The International Writers Magazine:
New York One Hot Summer 1980 *The summer I was writing 'Ramapo' in Rockaway Beach
||The Day My Sister Came to Stay
he never mentioned to you that the air conditioner was broken?
do you mean you cant switch it on? Its 105° degrees
in here. You have to switch it on.
I looked a bit sheepish. I felt just as hot as she did, but I could
not make the air conditioner come on, I think the fuse had gone
and I hadnt a clue on how to fix it.
Let me get this straight, she said, glaring at me as
if it was my fault that Manhattan swelters every summer. Hes lent you his penthouse on Park Avenue no less, we are
32 floors up, you have no cold drinks, its 105° degrees
and you dont know how to put the air-conditioning on.
'I can open the windows.
'Thats where the hot air is - outside the windows.
Nevertheless I opened all the windows and it did actually create
a breeze, a sort of Saharan breeze that sort of stole the oxygen
from your lungs.
So this Desmond Elliot guy never mentioned to you that the air conditioner was
Sara had flown in from Johannesburg. She was absolutely exhausted and
not a little upset. I had first taken her to Rockaway beach, where I was
staying ostensibly to cool her down. The airport was registering over
110° degrees, roads were melting and I just couldnt face taking
her into the city in this heat. We took the bus to the beach and I made
her walk, with her suitcases all sixty blocks along the ocean beach. Even
though I was carrying at least two bags, she wasnt happy. Her feet
were swollen from the flight and I had this idea that the sea would reduce
the swelling. It worked, but her temper was just a bit frayed after the
She was not impressed by my living quarters. Id rented a room a
block away from the beach in a house that couldnt have been fixed
up since 1930. I forgot to mention that when you go to the backyard shower,
slugs have a tendency to crawl over your feet when you turn the hot water
on. I remembered this when I heard her scream. The radio was a genuine Bakelite
and took around twenty minutes to warm up. It was like living in a museum.
But I had a roof garden and view of the ocean and I got to swim for an
hour every day. I dont care how rich you are in Manhattan, you cant normally
She looked at me with incredulity when she returned. Did you know
there are slugs in shower?
The roof also leaks when it rains, but its a cheap rental, what
can I say. Its healthy.
She just looked at me as if I was crazy. There was no way shed ever
Are they paying you anything for this book you're writing?
Hmm some, but the pound doesnt go far over here. I have expenses.
We went for a swim. For a while she cooled down and after lunch she dozed
as I worked.
At 4pm I got her onto the subway train.
Where are we going?
The city. My publisher loaned me his penthouse for the weekend.
Didnt you say it was hot in the city?
Dont worry, its got air conditioning.
the train from Rockaway all the way into the city. I always loved that first
part of the journey as it crosses the bay.
She lay sprawled across the giant bed in 105° degrees like a goldfish
on the carpet. It was painful to watch. I opened the fridge to cool us
down a little but it didnt seem to help.
I thought wed go for a walk in the park.
Sara opened one eye and fixed it on me with disbelief. Walk? Didnt
we already do that? I distinctly recall walking 60 bloody blocks this
morning after flying 9,000 miles.
It will be cooler in the Park, I tried to say. Shady
trees, nice cold cokes, believe me, it will be better than here.
Reluctantly she allowed me to prise her off the bed and I shoe-horned
her into the elevator. It had better be be cooler, she threatened,
those cokes better be cold.
Central Park in summer teems with people skating, cycling, riding horses,
its the best place in all of the city and the atmosphere seemed
to cheer Sara up somewhat. In the distance we could see a temperature
sign that read 90° degrees and in the shady evening it was all rather
So, how is the book coming along? She finally asked.
Harder than I thought, I admitted. Lot of research.
See this? I showed her the purple bruising on my back. Sara looked
at it with interest. What happened?
Got kicked, a lot. Guys in a bar up by Indian Point took exception
to me asking about their jobs and safety at the nuclear plant. My own fault. Should never talked to guys with pot bellies and T-Shirts that say Whoops on them.
