A Humid Summer
A short story
©1985 Matthew C. Scheck
Part One: We Meet
You haven’t really experienced the pain of real humidity until you’ve spent a summer in southern Georgia along the Chattahoochee River. I spent three summers there and it got worse for me every year. The more pain it caused me, the more intensely I would fight it. Back then I was angry and intense and scared of my life, so I tried to push myself to insane limits simply because I could and because I was convinced I’d die young like my father, so what the hell, let’s make it happen. My last summer there I ran ten miles every day at four in the afternoon when the humidity was so horrible I could barely breathe after the seventh mile. What made it such a crazy test was that I couldn’t quit because the seventh mile was three-quarters of the way around Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning, in the middle of nowhere, and therefore I had no choice but to finish. Few of my friends would make this run and the few who tried hardly came back for a second try.
I met her during one of these crazy runs. Well, I didn’t exactly meet her on this day, since we’d already met informally at work at Martin Army Hospital, where she was a civilian registered nurse on a ward and I was an enlisted Army trooper working in pathology. But we really didn’t know each other than our understanding of our differing roles in the pecking order at the hospital.
I was just a kid, twenty-one, a bright Specialist Fourth Class who had dropped out of his honors program in college and enlisted in the Green Machine, winding up in the Medical Corps at Benning. She was thirty and married to a powerful, up-and-coming West Pointer, a major in the 197th Infantry Brigade at Benning’s Sand Hill. She was certainly the most beautiful woman at the hospital, which I’d noticed every time I saw her. Tall. Lithe. Athletic. Long, shiny, straight brown hair. Amazing blue eyes that made you smile for an hour afterwards even if they were directed at you for a brief moment. We’ll call her Jamie. Jamie McMahon. A University of Maine grad, originally from Bangor, Maine. A lovely singing voice, especially when singing Tears For Fears or Simple Minds songs, her favorite bands that summer. Her rendition of “Mad World” would make you cry.
I learned all this after I met her on that road in the middle of nowhere on one of my suicide runs in the nefarious and painful South Georgia summer humidity of 1984.
I’d tripped on a pothole and sprained my ankle, and right about when that happened she drove by in her convertible. And wouldn’t you know it I was injured and she was a nurse. So of course she stopped. My heroine, Jamie McMahon, RN. And wouldn’t you know it she’d just had a horrible fight with her horrible husband, who smacked her face and left her injured too. It was fate we became lovers. A magical, painful, humid fate.
“Hey, are you okay, Vampire?” she called out as she braked hard to a rather violent stop in front of me. She called me “Vampire” or “Dracula” because one of my duties was as a phlebotomist, so I was frequently on her ward drawing blood from her patients, and on one of these ward rounds she started calling me these silly nicknames. I didn’t mind her calling me them because she looked magnificent in her tight hospital whites. However, just because we playfully flirted on my ward rounds, I never considered having a chance with this upper-class, beautiful, magnificent, very married woman. She was far above my lowly station.
And then I tripped that day in the middle of nowhere in that god-awful humidity and there she was.
“My ankle is blown,” I replied. I was sitting on the side of road in obvious pain, covered in sweat, smelling like ass, and yet bemused she just happened upon me in the perfect time of need.
“Can you walk?”
“Can I give you a ride?”
“My hero! Yes!”
She got out of her car and went to her trunk, from which she got her first aid kit, from which she got out a chemical ice bag, with which she smacked to activate, then taped it to my ankle. “It’s not too bad, it looks like you’ve sprained it before, eh?” She said as she stood up.
“Wow, who gave you that shiner?” I asked as she put her arm around me and helped me hobble to her car.
“My beloved husband,” she sneered as she helped ease me into her passenger seat. Then she got in the driver’s seat and sat silently for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry. You need this more than I do,” I said as I took the ice bag off my ankle and gently held it to her swollen eye. She didn’t resist.
“C’est la vie,” she whispered.
I couldn’t stop looking at her during that silence. My ankle wasn’t the only throbbing extremity on my body as I leered at her in her snug Dolfin running shorts, white t-shirt, and flip-flops. I was six two and she was nearly six even; I loved tall women above all else. I stared at her the entire time she sat there without speaking. It was very quiet in the middle of nowhere. We were both beautiful and in pain. The rest just happened.
Suddenly, abruptly, she pushed the ice bag and my hand away, started the car, and looked at me earnestly. “You want to get a couple of beers and some raw oysters with me, Dracula?” she asked as we drove away. “I’m not going home and I don’t have any friends here and you’re really cute and a great guy and I like you.”
“Yeah…sure,” I mumbled.
And that’s how we became lovers. We went to Mick’s Shack on Highway 431 across the border in Alabama, where we got raw shucked oysters on the shell and drank many beers. Then we went to a dreadful motel in Phenix City, Alabama and made love until the next morning. Just like that. No awkward first date or cute meet. We just happened to be in the exact spot when we both needed each other, and from that moment forward we were inseparable.
In fact she was the love of my life. And my biggest tragedy.
Up next: Part Two: A Major Snag