Devin Da Graca
Snow in Summer
Venturing into the city from suburbia, a ten-minute task for a resident of Burbank, California, a new life began to emerge on the streets; with a population increase visually apparent the more distance gained away from locations of clustered housing. An area of small business and an area of big business were both connected and separated by a bridge that when crossing made one feel as if they were going to the promise land. Once a vehicle reached the center of the bridge, a blanket of lights, some brighter than the Northern star itself and of varying colors, congratulated you for making the discovery, even if it was for the four hundredth time. A promise land Burbank most definitely was not, but it was where the weekend took place for much of the Valley's youths.
On this particular night however, a different set of lights illuminated the sky. As he drove over the Magnolia bridge, Jerry noticed what looked like orange-red snakes slithering across the hillside that encompassed the town, just a few miles shy of Burbank's epicenter of night-life activity. Rolling his windows down, a warm September air came rushing in, along with the aroma of burnt vegetation. Looking up at the sky, the nineteen year old noticed how the airspace above the hill was a dark gray, while the backdrop in his rearview mirror was a healthy black. A fire, which was highly unusual for being as close to the proximities of the town as it was, was burning and generated more smoke than panic, as the citizens of the flats continued on with their nightly routine in placidity.
With the inside of the mall-parking garage fully occupied, Jerry drove to the roof, where all but one other car was stationed. Parking the car so that the windshield faced the burning mountains, he turned off the ignition and sat staring at what for a moment looked almost romantic – a single flame, rising then falling against the blackness of the night like a candle-lit dinner between nature and disaster. It was hypnotizing to watch and it caused his eyes to focus in on the tiny details of the distant flames.
Jingling his attention away from the fire, Jerry's cell phone rang and vibrated at rhythmic intervals. First he checked the text screen to see who was calling him and after giving a second's thought, flipped the phone open to answer it.
"Hey mom… yeah… I'm with Tyler. We're just gonna grab some food, should be home in an hour or something. Okay… okay, bye."
Jerry's passenger seat was as empty as the lie he'd told, but every once and a while he liked to believe in his own bullshit. The truth of the matter was, it was a Saturday night and Jerry just wanted to be alone, but to anyone else this would be incomprehensible, for what kind of a youthful individual would want to spend a Saturday night alone? One who has something on his mind; one who is in deep contemplation about something and can have no interference of any kind. Well, if Jerry had said any of that, the last thing he would be receiving is some peace and quiet. By nature, people are curious and had Jerry told the truth about his whereabouts and lack of company, he would have been bombarded with questions – questions Jerry had little energy to justify and explain.
Stepping outside into the warm of the night, Jerry shut the door and inhaled the unhealthy air; it was thick and tasted of burnt wood. As he walked towards a descending staircase, white particles sprinkled over him with a gentle gust of wind and from the rooftop balcony, the city looked to be the resident of a snow globe. Instead of dissolving however, the debris decided to collect on top of whatever it touched. Ashes from the fiery hills had formed an invasion.
The coffee shop Jerry intended on going to was a mere two blocks away and normally, as he'd made solo trips like this before, his walks would be at a slow, contemplative pace, but due to the falling ash his strides would have to be quicker in order to avoid collecting a wig of debris. With his hands in his pockets, Jerry began his lonesome journey through both a busy town center and his mind, wherein much activity was taking place. Most days Jerry was fully capable of placing his main concern into the back recesses of his mind, but recently made realizations had prevented him from doing so, at least convincingly. Before he was able to control his insides from coming out, but lately he found it difficult to suppress his feelings from being interpreted by the public eye. "Are you okay?" people were beginning to ask with more frequency. Jerry's chances for being nominated as best actor were beginning to fade.
Jerry had kept his head down for most of his walk, but whenever his head came up, like a whale for air, he had gotten a glimpse of couples displaying acts of affection ranging from hand-holding to lip-locking. This brought Jerry's head down, back into the depths of his mind that had come under attack by the reminders of his companionless position. Indeed he had someone in mind, but it had remained merely a prisoner to his thoughts for the past four years and nothing more. When this truth would escape out of his mind and past his mouth was uncertain, but as time went on, the chances grew slimmer and his fate came closer to being sealed.
