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The morning was hot, and moist, and thick, and it smelled like a foot. The sun's rays scorched through the atmosphere like a blowtorch, scalding the earth and boiling translucent ripples into the heavy air. This weather was beyond oppressive. It was outright combative.
In short, it was a typical summer day in Stillwater, Florida.
Somewhere on Bayshore Boulevard, lost within a creeping armada of tourists' rental cars and retirees' French-vanilla land yachts, was a rattling '83 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible. Years of exposure to the seaside air had turned its gray paint job into a Jackson Pollock of flaking orange rust, and the tattered remains of its canvas top hung from its trunk like Spanish moss.
The driver pulled off her thick, Buddy-Holly-style eyeglasses and ineffectually mopped her perspiring face with her perspiring palms. If she had been a movie star, Vivian Gray would have been crossing the threshold between being typecast as "the nerdy eighteen-year-old high school student" and "the bitter thirty-two-year-old high-school teacher." But Vivian Gray was not a star. Not at all.
Her car radio kicked at her ears with an irritating cacophony of brass and slide-whistles.
" We're back and you're in the middle of another Wacky Wednesday with the Mooker and the Foz Morning Zoo!"
A doorbell rang, followed by the sound of a bugle, two gunshots, and a mewling cat.
"Whoops! Bad news for Fluffy, but good news for you! That sound means we're going to be kicking off another twelve-in-a-row megamix …
(The word "megamix" echoed a dozen times, each iteration deeper and slower than the last.)
"… of good-time oldies for the Gulf Coast! But first let's check in with Art Anderson over in the WOSU News Center. Hey Artie boy, what's big news in Stillwater?"
"An oxymoron," Vivian muttered.
A different voice chirped from the radio, speaking in a calm, rehearsed monotone that sounded uneasily out of place among its jabbering companions.
"State health officials have closed all Stillwater area beaches due to an unusually strong bloom of red tide. Bacteria has been discovered within the bloom that researchers warn cannot be killed by cooking, freezing, or irradiation. A temporary fishing ban has been instated in all coastal waters, and it is imperative that no local seafood be consumed, especially by the elderly."
"All right, you sexy seniors, you heard Doc Anderson! Lay off the bouillabaisse!"
A sound bite bellowed "No soup for you!" no less than six times.
"Speaking of silver foxes, in today's celebrity birthdays, Shelley Winters turns 79 years young-"
Vivian snapped off the radio and eased her vehicle into a smoldering parking lot. As usual, the lot was populated with an assortment of barge-like seniormobiles, but today there was something different. A collection of tall, impossibly orange bottles lay scattered between the white and chrome street mausoleums like colored eggs on Easter Sunday.
Vivian rattled her car into the first available space, ground the shifter into first gear, and turned off the ignition. She didn't bother to set the parking brake. Much like its roof, the Rabbit's brake had long since rotted into uselessness. As soon as the roar of the engine fell away, Vivian's ears were pummeled with a melody that had recently become all too familiar. The commercial parodies of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince's "1999" had begun the moment Dick Clark dropped the ball in Times Square, and it hadn't let up in the seven and a half months since.
I keep dreamin' of a beverage, forgive me if I go astray,
but your body needs a boost, and your cells are all in disarray …
Copyright © 2007 Marcus Alexander Hart.