Becoming the Heat
by D. M. Kerr
Tropical heat had engulfed the heartland estate’s playground like a giant hot ocean, flooding humid air into every crevice and joint of the place. No clouds appeared overhead and no wind blew between the giant apartment blocks. Nothing moved.
It had been that way some weeks now, perhaps even months. People had said it was El Niño, or La Niña, or something wrong in the Indian Ocean, but all Dirk knew was that it made his work easier.
His work had not yet begun, but soon it would. He rested at the edge of a bench, beneath the sparse shade of a recently trimmed rambutan tree, the kind of place where parents would sit to watch their children. One hand he let drape along the black metal rim behind him, as a parent might do. Perspiration formed rivulets at the side and back of his collar and dripped past the large swirling tattoo that peeked up from under his shirt.
In front of him, his partner’s daughter Iraena clambered over the jungle gym. She didn’t seek the shade. The plan depended on her not seeking the shade. She played dissolutely, though, in the ocean of heat, climbing the slide backwards to sit on the pirate deck, occasionally twirling the lettered dice that had been placed in the railing. She did not glance in Dirk’s direction.
Dirk wasn’t sure how much she understood of what was to come. Her mother had said, in front of Dirk: “Go play on the gym, wan. Remember, when the boy come, you tell him play with you, okay?” What else Iraena had teased out from whispered conversations, he didn’t know. Even at seven, she had already picked up her mother’s ability to obscure.
Where was Irene? Probably cooling herself with the battery-driven fan, in the shade of the void deck behind. Dirk was already too hot to get angry about the inequity. Being part of an Ah Long gang was like that: inequity flooded everything they did, why get upset about a bit more?
He glanced down at the bench seat. Someone had left a toy on it: orange and smooth, like a truck melting in the heat. Dirk picked up the trinket. He turned it over and over. The action helped calm him. It kept his mind off what he needed to do in the next few minutes.
The town council had recently painted the housing block to his right in orange and tan. Open corridors ran the block’s length, but only every three floors did they carry through completely. In the old days, lifts stopped only on those floors.
The auntie was old. She had been in the building since before the upgrading. Her son, the one who hadn’t been repaying Dirk’s gang what he owed them, worked in a downtown kitchen day and night. The son’s son, the object of the plan, always took the stairs with his grandma, hidden to the CCTV cameras. Dirk could rely on that.
He heard the solid clack of a gate unlatching. He glanced up without appearing to glance up: yes. The fifth floor. The parapet kept him from seeing the people leave the flat; he saw only the bars of the gate, pale yellow, open and close.
Dirk leaned forward to untie, then retie, his shoelaces. He did it to signal Iraena, but mostly as a talisman. He always did it before the action started. He focused on tying the knot exactly, on making the bows the same size and the trailing laces just a bit longer than the bows. In doing it, he was putting away his usual self and letting the new one slowly engulf his psyche.
Yes, the woman was descending the staircase, with the boy. This time, when Dirk glanced up, his eyes were hard. The heat had now entered every part of him. What followed now would only be what the heat could do.
D. M. Kerr is the writing name of a Canadian writer currently living and working in Singapore, where he teaches game design and programming. His work has recently been published in Wire’s Dream, Ideate Review and The Interpreter’s House. Really, he doesn’t mind the heat.