August. Ug. Stepping from the bank-refrigerator to the outside oven stunned me. I felt like an ice cube getting blow-dried. “Blech! I get off work early and this is my reward?”
I shed my sweater as I approached my car. I kind of regretted that. The heat was worse after I took off my knitted armor, my defense against the bank’s overzealous A/C. I touched the door handle and yelped, “Pistol!” I did the finger-flap dance.
I examined my fingers, but they didn’t look burned. I probably didn’t require hospitalization. I was already sweating. I climbed into my car, which in terms of thermal environment resembled landing on the surface of Venus.
Mom chose that moment to call me. I fumbled for my phone and my keys and managed to juggle both. As I turned the key the A/C blasted at me like a Martian heat ray.
“Ay, ay, ay!” I gasped.
“Bree? Are you alright?” Mom asked.
“Oh, hi, Mom. Sorry, it’s just so hot in my car! Who invented August, anyway? Yeesh.”
“Mom. Stop. Seriously. Just stop.” At least the A/C was blowing cool, now. I let the car idle in the bank parking lot. I felt a droplet of sweat inch its way down between my shoulderblades.
“I have a spaghetti sauce recipe for you, sweetie. It’s vegetarian. It’s really tasty and good for your heart.”
Three weeks ago or so, the words “I’m ready to settle down” had inexplicably escaped my lips. My mom overheard it. What I meant was that I was having little episodes of going man-crazy, but that’s not how Mom understood it. She just saw neon signs announcing imminent marriage and about sixteen children. Therefore, in that moment, Mom’s mission in life converted to making me into Betty Crocker. Well, a vegetarian Betty Crocker, anyway. “Mo-o-om!” I whined, “All right, but I have errands.”
“I’ll be quick. Ready?”
“Ready, set, go!” I lied. Oh, wait, I didn’t lie. The dashboard cubby contained a pencil stub and the back of an envelope, ready to hand. I sulkily scribbled, “1 c mushrooms, small onion, chopped, saute in 2 T olive oil until soft. Add can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped zucchini.”
I interrupted. “Mom! Zucchini?”
“Yes!” she said, proudly. “You know how August is.”
Oh, boy, did I. This year, alas, had been perfect for growing zucchini. Everybody was giving away zucchini. I felt like the only person on the planet that hadn’t grown zucchini. I turned down more zucchini offers than a stripper fending off propositions. I was always careful to keep my car locked, and the windows up, lest zucchini appear inside.
“Yes, the zucchini bandits are out in force, lurking, waiting to pounce you with zucchini. So, is that the whole recipe?”
“Almost. Just a tablespoon of sugar and these spices.”
I copied the spice list. “Basil, oregano, bay leaf, a pinch of cayenne.”
“Simmer it for an hour, sweetie. That’s all. Call me, all right?”
“Of course, Mom. Love you.”
I put the car in reverse.
My first errand was the grocery store. I walked through the Great Sahara Parking Lot into the polar grocery store and gritted my teeth. Hot, cold. Hot, cold. Freaking real life Dungeons and Dragons, I swear. Where’s the evil wizard? I want a piece of him.
I wasn’t in the mood for wandering the lonely aisles. I tossed mushrooms and an onion and whatever else I could remember of Mom’s spaghetti recipe in the basket. I wanted to make it to the cash register before I got chilblains.
The checkout lady, Luann, saw me coming. A balloon animal of a woman, complete with a squeaky rubber voice. “Hello, Bree! Buying some mushrooms, huh?”
“Yep,” I said.
“Well, that’s going to make a nice meal. Got a man friend? The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Oh, no, no, no. That onion. You don’t want that onion. We have better onions than that!”
With dull acceptance, I let her overhelpful words wash over me. I did not protest as Luann squeaked over the PA system for the produce department to deliver me an onion. The onion that arrived did not have a big black splotch, like the first onion. But neither was it small, like the spaghetti sauce recipe called for.
