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“Unconditional Belief in Heat”

Audio: Read by the author.

I would’ve stabbed the man’s hand
   had he not jerked it away—this is what I usually say
toward the end of the story. The man

had pried back the right vinyl side panel
   of my living-room window’s A.C. unit, ripped
the accordion-style flap from its mounting track,
     and began palming the wall inside
my first-floor apartment. My ex

had left at the beginning of summer and Natalia
   wouldn’t move in until spring, so I lived alone
that June in Richmond, in the back bottom suite
     of a shoebox-shaped fourplex
set perpendicular to the street. In the story

I’ve told for almost twenty years,
   I’m a junior in college towelling my wet hair
as I walk from my bathroom through the hall,
     headed to my bedroom, at two in the morning.
I notice a flicker of motion from the living-

room window: a human hand
   flopping, like live tilapia, through
the side panel’s bent vinyl, the limb shoved in
     up to the elbow. I charge at the arm, yell,

I see you, motherfucker, and the hand
   jerks back. The man flees. When I call 911
and reach, incredibly, a busy signal, I phone Ed instead,
     who will drive over, remove his old A.C. unit, take it
to his new place. Until Ed arrives, I hover
   near the pried-back vinyl

gripping a butcher knife. I would’ve stabbed
   the hand that tried to steal my A.C. This is how
I tell it: I once thwarted a thief and he’s lucky
     I let him keep all his fingers. Last night,

on the phone with my best friend, I retold
   the story and Alicia paused, then said,
He wasn’t after your A.C. Twenty years ago,
     she must’ve said the exact same thing to me,
but I’d brushed it off, positive

I’d terrified a thief. It was June in Richmond
   and I was young and held an unconditional belief
in a heat made utterly obscene
     from humidity. It got so hot I could imagine
someone getting high and thinking, Goddamn,
      I need some A.C. My living-room window faced

a small side lawn that abutted the back garden
   of a rich person’s town house: a low wall
of calico brick from the nineteenth century
     with an overhanging fringe of dogwoods that had
by that point in summer expanded into a fat

green canopy. At two in the morning
   no one would’ve seen him climb in—quick
flicker between the brick and my window.
     I know years ago Alicia said the same thing,

but I had to stop believing in my own
   permanence to hear her. But I still
believe in—deep summer, Virginia—
     that heat.


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