The bell on the door to the bookstore with no title went TINK but there was no dink; it was too hot for dink. TINK was all it could muster. The Main Drag was sweating, and half the shops had their doors propped open in vain attempts to steal a breeze. On the Upside, kids swam in their backyard pools; on the Downside, the Poolmobile had arrived.
Earlier that year, the problem of income inequality and the increasing disparity between the classes had been brought up a meeting of the Town Fathers. The issue was discussed at length by several blue ribbon committees and one committee that was just as good as the others, but they had run out of blue ribbons. There was intense debate, and there was passion tempered by realism and compromise, and there was much political wrangling.
Then one morning, Town Father Potts said,
“Why don’t we fill up a garbage truck with water and let the urchins swim in it?”
The other Town Fathers agreed, or at least wanted to stop pretending to care about the poor. The Poolmobile measure was approved by a vote of 5-0, and the Town Fathers went back to the real work of politicians: cadging free meals and vacations from supplicants.
So the Poolmobile went to the Downside in the summer. The cynical residents rolled their eyes at the token gesture; the resigned were just grateful that the truck had been cleaned before being turned into a transitory swimmin’ hole. The kids didn’t give a fuck–it was hot, man–and the driver very rarely opened up the truck’s gate, sending tons of water and children sliding and slamming down the road. Too hot to care much about anything but the heat during the Bake.
Little Aleppo had a temperate climate, and it rarely got above 80 or below 50, except for once a summer for three or four days when the mercury shot out of the top of the thermometer and ranged around town looking for student nurses to murder. Locals called it the Bake; it felt like an oven was slapping you in the face with its cock, and not in a pleasant way. The heat had a sludgy and thick taste to it, and it was an interrupting heat: you’d get halfway through a thought and the sub-thought “Jesus fucking Christ, it’s fucking hot” would slap the first thought out of your head.
The worst part of the Bake was its random appearance: “during the 13 weeks of summer” was as specific as could be predicted. If it were scheduled, then everyone would get out of town, but instead the Bake snuck up on Little Aleppo in the middle of the night; you’d wake up one morning and it would be a million degrees out.
The bookstore with no title had an air conditioner sticking out the bay window, a little model from the department store, but since the bookstore with no title is essentially infinite, it did not cool the whole shop. The only effect the machine had was on the area directly under it, which is why Mr. Venable had moved his desk from its customary spot to directly under the air conditioner. He was wearing his customary suit, and said,
“Are we even open today?”
“Why would we not be?”
“Fourth of July,” said Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui, whom everyone called Gussy.
“That would explain why you’re violating the flag code.”
Gussy’s dress was redder, whiter, and bluer than Betsy Ross’ asshole. There were stars and stripes and cleavage. Sweaty cleavage, and so she walked over to Mr. Venable’s desk and sat on it.
“You’re kidding me,” he said.
“Shut up. It’s so fucking hot.”
Gussy picked up a large piece of paper from the desk and began fanning herself. It wasn’t paper, though, and she rubbed it between her fingers.
“Is this parchment?”
“Yes. Those are the Articles of Confederation. Take care not to rest them on your sweat-sodden bosom, please.”
She read the parchment.
“Why do you have the Articles of Confederation?”
“To remind myself of the futility of half-measures.”
“Answer the question like a human,” Gussy said.
“For the same reason we stole the Town Charter. To protect it from people with good intentions.”
Gussy had been working in the bookstore with no title for almost a year. It was better than waiting tables–anything was better than waiting tables–even if the pay was worse. She’d rather be broke and happy than slightly-less-broke and miserable. Gussy liked sitting down, which was frowned upon while waiting tables, and she liked being able to tell people to go fuck themselves, which had been frowned upon at all the waitressing jobs she had been fired from. Mr. Venable believed that there was a point at which it was perfectly acceptable–if not required–to tell customers to go fuck themselves, and he encouraged this philosophy in his employees.
And she liked Mr. Venable. For some reason. Though he was a creature of habit and sloth, and though he was persnickety and passive-aggressive, and though there were clearly things he was not telling her, she liked him. Sometimes, people adopt each other.
She placed the irreplaceable document back on his crowded desk and said,
“Where’s the cat?”
Mr. Venable sipped his cold coffee and said,
“One of the sub-basements. Not a fan of the Bake.”
