Before Fall Semester
It was the last truly hot day of the summer. It was also the last day before the semester started. A Monday of sweat, sweltering heat, opened windows, and dripping ice cream down the skin of their palms. They’d pushed the coffee table out of the way and the four friends lay together in the middle of the living room side by side staring at their ceiling. The kitchen window provided as much help as their shitty air conditioner so they’d dressed sparsely and attempted to fan themselves with spare pieces of paper and old notebooks they’d salvaged from their rooms. It was still early evening, they were too hot to even eat dinner, too hot to even turn on the TV or listen to music – any added nuisance would only raise the temperature of their living space. Charlie and Jay were shirtless wearing athletic shorts and Zara and Maisie only had on sports bras and gym shorts too. They didn’t even have much space in the living room so they lay with sticky bare arms connected. Jay on the outer edge of one side, Maisie on the other, and Charlie and Zara in the middle connecting everyone. They’d taken iced packs and frozen vegetables out of the fridge and each had ice melting on their bare stomachs. The last of summer spilled off their skin and into the flooring. They were blanketed underneath the heavy humid air. As much as they felt like they would die in their tomb of thick suffocating heat there was also something immensely comforting about them laying together in their shared coffin right before they would again become separated through varying schedules and independent duties. Zara felt peaceful, letting summer’s teeth skin her alive because it was alright as long as she was cooked alongside her friends. As long as she could, in her last moments, hear Jay turn onto his back, feel Maisie’s hair tickle her shoulders, and have Charlie press just an inch further into her side. She wouldn’t mind it, melting together into one pool of unrecognizable innards and falling down the cracks into the living room of the apartment directly downstairs. She wanted to say something about it
to her friends but she didn’t have the energy to verbalize her thoughts, instead, she turned to look at Maisie but Maisie had her eyes closed. She turned to look at Charlie but he was falling asleep too. Zara took it as a sign to close her own.
They hadn’t met in any special way. They’d only known each other for a year, actually less. It had been practically accidental. All ending up in the same core history class for the Roman Empire, all being assigned to the same group for their mid-term presentation. Zara had heard horror stories about group presentations, she’d pretty much expected she’d be on her own for their whole twenty minutes talking about Titus Flaminius but somehow, she’d struck gold by landing a group she would love for the rest of her life. How they’d gone from hour-long sessions at the library searching for Titus’s political ideologies to falling asleep side by side on their apartment floor, drunk on gin and youth and summer she’d never know and she’d never had the heart to backtrack but she was glad for it. Glad for the simple chance and probability of finding friends, glad for the processes and systems that brought them together, glad to lay beside them and know that they felt safe enough to lay beside her. It was that she appreciated most, to be at ease and to be comforted by the closeness of their bodies and the sounds of their breathing. When she was a lot younger she used to wake up in the middle of the night and sneak into her parent’s room just to make sure they were still alive, she’d place a hand just above their faces to feel their breaths on her palm. She was always afraid of being left alone, always afraid that something out of her control would take place without her having a chance to stop it. She thought she’d grown out of it, this impulsive urge to make sure everyone around her was alive, to make sure that she wasn’t the last human on Earth, but old habits overtook her from time to time. It was helpful to feel Maisie and Charlie’s chests rise and fall in rhythm with hers and the snores from Jay were more melodic than annoying for once.
She doesn’t know when she fell asleep exactly but when she awoke from the blaring of sirens outside she realized that their last summer evening had fallen victim to the dead of night. Jay and Maisie must have woken up before her and managed to stumble into their respective rooms because Charlie was the last one left beside her. He was turned towards her, bare shoulders blending into the dark shadows of their room – if Zara was just a bit more disillusioned, a bit more drowsy; if she could just convince herself she was still dreaming she would’ve stayed there, maybe even had the confidence to press herself against Charlie and blame it on the turbulence of shifting limbs in sleep but she was not that type of person. She commanded her drunk limbs to sit up and felt the folds of her body ache from the repercussions of sleeping on the hardwood floor. She detached herself from Charlie and wondered if she should wake him up. They had class tomorrow – he didn’t even have an alarm set, by all means, she should wake him up. There were no lights on, only the stray stolen streetlights from the kitchen window gave Zara any ability to see her surroundings. She could just barely make out Charlie’s sleeping face as she looked down at him. He seemed serene, somehow even making the floor feel like it could be cloud-like. She wanted, only for a second, to press her palm to his cheek to see if he’d react if he’d wake up and put his own hand over hers and then pull her back down to fall asleep beside him again. If he did she wouldn’t have the heart to get back up. She was that kind of person. The one who needed someone else to tell her to stay and once they did she would listen and follow her every beck and call. And because she knew the dangers of that she did not place an open hand on Charlie’s cheek. She got up and carefully made her way back to her room in the darkness. She managed to set an alarm for 8:30 so she’d have enough time to make it to her 9:30 French class and fell asleep again on her mattress, simultaneously alone and not alone.
She fell asleep feeling a bit guilty for not waking up Charlie but she never did have enough heart when it came to him. The rest of the night was dreamless.
Ariya Mamun is a Canadian-Bengali author who is currently studying Dramatic Writing at New York University. Her writing has appeared in Textile Magazine KW, Sad Girls Lit Club and Molecule Lit Mag.