"Jerry!" a voice cried from behind.
Jerry turned to the call of his voice and saw a smiling individual approach him. It was an old friend of his from high school, but more of a "fellow student" than anything else.
"Hey, Jake, what's up?" Jerry asked, his enthusiasm and ability to fake it lacking.
"Not much man, not much. I can't believe you walked past me, I was looking right at you," the husky, ex-quarterback said. Jerry thought he had let himself go in high school and had decided that Jake had done so once again in college.
"Didn't even recognize you," Jerry defended truthfully.
Jake smiled, "Yeah, I know. Sort of put on a few pounds since graduation. Where you headed?"
"Oh, I'm just gonna grab some coffee and head back home so I can finish up a paper."
"That's sick, homework on a Saturday? You should be out partying man."
"I know, I should; maybe even put on a few pounds after hitting a kegger," Jerry retaliated sarcastically, eyeing Jake's protruding gut.
Jake laughed uncomfortably, being a good sport about Jerry's comment. "Well, do what you've gotta do."
"That's the plan," Jerry replied, gazing at his destination that was just a block away and hiding behind Jake's towering physic.
"You still hang out with Eddy, Tyler, and all those guys? What about Danielle? You two make anything happen after prom?" Jake asked.
Jerry, already not in the mood to talk, grew bitter with Jake's question. It was a question that had long since been answered, but one Jerry supposed was in retaliation to his weight problem insinuated comment.
"Still friends… with all of them," Jerry stated briefly.
"Oh," Jake uttered, "So you and Danielle never hooked up? Thought you two-"
"Nothing like that. We're friends. She's been with the same guy for almost a year now."
"She's got a boyfriend? Someone from our class?"
"No, someone from USC."
"Ah, a college guy," Jake said as if he'd discovered the new world.
"We're all college guys Jake," Jerry snapped.
"True, very true," Jake agreed, sensing irritability from Jerry.
An awkward moment of silence fell upon them as they stared at everything else but into each other's eyes.
"Don't you live up there?" Jerry asked, nodding his head to the distant burning hill. From where the two were standing, it looked like a volcanic eruption, complete with oozing lava.
"Shit," he said looking back at the fire, "That thing really spread."
"Yeah," said Jerry, "You better head back home real quick and turn on your sprinklers."
Jake couldn't detect whether or not Jerry was intentionally being malicious, but decided otherwise for peace's sake.
"Yeah, well, it was good seeing you. That fire looks like it's a little too close to home, so I better go scope that out. Have fun with that paper," Jake said, backing away.
"Oh, you know I will," Jerry replied with sarcasm -- the paper a fabricated purpose.
Jake gave a parting wave before walking in the opposite direction, while Jerry nodded him away. Relief had replaced Jake's presence and Jerry returned to his desired melancholy state of self-reflection. He abhorred running into familiar faces while wanting to be alone because it required of him a performance he had very little will power to extract. Jerry was a weak man who showed no signs of weakness or at least that used to be the case.
Reaching a crosswalk, Jerry recognized a familiar aroma; the scent of his constant thought, of Jake's topic for discussion. It wasn't even a specific perfume that Jerry identified; it was the scent of her skin; like the smell of fresh rain sprinkled on a bed of flowers. Whether or not the smell was there, Jerry couldn't be sure, just like how he couldn't be sure if it was love he felt or an intensified infatuation. Perhaps the mere mention of her name, as Jake had just a few seconds ago, generated a placebo affect and he just thought he smelled her. It wasn't long before every girl that walked past him who had blonde hair and blue eyes became Danielle.
As he walked down the congested sidewalk, Jerry's mind began to do a run through, as it was accustomed to doing, of opportunities missed with Danielle. The two had been friends since childhood, but it wasn't until high school that Jerry had developed feelings that went beyond friendship. Within the last four years, the two had exchanged moments hinting that something more was wanted by the both of them, but neither had ever chosen to act on it.
