Sweat drips down her spine and makes little pools under her thighs. The plastic lawn chair feels slick and warm behind her back, and the heat of the day grabs at her throat, making it hard to swallow. The boys run across the yard swinging plastic golf clubs at the grass and fence, kicking up clouds of dirt. The back door is open behind her, and a small trickle of A/C hits her shoulders and the back of her neck and she can breathe again. She sucks on a piece of ice from the plastic cup she’s holding before tilting her head back and letting the cool water drip down her throat. She never wanted to move here, begged for somewhere cooler, where seasons were well defined, and everyone owned thick winter coats and rubber boots to protect their feet from the snow. Here, it’s hot and humid and her hair curls at her temples. She can feel a sheen of sweat bead across the bridge of her nose as soon as she steps outside. The boys don’t mind. They strip down to their underwear and run around, their cheeks red and sides dripping. Sometimes, she puts out the sprinkler for them to run through, hair plastered to their heads like helmets. Her fingers twitch unsteadily without the weight of a cigarette between them. She can smell the nicotine, feel the smoke at the back of her throat. She grabs a piece of ice from her cup and crushes it between her teeth to distract her, she told her husband she would quit and there’s an unopened box of nicotine patches that he bought for her sitting on their bathroom counter. The ice feels sharp against her back tooth and makes her jump, and she rubs her jaw to soothe it. Now she wants a cigarette even more.
Before they moved, she and her husband drove down to choose a house. The boys stayed with her brother in law and his girlfriend while she spent the entire week trying to adjust to the overwhelming amount of wide-open spaces full of concrete and strip malls, and the expansive parking lots that were only half full. They sat in traffic and drove across highways as tall as skyscrapers that gave her vertigo. Her husband held her hand as they walked through houses with dark wood paneling and dead cockroaches in the corners, nodding along with the realtor while she held her breath and fought the urge to scream. Now, she is afraid that they will be stuck in this place forever. Her husband brought home a pair of cowboy boots and looks at every truck they pass with lust across his face. He sweeps his hands around their small house like he can’t believe all the space they suddenly have. At their old townhome, the boys shared a room and all their toys were stacked on shelves in plastic tubs in the living room. At night, the four of them would dance around one another trying to get ready for bed, squished into the tiny bathroom with its impractical claw-footed tub. They would bump into one another and argue, but afterward, she could hear the boys jumping across their beds from where she sat in the living room. Her husband would shout at them, and the noise would stop, and she would curl up under his arm in their tiny living room and close her eyes while he scanned through channels for something that would make them laugh. Her phone rings and she ignores it, grabs a cigarette from the pack underneath instead.
Before they moved, the three of them would walk to the park every morning. She would sit on a bench canopied by tree branches, the sun filtering through and bouncing off her thighs like drops of water. Now, the only places they go are places with A/C so cold she has to wear a sweater. She taps the ash off her cigarette against the arm of her chair, watches as it makes a little pile on the tiny slab of concrete that constitutes their patio. She checks her watch, moving as little as possible. It’s been ten minutes and already she can see lines of sweat across the front of her tank top. Her youngest screams as the older one swings the plastic club at him. Before she can say anything, the younger one swings back, and the clubs become swords and they are laughing and darting around one another. She closes her eyes and thinks about glaciers, icicles, walk in freezers with frost lining the walls. She knows she should coat them all in sunscreen, but the heat makes her lazy and she doesn’t move.
The boys start doing somersaults, their hair full of grass and leaves, smudges of dirt at the tips of their noses, the corners of their mouths. She warns them to look out for fire ants and the older one waves back at her without turning his head. He learned this from his father. It frustrates her and makes her laugh at the same time. Before long, no one in the house will listen to her except for the dog, whom she dislikes because he pees on everything and follows her from room to room, his tiny nails ticking across the tile. Her husband brought him home one night a few weeks after they moved in. His fur was covered in mats and burrs and they bathed him and combed out all the detritus. The dog sat there while she picked the burs out from around his paws and only tried to bite her once. The boys fell in love with him, wrapping their arms around his neck, running their hands over his long fur, and so he had stayed. She didn’t notice until later that he had marked all the boxes sitting in their kitchen, little puddles of dog pee underneath each corner.
She flicks the cigarette onto the patio, grinds it in with the heel of her flip-flop. The boys are racing from one end of the yard to the other like swimmers taking their laps. She goes inside the house, closes the back door and sits on the cool tile floor. The dog scratches at the glass behind her, but she ignores him. She can hear the air conditioner start, feel the breeze against her chest. She stands up and walks to the kitchen to make the boys lunch. She pulls out bread and peanut butter, Cheetos and plastic containers of yogurt. She calls her husband back, apologizes for missing his calls, and listens as he tells her about his promotion, his new responsibilities, and how he has an office on site. It’s just a desk inside a temporary building, but she can hear the excitement in his voice. She promises to unpack the last of the boxes while the boys are playing, but instead, she shoves them into the closet of the master bedroom and sits down on the floor and cries.