Louisa could see Route 84 through a clearing in the pines, less than a hundred yards away, and that was a good thing, because at that particular point, it was only half a mile or so to Bartles Store, where she helped out two-three times a week. She had sweated right through her thin cotton dress and her hair felt plastered to her head in spite of the fact that she had it pinned, albeit carelessly.

“Ladies don’t sweat, they glow.”

She’d heard that phrase used by the wealthy ladies from Montgomery, the ones being driven through the town on their way to the seashore, driven by men who were wearing fancy suits and ties, no matter bout the heat. Men that should have been out fighting in the war, just as decent men were doing all over the country. These men looked able-bodied. What were they doing in those big air-conditioned cars, seeming like they didn’t have a care in the world? Her girlfriend Gloria had ridden in one of these cars at a funeral procession last summer and had described it as ‘heaven’.

All the good men were long gone out of Monroeville, nothing left but the old and the infirm and the crazies, not a damn one worth talking to. The war was taking them all, and fair or not, too large a number would not be coming back. Including her husband, who wasn’t worth mourning for, but still deserved better than dying without glory – pneumonia! – in Guadalcanal. Well, she was better off without him anyway, maybe not financially, but still better off. Still had her looks and no young-uns to weigh her down. She could make a new start if the men ever did come back.

It was far too hot to smoke, but Louisa nonetheless pulled out a crooked Picayune from her wrinkled pack. Damn humidity. The striking surface of her matchbox was too moist for the match to ignite, so she picked up a stone and sparked that to light up. Picayunes were strong as horse manure and caused a spinning in the head that she sometimes liked, and now as she moved off the dirt road and onto 84, the heat rising from the asphalt made her feel as if she were swimming, and the cigarette fell from her hand. She paused a moment and crushed it with her heel, and then rolled her shoe over it angrily, reducing it to shards, then to nothing. It was far too hot to smoke.

All that mattered now was making it to Bartles and drinking a cold Royal Crown Cola. That kept her feet moving. Sweat was burning in her eyes – if this was glowing, she was positively iridescent. Alabama in August was hell if you didn’t even have a truck, if you didn’t even have a friend to ride you to the store. She had a truck but it was long time broke. She had a friend, but her friend didn’t have a truck, nor much of her senses left, and so she walked. It would be all right soon. She would be drinking a RC and standing by the big floor fan, and she would stay at Bartles until someone – even an old one or a crazy one – could give her a ride back to her shack. Should have never left the house, but she got so restless. Summer couldn’t end soon enough.

©2003, Mark Hoback