From his perch on the lawn mower, Ralph can’t look directly at the sun, a watery glob of light, not even with sunglasses on. So he looks down, running his arm across his sweaty brow, and watches the white lines in the grass as he maneuvers down the football field. The puffy noise-dampening headphones create the feeling of being submerged water, the sound of the thrashing blades and stirring engine gagged as he swelters across the grass.
Maya Dremmer, girls’ soccer coach, is running around the tartan athletic track. Ralph follows her shape with his eyes while keeping his head straight forward until she leaves his field of vision, and as he curves around the end zone, she pops back into view, a shimmering, supple dot on the horizon.
Her skin, a creamy bronze matching the tan hue of the ground beneath her, glistens like a mirror. She, too, wears sunglasses, but hers are runner’s shades, and they stay put as her head bobs with each thump of her feet. Ralph imagines the sound, rhythmic and sustained like a dripping faucet or the tinkle of a mallet on a xylophone. He pictures the two of them listening to some classical music she’d pick out while they sip a bottle of wine he can’t afford but buys anyway.
She is here every Saturday. He tries to wave when their paths come close enough for him to memorize the shape of the sweat soaked through her white t-shirt, an ornate necklace, a glimmering stain on the blank landscape of her upper body. Sometimes, when the sun shines just right and the shirt clings with just enough dampness, he can see the dark curve of her sports bra underneath.
Maya never waves back. Ralph starts to lift his fleshy hand and feels the sharp yelp of a “hey!” start to gurgle up from his gut, but before it can escape he clamps his mouth shut, feels a salty tear of sweat dribble across the trench of his lips, and he drags the back of his hairy hand across his face instead.
He’s guiding the lawn mower across the fifty yard line in a steady arc, following the track that keeps him fenced in on the grass. Ralph imagines himself calling out to Maya, waving at her, asking her how her run is going. He sees her slow down, peeling the sunglasses from her face. Her eyes are emeralds.
She says: “Magnificent.” The word leaps from her tongue, crisp like a Bible verse.
Or: he asks her if she’s training for a marathon, and she says, “Yeah, the Boston,” and he nods, asking with a transition smooth as glass, if she’d like to get lunch sometime, and she nods, her lips curling into an oasis of a smile, saying, “Yes, that’d be great.” He loses himself in the dimples of her flushed cheeks.
Or—maybe—she slows, legs smacking against the track like a dying metronome, each beat further from the last. She checks her watch, marking her time. Ralph puffs out his chest and breathes in deeply when she glances at him and he mentions the humidity. How it’s usually so dry this time of year. She shakes her head, but he knows she’s agreeing. A sprinkler spray of sweat erupts from her forehead. “It’s a bitch,” she says. “Covers everything like a damn blanket.”
He cringes. She wouldn’t curse like that.
Ralph stares through the dark lenses of his sunglasses, watching Maya bounce around the track. He remembers his mother at home, waiting for the newspaper and fresh cantaloupe, for the classifieds and comics, and how she will crane a white finger toward a printed box that boasts ten dollars an hour and saying how he should take it, call at least, leave a message if they’re not home.
His head twitches and his mother tumbles away, replaced by a picnic table, Ralph and Maya, the grass long and green, their children laughing and tugging at her plaid shirt two sizes too big and redder than his cheeks will ever be, and she waves them away toward the playground like an afterthought. Maya giggles and caresses his arm, her voice coming in waves.
Ralph is hot. The sweat falls along his face. He remembers his brother, theChicagolawyer that ran away from the humidity. His sister, artist, screaming about Salvador Dali, melts away like a drooping, disintegrating horse. He imagines a roan bubbling up through the freshly-cut grass, then falling to pieces in the heat.
Ralph squints and crosses the forty-yard-line.
He feels a tear in his eye. It stings like sweat.
Maya turns toward the goal posts as Ralph reaches the other end zone. The sun shines in front of him, a blinding sandy desert, and he wants to call out to her. Light cascades toward his face, bouncing off his sunglasses. The landscape wavers like an illusion in front of him. Reaching toward her, Ralph cranes his neck to follow her, but he’s approaching the track, and he has to coax the lawn mower back toward the other end of the field, leaving Maya behind.