Claire Mutchnik

It was the hottest day Paris had seen — 109 degrees. You couldn’t stick your hand out the window without it breaking into beads of sweat. I tried to watch the sweat form, but my vision kept blurring. And then there it was, the little droplets coming from me and now outside of me, rolling down to the tip of my index finger and hanging there like a leak at the end of a water faucet.

I kept the shutters of my rented one-bedroom closed for three days straight. I sat naked in the dark with two fans blowing on me, cursing the French for not having air conditioning and trying very hard not to move any part of my body. I tried very hard not to think too much about anything at all, even small things like how I could hear the music from the café downstairs, and especially not big things like how if my body rotted away in this heat my parents would have to fly over the Atlantic then wait in line at immigration before they could finally see my cadaver. These are the thoughts you have in a heat wave, even when you try not to have them.

It lasted three days. The nights were bad, too, the heat never broke, and I wanted to levitate above my bed so I didn’t have to make physical contact with any material thing. On the last and hottest day, I put on the airiest dress I owned and ventured out on the metro, where the metal poles were clammy to the touch and it was even hotter than outside. A drop of sweat fell down my back, then another.

I met up with Lounis, a thick-haired Frenchman, outside the Sully-Morland metro station. He had on a long-sleeved workman’s jumpsuit and a yellow neon fanny pack strapped across his chest. I asked him why in the hell he was wearing that in this weather. He told me he hadn’t been thinking straight. “It’s the heat,” I said.

The cold bottle of rosé he brought had gone warm over his short metro commute. We sat by the Seine and drank it anyway. I stopped trying to blot the sweat from my forehead.

Every young person in Paris seemed to be out on the Seine, sitting in circles and fanning themselves. The tourist boats gliding past on the water were almost empty. The guides cracked jokes to the audiences of two or three who took pictures of the now-lit-up landmarks. In the divots by the water, Parisians swayed in pairs to the folk music playing from boomboxes. It looked much the same as any night on the Seine, but sweatier, and emptier.

On the Pont Charles de Gaulle we started kissing. I liked kissing him, and liked it even better when it was midnight and finally dark, and I was leaning so far back against the railing that I was half-afraid I’d fall in. He said, t’es magnifique, which was a lie since I’d been sweating nonstop for three days, but I liked that he said it.

On the metro back to the 18th arrondissement, his hand was on my bare leg and I wanted to move it because I didn’t want anything touching me, but that, too, was effort. All we could talk about the whole way back was how much we needed water. In his apartment we stood beside each other in silence, drinking and drinking from twin refrigerated bottles. The cold water fell down into the hot well of my stomach.

The next evening the heat broke. I was lying on the wooden floor listening to music with headphones in, worrying about lots of heat-related things. In the pause between songs, I heard thunder, then shot up so fast it made me dizzy. I opened the windows, then the shutters. It was the type of rain so heavy you can’t breathe in it; you’re soaked the instant you step outside; and it comes on so suddenly nobody can do anything about it. The moment it begins, it’s already too late. Through the window, little splashes of rain hit my face. I stuck my hand out then ran the water through my hair. The rain sounded like my heart beating against the edge of the bridge, like me when I’m alive. I wanted everyone to feel it.

Sara Luzuriaga | .