Really, I wasn’t paying attention to the onion, I was paying attention to Rolf, the produce man. Back when I was a senior, he was a junior. I assumed he was an exchange student, but I guess I was wrong because he still lived here in Zucchiniville. We ugly, surly natives don’t deserve the exotic beauty of that lilting German accent. Just to hear it, I asked, “Hello, Rolf! How are you?”
“Hallo, Bree. I am fine, thank you.”
Mmmmmm! So fine.
“Good!” I smiled.
Then Luann handed me my bag, and I had to head out. My eye dragged unwillingly from Rolf. It happened to land on a poster tacked to the store’s bulletin board that said, “LOST DOG,” and I cooed, “Awwww!” at the picture. It was one of those Corgis like the Queen of England has, with the fuzzy ears that stand up tall. But short legs. “Look. His name is Hashbrown! I hope he gets found.”
I went back out into the August sauna and stowed my groceries in the back seat. I was blocks down the street before I realized, “Damnit! I forgot the zucchini! No spaghetti tonight. Well, I’ll figure something out.” Then I caught a glimpse of orange fur, “Hey!”
I pulled over, hastily. A short dog was sniffing around in the bushes. It looked like the lost corgi from the sign! Hashbrown. I’ve never found a lost dog, before. This could be my big moment. I leapt out of the car like Batman. Actually, more like Robin about to do some dorky thing so that Batman could bail him out.
“Hashbrown!” I called, creeping forward.
The dog poked an orange and white nose out of the bush.
I stopped and hunkered down. “Hashbrown! C’mere, boy! Come on, Hashbrown!”
I had his attention. The fuzzy ears radared at me.
“I got treats!” I lied enthusiastically.
He trotted over for pets. I petting him, and hugged him, and rumpled his soft fur. He was panting, wearing a goofy grin. He had a tag. “Hashbrown! Wow! Score!”
Hashbrown allowed me to pick him up and deposit him in the back seat. I had to transfer my groceries to the front. “Ha! Ha! No, dogs don’t like onions.”
He looked at me reproachfully and said, “Auroop!”
“Well, I’ll take you to your owner … Oh, nuts, no, I won’t. I got to get to the ocularist! I’m almost late as it is!”
The real reason I left my bank teller job early was to visit my ocularist. It was time for a cleaning, and I needed more eyedrops. So I took Hashbrown. “What do people do with dogs?” I asked him, picking him up out of the back seat. He just grinned at me and panted. Awkwardly, I made sure all the car doors were locked, and all the windows rolled up.
“Ruthie!” I called when I walked in.
“Hey, Bree! You’re late! Oh! Oh! Oh! A doggoo!” A thirty-something in horn-rimmed glasses leapt up from the behind the counter and practically vaulted it to some scratch behind the dog’s ears. Hashbrown accepted it with a grin.
“Ruthie, I just found this lost dog! Is there any way he can come with me? I can’t leave him in the hot car. His name is Hashbrown.”
“He’s got a glass eye,” Ruthie said.
I blinked, “No, way! Seriously?”
But it was true. Upon second glance, the corgi did indeed have mismatched eyes, and one of them had a pupil that didn’t expand or contract. I gave the dog a kiss before handing him over to Ruthie, who promised to find him water while I had my eye cleaned.
I have a glass eye, too. Well, they’re really plastic, but you get the idea. They’re a pain to take care of. I’ll just skip describing my appointment, except to say Doc Morgan sucked my eye out and cleaned protein deposits off. Then he squelched it back in, and I got my lubricating eye drops and all was well.
“He drank sooo much!” Ruthie reported.
“Aww, poor pooch! Well, I guess I’ll go back to the store. That’s where I saw the poster. I didn’t write down the phone number or anything. Thanks, Ruthie.”
“It was meant to be,” Ruthie said, like she was giving a seance. “It was fate.”
“Heh. Well, it’s pretty nifty. I’m going to like the owner when I find ‘em.”
