A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert
This is Story #8, entitled A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. This will be the final story of Part Won: Go West. After this is Part Too, where we go Weird.
It was summertime, and baking like a pizza oven outside. Made us desert rats hungry, so my wife and I took my 89-year-old father-in-law out to a specialty pizza cafe.
The swamp cooler wasn’t doing much good inside that stuffy little pizza cafe, as it rattled and strained under the July sun, while competing against the work of the ovens. As we sat at a picnic table, I watched the young lady behind the counter swelter away while taking orders from a queue of sweaty customers.
She was plain-looking, but possessed of a spirit and attitude that drew my eye and made her attractive to me. She had a straightforward gravity to her demeanor, and a careful presence that held the attention of each customer she waited on. I felt enamored just watching her. And I wondered if I was falling in love with her.
Problem was, she was young enough to be my granddaughter. And besides, I was married. And if I gawked at her any longer, my wife and father-in-law sitting next to me, might notice. I had to shake my sunbaked head and take a sip of my cold soft drink, to bring my overheated brain to its senses.
I then realized that what I was really falling in love with was a time so long ago when such treasures as her were available. A heady time when life was starting out, and couples my age were beginning long journeys together. I missed the feel of that, for just a few brief fleeting moments. And I wanted to return, but knew I couldn’t.
A young paramedic walked in and stood in line. And watching him, and observing her, it occurred to me that maybe something more than pizza could result from their encounter. It probably didn’t, but I imagined it could.
This modern Western is about that imagined encounter. It’s a romantic vignette about heat, chemistry, and the reaction they might set off, between two young strangers in the moments before they meet.
A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert
It was high noon at the High Moon Pizza Cafe. The desert sun outside desiccated the rocks, cacti, and Joshua trees. But inside, a swamp cooler purred away, refreshing each new customer who staggered through the front door.
It was 98 outside and 88 inside. The swamp cooler only shaved ten degrees off the heat. But it felt like the Antarctic for those seeking refuge from the flaming overhead sun.
This refuge was her place of employ. While El Sol baked brains outside, she baked pizza pies inside. And she waited on zombies. The zombies were her customers. They were the desert rats who staggered through the front door in a state of brain-baked dyscrasia, and as delusional as the heat haze on the horizon.
She was practically a zombie herself, from the effect of the pizza ovens. This heat on the brain plays tricks on people. It boils the cerebral hemispheres, fries the neurons, and sizzles the synapses. And it makes possible a phenomenon between two encephalons that is known as a spontaneous chemical reaction.
Her 22-year-old face and figure were not beautiful, just pretty. Plainly pretty. And then only under cooler circumstances. Today all shreds of prettiness washed away from her.
Her face was enwreathed with sweat. It dripped in beads down her forehead and stung her eyes, burning them red. It formed droplets under her nose, lips, and chin. And it ran rivers down her bare neck, shoulders and meaty arms.
She wore a thin, green, cotton tank top, soaked in moisture. The decolletage of this bodice exposed a hint of sweaty cleavage. Below this beaded valley rolled sweat-stained green hills, and below each of these hills, trapped heat unleashed runnels of perspiration that streaked the fabric of her top from her bosoms to her waistline.
He poked his head through the cafe door, attracted by the 20% discount he’d heard about, for First Responders. Then he wiped the sweat off his brow with the palm of his hand, and staggered inside to join the zombies waiting in the queue. He stood behind two other customers and slowly shook his head a bit, trying to clear and orient his heat-hazed mind.
She glanced over their heads and caught sight of the face of this man who was last in line. It struck her with a shot of adrenaline. Her heart flip-flopped. A mysterious, volatile element surged through her internal chemistry.
One millisecond later: Flashpoint!
And suddenly she knew she had glimpsed the face of her future husband.
He was 24 years old, of towering stature, and in peak physical condition. He sported upside-down sunglasses perched atop sweat-soaked auburn hair, which was neatly trimmed around salty wet ears.
He was an EMT, dressed in a close-fitting blue shirt, mottled with blotches of moisture. A black web belt cinctured the narrow waistline of his pants, which stunk of perspiration. A 2-way radio clipped to this belt could quickly drag him back outside into the smoldering heat, to assist at the next car wreck, heat stroke, or other emergency. He prayed to all the gods that this wouldn’t happen until he’d had at least 30 minutes of respite in this cool refuge.
He was a handsome man at other times, when his sudoriferous skin did not pour waterfalls all over his body. He was for sure much better looking than she. And his income as an EMT was far higher than her fast-food slave wage.
He was cool, magnetic, and possessed of savoir-faire in other seasons. But not so much during the withering heat of the desert summer. However during the fall, winter, and spring, this young man had much more going for him than that young woman.
His zombie eyes were transfixed on the hot pizzas in a glass display, and failed to notice the overheated young lady standing behind them. She finished with a customer. He moved up a step in line, and as he stepped he directed his bleary eyes over the head of the zombie before him, and focused on her perspiration-pocked face.
An electric frisson traveled up his back. He suddenly felt a little queasy and faint. His knees buckled, and the upside-down sunglasses dropped off of his head. He caught them with clammy hands, and fumbled nervously with them, almost jabbing out an eye, until he finally gave up and stuffed the shades in his pocket.
He was plunging into love. He knew it. But he couldn’t explain why. And he couldn’t stop it. His heart practically pounded out of his chest. He couldn’t pry his eyes off of this woman swimming in the product of her own sweat glands.
EMTs are expected to be calm and unflappable in the face of any situation. He wondered what was happening to him. How could such a plain-looking, sweat-drenched woman unhinge such a powerful response in him? Was it the heat?
Of course it was the heat. Heat that induces spontaneous chemical reactions.
He’d managed to remain single up until now, but this happened too quickly to put up any defenses. Besides, he felt too weak from the heat to resist. Nature, in her enigmatic, ruthless ways for ensuring reproduction of the human animal, was winning.
She finished with the customer, then caught his eye. She smiled with a twinkle of excitement, as beads of moisture dripped from her chin.
“Sir, may I take your order?”