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Shut Away Breaking Free

California is hot. Sun-blazing, earth-baking, dry-dusty hot. I came there from England and I didn’t know what hit me. I held my breath from May to November until the rains came.  

Except they didn’t.

‘When will the hills turn green?’ I naively asked my neighbour a few months after moving there in 1986.

‘Around November time,’ she replied, neither one of us knowing a seven year drought lay ahead.

I had moaned about the rain back home. Now I longed for it. Was it true it never rains in California? I started believing it so. Decades hence, how I wish now I could send over our rain.

But at the time, the novelty of being able to plan a barbeque or a picnic without worrying about a cloud burst felt almost decadent.

As a girl, I went camping with my family, once or twice. Long before “glamping” was a thing, we used my grandparents’ canvas tent which I suspect, given Granny’s penchant for recycling everything, dated back to the war. It had flaps for sides you could roll up for airing and a separate groundsheet. Not the warmest of places.

We once hired a static caravan (trailer) in Cornwall on a bluff overlooking the sea. But done in by the constant lashing rain and buffeting winds, we couldn’t sleep so went home early.

As I said, we camped once or twice.

Boating on the Norfolk Broads, England, Summer late 1960s – me with my brother and Granny

Most often, we hired a boat on the waterways of the Norfolk Broads.

And I think of those halcyon summer days in England. When the breeze drifts soft and warm and everything feels lazy and slow.

Those days when I hopped off the school bus, walked down our drive and found that Mum had laid a blanket and cushions out on the grass.

She appeared from the kitchen, tray in hand.

‘Let’s have tea in the garden.’

Whatever the weather, I treasure all those childhood memories.

I raised my own family in California. Tent camping in the summer for my children brought an entirely different experience for them. Instead of shivering cold and damp to the skin trying to keep warm as I had, we flopped about, too hot sleep until dawn’s gift of fresh, cool air.

Nestled among the grand sequoias, we watched out for bears. And on one sultry, sleepless night we indeed had visitors: not a bear but a family of wild pigs. The cutest tiniest piglets of spots and stripes snuffling around while we observed from the window safely snuggled inside our tent.

And a cheeky racoon who stole our Cheezits. Before our eyes, it jumped up on the picnic table, grabbed the bag with the crackers inside and made for the trees, loot in paw, leaving the empty box behind.

Campsites in California allow an open fire pit. This was the kind of camping I had dreamed of. As the sun went down and the sky turned inky-black alive with stars, we gathered around the glowing embers and roasted hot-dogs and marshmallows and made S’mores. We told ghost stories and kept guard for mischievous racoon’s cousins, eyes darting at each tiny rustle.

My heart is joyful for the memories I hold dear of those experiences with my children.

My dad was a sun worshipper. If he was in the garden at the weekends pottering about, sleeves rolled up, and the sun came out, he was ready. He’d whip off his shirt, grab the deckchair from the shed and bask in the sun until the clouds stole it back again. Five minutes or fifty. There he’d be.

‘He only has to look at the sun to get a tan,’ Mum always said.

But in California, I hid from the sun. Summer and our neighbourhood was deserted. Windows shut tight, blinds down. Not a breath of air in the noonday sun. Too hot to sit outside in the shade.

Too hot for mad dogs and Englishmen and women at any hour.

Early days at the beach in California with my eldest son

Of course, summers with my children called for days at the beach and the outdoor pool, maybe the store and a diner. Blips of heat bursts of 100 plus degrees so avoided by hopping from house to car to destination, all conveniently air conditioned.

But a large portion of the hottest part of the day was spent confined inside our darkened, shut-up house, ceiling fans whirring in every room.

And that is how I discovered something else about my new way of life: going to “the movies” on a bright sunshiny day. The idea of it was at first unthinkable – nobody goes to the cinema on a hot day in England (yes, we do get them when it’s humid and sultry but we don’t have much cooling when it does) but I soon understood the appeal in California.

What better than sitting inside an air conditioned movie theatre with an ice-cold drink and a bucket of popcorn watching the latest blockbuster with your children? I could almost forget the punishment waiting outside when we emerged, blinking, like bats from a cave.

The heat went on and on and I longed for the turn of “fall”. I yearned for that first gust of wind and smell of damp in the air. The first drop of crisp, orange leaves on the fading grass, pulling jeans on for the first time in months.