In fact, it was because such a moment had reoccurred the night previous that Jerry found himself walking alone on this night in contemplation. The two had reunited after a month of not having seen each other at a friend's birthday party and had spent much of their time lying down together in the backyard hammock, while Danielle's boyfriend had passed out until 1 o'clock of this afternoon. For a good two hours the two had talked about everything you could ever imagine, but had you asked either of them, "What did you guys talk about?" their response would have been, "Oh, nothing." That didn't mean their conversation was valueless, but just that it was a conversation that could have only meant something to them and nothing to everyone else. And, such was the case with Jerry and Danielle; a lot of nothing hinted towards a lot of something.
As the two slowly, but surely progressed towards a grungy sobriety last night on the hammock, Jerry recalled growing tired, but wanting to stay awake to watch Danielle sleep. She had nestled her head on his shoulder and without having to look at her, Jerry could tell she intended on doing the same, as he could feel her, on occasion, tilting her head upward towards the direction of his face. When he finally looked down to meet her eyes, she grew silent and by the look of her face, was in a moment of thought. Danielle had eventually smiled and said goodnight, but closed her eyes in such a way that indicated she was more tired of looking at what caused so many thoughts to run through her mind, than physically exhausted. Jerry didn't say a word, but responded by taking his fingers and running them through her hair. He then leaned his head on top of hers and whispered, "I have to tell you something," but she didn't answer.
The entire night, Jerry had wanted to kiss her. Depending on how she would react to the kiss that existed only in his imagination, Jerry was prepared to insist it an action of drunkenness. It was an easy excuse, but it covered all the bases; why he had kissed a girl who has a boyfriend, why he had made a life-long friendship awkward with a kiss, why he had done something so out of the blue random. The idea of kissing her lingered around his mind, like a thick morning fog at bay, but he was perfectly content with just lying with her. He could do this for the rest of his life, he'd thought at that moment.
He hadn't slept at all, but when the sun came up, Jerry carefully lifted himself from the hammock, rocking Danielle back into her uninterrupted slumber. Since 8 AM Jerry's mind had been awake with the thoughts that ceased to sleep and it was beginning to take its toll. For years Jerry had been hesitant in revealing his true feelings, insisting to himself that they were momentary and infatuatedly fueled. Before he knew it, years went by and the feelings remained. Today, Jerry had decided he was in love because what other explanation could there have been for feeling something continuously without hiatus over a span of four years? Lust and infatuation failed to pay any contribution to him liking Danielle; he could sleep with her in the purest sense of the phrase and be perfectly content. The feelings he had for her were of a genuine nature; he loved who she was and it was merely happenstance that she was beautiful.
Confident with his decision to confront Danielle with his suppressed love, Jerry walked into the coffee shop and ordered an ice-blended mocha with relative ease, as there were all but three people in the building. Five minutes later, the cold beverage had found itself in Jerry's hands and Jerry had found himself outdoors, back again in the warmness of the night. His walk to the coffee shop had been noticeably melancholy, but his walk to the parking structure had placed a smile on his face. It was a hopeful smile--a reaction to an imaginative reenactment of his proposed confrontation. He would tell her he loved her and she would tell him the same. The amount of certainty placed in his prediction was great and destined.
As he made his way back up the parking lot stairs, heading for the top floor, Danielle's aroma had greeted Jerry's nose once again. He stopped and shook his head at how crazy his bottled up feelings were beginning to drive him. He loved her and she was beginning to infiltrate every single one of his senses. Picking up where he left off, Jerry continued his climb up the stairs until he reached the third floor, where several cars were now parked and observing the distant brush fire.
His quick pace to his car beginning to slow, Jerry started to look in all directions for an unseen Danielle. The aroma had become far too strong for it to be a mere fabrication of his mind. She was a lot closer than a thought, Jerry hypothesized as he unlocked the door to his car. Spotting a shadow dart across the ground, Jerry quickly turned to find vacancy recently occupied. Before he could turn around to catch his fleeing stalker, two small hands eclipsed Jerry's eyes, and the smell of fresh rain had found its origin. It was as if she'd leapt right out of his mind.
"Hmm, these hands smell like four week old chili cheese fries. This must be Danielle," Jerry joked.