I told you no one wants to hear about nuclear power. You should
write a love story. People like love stories.
Unfortunately I am writing a thriller. I have the bruises to prove
it. One cool thing, I discovered is that you can flag down the trains.
Just wave and this huge train stops for you anywhere on the track. You
couldnt do that in JoBurg,
Not unless you had an AK47. Sara remarked.
We heard music ahead behind some trees.
Sounds like Gilbert and Sullivan. I told Sara, but doubted
my ears. This was Central Park, where else would you find a full orchestra playing
People were drifting towards the woods and an open air theatre. We followed,
got ourselves cold cokes and plonked our butts down on front row seats
(no one ever sits on front row seats as they always assume someone important
is going to sit there).
What is it? Sara asked, fanning herself with someone else's
programme. I reached over and borrowed another programme from someone
who looked uncannily like the actress Phoebe Cates. I suspect it
was. I looked at the programme. Hey, its Pirates of Penzance.
Its a dress rehearsal. My God, Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline, George
Rose. Were in for a treat.
And we were. Linda Rondstad was perfectly perfect, pretty in her bonnet,sang
beautifully, Kevin was funny, agile, possessing great comic timing. George
Rose was like the icing on the cake - the perfect model of a modern major
general. We just couldnt believe our luck
to get to see such a great version of this show.
Sara perked up tremendously, couldnt believe it was free. I rather
suspected it wasnt, we just got through by luck. We drifted out
with the happy crowd, both of us hungry now. I had intended to cook in
the apartment, but the apartment was intent upon cooking us, so we strolled
over towards the Lincoln Centre and found a nice little sidewalk restaurant
with a view of sluggish traffic going by. The waiters seemed frazzled,
the customers were smiling and relaxed. Sara hugged a glass of wine and
dropped her bombshell.
Im never going back to Africa.
No? I had this sudden vision of Sara and her suitcases living
in my squalor in Rockaway.
I saw this fortune teller. She said Id meet someone
in Vancouver and Id settle there and Ill never go back. Its
not my soil.
Vancouver? Canada? Youve never been there.
I know, but thats what she said.
And you believe her?
Of course, she knew everything about me, everything.
And she specifically said Vancouver?
You never mentioned Vancouver to her. Never mentioned that your
best friend moved there or anything.
So when are you going?
Just like that.
She just ate her food. Thats Sara, once she makes up her her mind,
We walked back to the apartment in silence. Sara was totally exhausted
now, but still happy shed been to the show in the park. She couldnt
get over the huge scale of Manhattan, it made Johannesburg seem so puny.
Africas largest city. In Joburg you could make dreams come
true, but New York was so large, so intimidating, it didnt seem
You going to stay here? Sara asked me as we crossed Fifth
No, the west is friendlier. I have this plan to to LA., Redondo
Sara disapproved. You just move from beach to beach. Dont
you ever get tired of it?
Not yet. I like beach communities.
The penthouse was still 100° degrees - it had hardly cooled at all.
We felt like Thanksgiving turkeys volunteering for oven duty. I found
an old electric fan, put it by the window. Sara soaked a silk scarf in
cold water and draped it over it. I didnt notice much difference.
Isnt there anyone you can call about the air conditioning?
I shrugged. Its 2am. Who would you call?
I tried scraping ice frost from the freezer and sprinkling it over the
fan, it didnt seem to do anything, except nearly short it out.
A siren sounded shortly followed by ten more police cars and fire trucks
racing up Park Avenue. It was 3am. A shot rang out and there was the distant
squeal of car tyres.
Just like Joburg, Sara muttered, and I realised that
she was finally asleep.
On the Thursday she flew to Vancouver.
About a year later Sara married Tony in a penthouse at the top of the Hyatt
Regency in Vancouver.
Twenty years later it all ended in tears. But don't they all.
She has never been back to Africa.
In April 2017 she came to visit me in the UK with a ton of suitcases...
© Sam North May 2021 - First published 2000
Read the book Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles by Sam Hawksmoor & Sam North
New York Stories
More ficton in DREAMSCAPES
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