Out I went. Back to the frying pan. August is so stifling. Isn’t there any way to legislate August away? I was wilting. Hashbrown stopped panting so much, though. He gave my nose a lick when I put him in the back seat. I giggled.
Back at the grocery store parking lot, I decided to take Hashbrown out of the car again. “It’s just too hot, Hashbrown,” I explained, “Even though I’ll only be gone a minute, I don’t want you getting overheated in all that fur. It’ll be over a hundred degrees in ten seconds.” Hashbrown seemed to understand, though he wiggled like he’d rather be running around than held in my arms.
I went in. I beelined for the bulletin board and the LOST DOG sign.
There was a phone number. I fumbled for my phone. Why can’t they design purses so that you can find things?
I dialed the number, “Stop wiggling, Hashbrown! This is for your own good. Your owner will be so relieved.”
I awkwardly raised my shoulder to hold the phone against my ear. It rang, then a voice answered, “Hallo?”
I announced, triumphantly, “Hello! This is Bree Hawthorne. I’ve found your lost dog. Hashbrown. Can you tell me where you’re at? I’m at the grocery store right now. I can bring him to your house. He’s fine.”
There was a brief silence. Then the voice said, “Bree Hawthorne? This grocery store?” There was a weird echo effect. I might only have one eye, but my ears are fine. Half the echo came from the cell phone, but the other half came from real life. Furthermore, I recognized a certain sexy European accent. I got chills down my spine. I turned.
There was Rolf, coming toward me, a cell phone at his ear. He laughed, letting his hand drop to his side, “Bree! Unt Hashbrown! You have found him! You have found him!”
All of a sudden, I was being hugged. I didn’t protest, but Hashbrown did. “Auroo!”
“It was fate,” I mumbled, “He has a glass eye.”
“Yes, yes he does. Long story. Fate?” Rolf stuffed his phone away and took Hashbrown. He was still wearing his Produce Department apron, of course.
“Well, I have a glass eye, too.”
It just slipped out. I don’t know why I said it, except for the totally dumb reason that it was the answer to Rolf’s question. I stood rooted to the spot, feeling heat flushing my neck and cheeks. As soon as I could break my paralysis, I would run. Even if they solve war and stop murders, it will always be possible to be embarrassed to death.
Then came the word that paralyzed my paralysis.
“Cool!” Rolf said, looking at me glowingly.
As if his word was a command, I felt an icy whoosh of clarity. Rolf was looking at me. He was looking at me as if I were interesting. Well, glass eyes might be sort of interesting, but … I held up my right hand. “I’m missing most of my pinkie, too. It was a car accident when I was a kid.”
“Oh, wow!” Rolf looked like he was suffering his own little heat wave. Hashbrown looked at me knowingly, his tongue hanging out one side of his grinning mouth.
And now I was hot again. This time in a kind of steamed-up sultry way, “Uh, Rolf. So, um. You got to work and stuff, but, well, want to come to dinner some time?”
“Oh, wow! Yes, Bree. When?” Rolf’s eyes were on me. On me like a waffle-iron on a waffle, and I was starting to cook.
“Tonight!” I managed to say, though I think my voice wheezed about an octave too high.
I backed away, waving and smiling foolishly. But Rolf had the same sort of dopey look. And Hashbrown.
Back into the August I went, but August didn’t seem insurmountable any more. I had a bounce in my step. I opened the hot door handle and didn’t make a fuss. I fumbled for my keys.
Wait. Something about that was wrong. I felt a clench in my gut. I reasoned things out.
I had gotten into my car without keys.
That means I hadn’t locked my car.
That means— I jerked my head around.Yes. There in the back seat. Not one, but three dark green oblong shapes. “Augh! I’ve been zucchinied!”
My fevered brain took a while, but it finally closed the logic loop. My lips curled slowly, deliciously into a sly smile. “Well, that solves supper! Spaghetti for dinner. And Rolf.”
And that’s the story of how I solved August.