Danielle removed her hands from Jerry's eyes and used them to smack his shoulders, "Eww, that's gross. They do not smell like chili cheese fries."
Jerry smiled as he watched Danielle sniff her fingers, "I'm just messing around."
"You better be pal," she said, "I took two showers today and a bath."
Jerry's eyebrows curled up with amusement, "And why did you take two showers and a bath today?"
"Well, Greg's party for one. I came home smelling like a liquor cabinet. Plus it was hot today and I don't have any air conditioning in my house."
"Ahh, I see. What are you doing up here?" Jerry asked.
"Mark and his friends thought it would be cool to watch the fire stoned," she replied, pointing to a white Ford Explorer parked behind her. The windows were cracked open a little to unleash the pipe's fumes.
Jerry glanced behind her and waved at the SUV. A hand popped out from the passenger-side window and returned Jerry's greeting. "Nice. Did you smo-
"Hell no I didn't smoke. You know me better than that," she returned without enabling Jerry to finish asking his question.
Jerry nodded, "Good girl."
Danielle smiled and studied Jerry for a while, noticing that Jerry was doing the same.
"So what happened to you this morning?" Danielle decided to ask.
"What? What do you mean what happened to me this morning?" Jerry asked naively.
Danielle rolled her eyes, "Well, um, you sort of disappeared without telling anyone you were leaving."
"Oh… yeah, I just had to go home and take care of some things."
"Mmm hmm," Danielle grumbled, brushing a strand of hair away from her eye.
Jerry simply nodded, inserting his hands into his pockets. Danielle looked down at her feet as their mouths remained closed in the loudness of the quiet.
"How are things going with you and Mark?" Jerry asked, his facial expression an insincere match with his curiosity. He could care less about how things between them were going, so long as they were going bad or nowhere and Danielle could detect this.
She forced a smile and said, "Fine… I guess. He loves me."
Nodding as if her answer were satisfactory, Jerry suddenly found it difficult to say what it was he had wanted to say. The words were there, but a doubtful tongue immobilized them.
"It would be hard to imagine someone not loving you," were the only words Jerry could manage.
Danielle smiled, "Yeah, I guess it would be hard to imagine someone not loving me wouldn't it?"
Jerry chuckled at her sarcastic cockiness and continued, "What about you?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, what about you? You said he loves you. Do you love him?"
Danielle laughed as if the question were ludicrous; "I've been with him for over a year now."
Jerry smiled, "Yeah? You still didn't answer my question."
"Time says a lot you know. Wouldn't I have to love him to have stayed with him for so long?"
"You'd think," Jerry agreed.
Danielle looked right into Jerry's eyes then away again. "I don't know. I mean I like him. We've gone through a lot of shit together… I'm used to him being a part of every day, you know? To call it quits now over any number of the stupid fights we've had, past or present, would just make our entire plight seem irrelevant and wasted."
"Yeah, I guess," Jerry said, secretly disagreeing.
"I would never want to hurt him, ever. I think that's a characteristic of love, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but so is being happy."
"I never said I wasn't happy. I am happy. I'm happy because being with him… I know this is going to sound corny, but being with him makes me feel safe in my life."
"Safe from what? Safe from being alone?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Well, you wouldn't be," Jerry said, looking away.
The two stood in silence as ash from the fire snowed on them. At this moment, it felt as if both were back in the hammock, lying together, sharing the same thoughts and dreams.
Suddenly, two bright lights shined past Danielle. Mark's white SUV had started up and it wasn't long until he had honked for Danielle to return. She looked back at the car, then at Jerry. The two smiled at each other as if they knew it was time for them to return to the roles they've been playing against type.
"That's my cue," she said, "I'll be online later tonight."
"Yeah, later," Jerry said.
Danielle began a walk backwards, watching Jerry grow further and further away, then jumped into the Explorer. Jerry removed his hand from his pocket and waved goodbye, watching the truck descend down the three levels of the parking garage and finally out into the city. As he watched the SUV disappear, Jerry redrew his attention to the fire before him. The flames were proving to be unstoppable and they continued to burn without any foreseeable means to an end.