In California, summer shut us away. I waited with my children for autumn’s escape.

Today in England, we are shut away because of a virus. But this time, I am without my now adult sons.

The year is almost half-way through, and this interminable separation is too much. Too many cancelled plans thanks to tiers and lockdowns. Yes, I am grateful we are all safe and well, but when the heart of your way of family life is stolen from you, the toll is great. It brings its own brand of loss and sorrow.

Dare I say our reunion is imminent? Yes, I dare. I wait to hug them soon, counting down the days.

Raise the blinds, throw open the windows, embrace the light.

We’re breaking free.

We’re coming home.


Sherri has published a collection of non-fiction articles in magazines, anthologies and online at her Summerhouse blog, and a memoir column at Carrot Ranch, an international online literary community. A keen walker and photographer from the UK, she raised her family in California for twenty years. Today, she lives in England’s West Country, hoping soon to publish her debut memoir.

Man, It’s a Hot One

Man HotSure it’s summer, but some days are more blazing than others And so are different circumstances. This week, writers responded to hot situations from melting men to desert runners. Vegas makes an appearances along with other hellish heat.

The following stories are based on the July 1, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the phrase, “Man, it’s a hot one.” Careful not to burn your fingers scrolling through the tales!


Camping Under the Blazing Sun by Ruchira Khana

The boys arrived at the camp wearing rain jackets since the forecast said 60% rain. Overjoyed at the fact that the drought struck CA will get some sprinkles, these scouts did not want to dampen their spirits by being indoors.

Within minutes of their arrival, they were sweaty, perspiring and dripping.

“Boy! It is a hot one! How did the weather forecast rain with not a single cloud in sight.” said one exasperated scout while removing his rain gear.

“Oh! rain, please come for thy children soak themselves in their sweat and are tormented,” came a melodramatic dialog from behind.


A River of Tears by Jules Paige

It is never fun to bury a relative. Especially a good kind man who loved his wife, family and friends. But we did that yesterday. And ‘Man it’s a hot one’ was on everyone’s mind. Even under the shade of the funerary tent, which thankfully had cloth covers on the metal folding chairs. After taps, and the flag was folded the service continued. Thankfully I was sitting while I sweltered.

Lady or a gent, sweat was pouring out of your body. And was attracting gnats. Only the dead found comfort, that’s because they didn’t breath.


Climate Changes by Mercy.James.

She twisted and turned in her own skin, the heat and humidity considered a sin. Hell’s fires burning out of control, no relief in sight for days, as foretold.

Deliverance by rains – storms brewing on the horizon, welcomed relief, for this was a form of dying – pressures building in body’s barometer – “Man, it’s a hot one.”

“Climate change is false notion” sounded in her brain, fueling her pain, anger raging.

A sudden flash, a thunderous roar – the rains soaked down – the heat no more.

She ran outside – stripped and free – and danced wildly amid the wilderness – with welcomed glee.


Hot Stuff by Sherri Matthews

“It’s already noon, let’s go.” Knocked back by air so hot it felt like a blast from a furnace, Jules slammed the motel door shut.

“Man, it’s a hot one out there.”

“What d’ya expect stupid? Vegas isn’t exactly by the sea is it? We’re in the middle of a freakin’ desert.”

“Well, I wanna have some fun. C’mon, the Casino’s air conditioned, right?”

The afternoon scorched on as Gus and Jules staggered from one Casino to the next.

The lobster was cheap, the Tom Collins free and The Chapel of Love was only a short, hot walk away.


The Devil’s Contract by AJ Prince

As his time grew near, I waited patiently. Nothing had changed in the last ten years; aside from his growing bank account and hairline.

Never did I receive a thank you, though I wasn’t in it for the gratitude. Hope that they would change, be better, that is what kept me in the game.

Soon enough his screams reverberated throughout the endless night. A flick of my wrist silenced him, recognition dawned bright. “Please!”

I muttered, “Man, it’s a hot one down here. You had your chance, you blew it.”

He wasn’t my first, he wouldn’t be the last.


Offline by Pete Fanning

“Man, it’s a hot one,” the disc jockey howled, his chippy tone lost in the static. Clyde wiped at the sweat on his forehead and sneered.

Marla bit her lip. Clyde was not seventeen and he certainly wasn’t sweet.