In the bookstore with no title lived a cat with no name, and Mr. Venable was right: she hated the Bake. Cats love lying in sunbeams, but the Bake was like lying on the sun itself, and so the tortoiseshell retreated every summer to the cool spaces under the bookstore. Mice, too: they could not stand the heat outside, and so they shouldered their way inside. The cat personally greeted every one she could.
“Iguanas. Satan. If you didn’t know if we were open, then why are you here?”
“I was gonna take you to the parade.”
“You don’t need to take me anywhere. It’s right outside.”
“Right. We’re gonna go together.”
“I’m not going out there. I might alight. Far too hot. I will stay right here under my glorious air conditioner and watch through the window.”
The first Fourth of July parade in Little Aleppo was held in 1875. A guy named Horace walked up the Main Drag with a 37-starred American flag, singing America, the Beautiful. Someone shot Horace in the face, and another parade was not held until World War One broke out. No one shot anyone this time, and so an annual tradition was born.
“You’re coming out. It’s the Fourth of July parade.”
“I’m not,” Mr. Venable said.
“You can’t fire me. It’s too hot.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Gussy walked off into the bowels of the bookstore with no title; the further in she went, the cooler it was.
The marching band hated Tony Schmaus and he hated them right back, and double. He had been at Paul Bunyan High (Go Blue Oxen!) for as long as anyone could remember: he taught music theory and music appreciation, and conducted the chamber orchestra and led the jazz band. He had a good ear, and so the teenagers sometimes offended him with both their pitch and their taste, but mostly they were all right. Mostly.
One day, though? One day, Mr. Schmaus was going to murder every single member of the marching band. The lazy trombones, who couldn’t keep the horns of their instruments upright and so looked like a bunch of Miles Davises wandering around a football field. The rhythmless flutes, who couldn’t count to fucking four, and so would smack into the clarinet section during a crossover. Left right, left right: what was so fucking difficult? Mr. Schmaus did not know, but the french horns could not figure it out, either. Forget about the drumline. He wanted to shoot most of the band, but the drumline? The drumline, he wanted to beat to death with his hands.
“ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR,” he shouted, and then the snare drummers played RATATAT, and the bass drummers went BOOM, and the snare drummers repeated RATATAT and the bass drummers once again went BOOM, and the band set off down the Main Drag. Black shoes, emerald polyester trousers with no stripe down the side, gold shirt, short emerald jacket. The shako hat was emerald, as well, with a small black vinyl brim and a white plume.
Six members of the marching band collapsed from heat exhaustion along the way, and Mr. Schmaus cackled every time.
The crowd lined the Main Drag two and three deep. Men had their shirts off, and were tanning their round bellies. Women took their shirts off, and then the men with round bellies stared and said, “Nice tits,” and the women put their shirts back on. Right after the marching band came the Mayor in a 1962 Cadillac Eldorado. Epilongues Mustafaro was recent to Little Aleppo; to America, too. He spoke almost no English at all–no one was quite sure what his precise native tongue was–but he was a positive and smiley-type person that engendered warmth. His friends had entered him into the mayoral race, and then taken him around the neighborhood to make speeches. Epilongues didn’t quite understand what was happening, but he was good with social cues; he would give impassioned speeches in his native tongue that no one understood. (He mostly talked about sports and cooking.) People responded to his tone, and elected him Mayor. He was five months into his term and still kinda didn’t know what was happening. He waved nevertheless.
The Mattachine Society had a float, and so did the Jehovah’s Accomplices. Veterans from the neighborhood marched in ragged time wearing uniforms that no longer fit.
Hairdressers cheered, and so did ex-roadies. Preachers and teachers and junkies. Bartenders and drug dealers and mothers and firefighters. Shopkeepers and cops, and buskers and short-order cooks and heiresses.
It was too hot to think, so everyone was patriotic.
“I want to go back inside,” Mr. Venable said.
“Just cheer,” Gussy told him
She had bought them ice cream–strawberry for her, and cookies-and-cream for him–and they were both licking at their cones trying to race the sun.
“You’re a terrible American,” she said.
“I’m a sweaty American.”
“Not preclusionary states. Americans are sweaty by nature”
“You don’t say?”
“True fact. It’s in the Constitution. Or at least the Articles of Confederation.”
Mr. Venable smiled and stuck his tongue out, rotated the ice cream cone around it, and cheered out loud. Gussy did, too, and the float for the Humane Society want by, a pickup truck full of dogs and cats and veterinarians, and they cheered some more. The Main Drag was sweaty and democratic and free and all the that other bullshit; it was the Fourth of July in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.