cage was set on the floor, door open. Markie heard and ran downstairs banging a book against the wall. The raccoon spat the bird’s eye on the floor. It looked like a blood-soaked raisin. Markie tried to pick up the remaining bits of her pet. She arranged the bird on the table, a jigsaw of rank meat, bloodied feathers.
The girls walk to the beach, wade the tides quietly then toss the talon in the water. The sun tints all the boats gold. Ramona’s Chariot, somewhere. The old woman out for her daily swim. She has one hand resting on the public raft. She is shoulder-deep in water and the dark waves make her look naked. She wipes sweat from her forehead. She waves at the girls. She looks both happy and lost. The budgie’s talon washes back toward Markie’s ankles. Des holds her friend’s shoulders. In a later heat dream, the bird will appear to Des as a glowing piece of meat. She will devour it all then rinse her hands in the sea.
About the Writer
Mallory Tater is a poetry and fiction writer from Ottawa. She has been published in various literary journals. She was short-listed for The Malahat Review’s Far Horizon’s Poetry Award in 2016, Room Magazine’s 2016 Fiction Contest, Room Magazine’s 2016 Poetry Contest, Arc Poem of the Year’s 2015 Contest & received third place for the Bristol Poetry Prize in 2015. She also received an Honourable Mention for CV2‘s 2015 Young Buck Poetry Prize.
Her first book of poetry This Will Be Good is forthcoming with BookThug Press in 2018.