The last report mentioned Marla by name. A hopeful sign, she guessed. She flinched as Clyde crunched the can then tossed it back into the dust cloud behind them. He motioned to the cooler. Marla tugged at her shorts, hoping her father was following the cans, but visualizing exactly how he’d taught her to jam a knee to the groin.


Man, it’s hot! by Norah Colvin

Side by side in a field stood two men one day
Watching the antics of children at play

Seen from a distance they looked both the same
Silently watching, not joining the game

The sun warmed them gradually, ever so slow
The heat barely noticed till both had to go

“Man, it’s hot!” said the first as he left that day
The second said nothing, just melted away

Later the children came looking around
Nary a trace of the men could be found

With sadness they realised what they’d forgot:
That snowmen can’t last when the weather gets hot!


Hot by CJ Stuart

“I need a margarita!” Dave said.

“I need a cold beer.” Kyle said.

“I’ll take anything.” Miles said, steering them from the course toward the bar.

“How about just throwing out our scores?” Dave suggested.

“Done! And I’ll get the first round.” Miles said.

“Man, it’s a hot one.” Kyle said as they gulped cold drinks.

“I was ruined at Hole 2 and went down from there.” Dave said.

“We all sucked” Phil said. “We survived. That’s all.”

“I’ll tell Judy I played my best ever though.” Dave admitted.

Everyone nodded and laughingly toasted, “To our best game ever!”


‘You’re Getting Warmer…’ by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert, Mary’s half-brother, wiped his forehead. ‘Too dammed hot for me.’

Mary smiled. ‘Me too. Heat and pregnancy don’t mix. Penny loves it, though. Dad did too.’

Rupert nodded. ‘So Paul said you’ve found some things about your twin?’

Mary showed him the locket and the book. ‘She was Sharon. Aunt Gloria lied when she said that was my imaginary friend.’

‘Don’t be hard on her. She had reasons. And we’ve something to work on.’

‘True.’ Mary rubbed her back. ‘I suppose we might just be getting warm at last.’

‘Rupert nodded. ‘Soon we’ll be very hot. You see.’


It’s A Hot One by Ann Edall-Robson

For days they had been listening to the rumbling from afar. Akin to cannon fire on battlefields. Interrupted only by loud moans and creaking.

They had been told before they left that it’s a hot one. Getting to the destination in time would be paramount in experiencing the phenomenon.

The thunderous sounds drew closer with every ventured mile. To miss it would be devastating. To get to close or in the way, could be fatal.

Under a blazing night sky of northern lights, they arrived. The shear rocks of the narrow fjord giving way to the massive calving glacier.


Hot Stuff by Larry LaForge

The huge grassy field was filled with tents, tables and flags. Edna loved the culinary samples at the International Food Festival, but Ed was less venturesome about trying new foods. He stuck mostly to drink concoctions.

Multiple tastes of Raki, Sake, Sangria and Ouzo had Ed feeling his oats. As he approached the India table, something orange caught his eye. Ed plopped the sample labeled Bhut Jolokia into his mouth before Edna could intervene.

Seconds later Ed’s eyes widened as sweat poured from his brow.

Edna held up the placard:

aka Ghost Chili Pepper
WARNING: It’s a hot one


Man It’s a Hot One by Irene Waters

Man its a hot one

The sauropod moaned

I may be the largest

but my bellies the emptiest

My grass is all shrivelling

Man its a hot one

The Ceratopsians moaned

I may be the oddest

With my frills and my horn

My grass is all shrivelling

Man its a hot one

The Tyrannosaur moaned

I may be the most dangerous

With my teeth and my claws

But my prey are all vanishing

Man its a Hot one

A crater in Mexico

Kilometers wide

Rebounding meter storms

Set fires world wide

Man its a hot one

The dinosaurs died.


Neighbors by Ula Humienik

“It’s a hot one today. Isn’t it, Carl?”

“Yea, Gus. My brain’s so fried, I can’t think.”

“Come on over for a cold one, neighbor.”

“Why don’t you come over here for a dip in the pool.”

“So you think you’re better than me, Carl? You and your pool.

Turning your nose up at my beer. I think I’ll just stick to my side of the fence drinking my nice cold beer. Thank you very much.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect, Gus. I’m not a beer drinker.”

“You think you’re better than me?”

“No, Gus. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”


Moving to Kansas by Renee Brant

“Man, it’s a hot one.” I state the obvious while contemplating the people born and raised in this hell. They dance and laugh and celebrate holy matrimony. How could they possibly live like this?

Fast forward 18 years. I live like this, albeit with some amendments: stay indoors, don’t walk on the grass, and hibernate away the stifling summer afternoons. This too shall pass.

And it does pass soon enough. Snow and ice now hang on for weeks. I yearn for the heat of the summer afternoon and dream of lazing on the sweltering deck. What was I thinking?


Man, It’s a Hot One by Bill Bennett

“Man, it’s a hot one.”

“No, it’s not hot yet”, Evaristo said.

“What do you mean yet? And oh my God, what is that smell?”

“You’ve only been here a second or two. With every tick of the second hand it gets hotter.”

Somewhere from below he could hear weeping and wailing. Like wailing from a mother holding her dead infant.

“Where am I exactly? And I can’t see…I can’t see you.”

Evaristo scratched at a boiling scab on his face, sniffed and said,

“Welcome my friend, you have managed to land yourself in the very pit of Hell.”


Fiery-Hot by Kalpana Solsi

The pink hue of my cheeks heralded the mercury dipping and the salubrious

weather pregnant with foodie-adventure.

The holy month of Ramadan spills humanity on the roads to savour the

delicacies, pampering and salivating the taste buds. My eyes feasted

on the succulent pieces of meat kebabs imprisoned on the iron skewers,

dripping of fresh spicy yoghurt marinade, the fire from the charcoals

hissing, roasting a coat of crunchy layer.

Succumbing to the temptation, “Aminbhai, one plate kebab”. Digging

into the fiery hot piece, my tongue yearned for the coolness of Kulfi.

“Man, it’s a hot one”, me winking.


Running a Fever by Pat Cummings

Cooking in my skin, I stare helpless at a sun just inches overhead.

Earlier this morning, the air in camp still held night-coolness. I called to anyone in earshot, “I’m just going for a short run!” Dry dirt under my trainers, I took off at a steady pace.

Muscles warmed, and the air—man, it’s going to be a hot one! Insects buzzed around me in the desert morning. A road-runner across the pan challenged me to race, and I was winning! Until my heel rolled.

It’s been hours now. I lie broken, just praying someone heard me leave camp.


Fingerprints Tell Stories Like the Rings of A Tree by Dave Madden

Fingerprints tag each person as unique. Mine are similarly unique with a lesson seared into them…

Old enough to remember, but too young to remember why. In adulthood, I believe it’s a condition coined…”selective hearing.”

Childhood: ”I know you know, but how am I supposed to know what you know, unless I try for myself?”

Adulthood: ”I know you think that I should know, but we haven’t exactly talked about that before, so…”

The phrase: beg for forgiveness and not permission. Works now, but then…

“David, it’s a hot one.”

I still smell scorched flesh at a parent’s directives.


Make Mine Sunny Up by Roger Shipp

Traffic was tied-up for miles. The radio said semis jack-knifed. Collected a mess of others. At least another two hour wait.

We shouldn’ta taken the beltway, but hindsight never helped in the end.

The kids were content with the AC in the back watching DVDs. Lion King, I think.

Alice was the irritable one. Harping and harping.

I was hungry. It’s not like traffic was going anywhere for a while. Dad had joked that you could grill eggs on pavement.

“Man, it was a hot one.” I thought as I opened our camping cooler and picked up two eggs.


Facing the Heat by Charli Mills

“Woo-doggies! It’s a hot one!” Carl’s voice crackled across the transmitter.

Lucy maneuvered the tribal fire-engine up the winding Forest Service Road toward thick clouds surging above a fresh lightning strike. The vehicle lumbered over backcountry rocks like a tank. It didn’t carry much water, but she could rig a pump to the lake.

“Lucy! You gonna evacuate those campers?”

“Roger that, Carl. Might bring you water, too.”

“Stealin’ your granny’s garden hose again?”

Lucy grinned. The radio crackled louder.

“Sounds like Canada Rail coming over the peak…”

Carl retreated beneath his bulldozer. He didn’t survive the sudden firestorm.

Author’s note: Firestorms are one of many dangers faced by wildland firefighters who are often summer workers or even volunteers from multiple agencies, some federal, some local. A firestorm creates its own violent drafts that sound like a freight train engine. They burn so hot so fast that nothing survives its heat.