Every summer morning when my husband and I woke up, the two children, the dog , and the cat would be sprawled on our bedroom floor, sleeping under the only window fan in the house. We were always struck by the resemblance to peasant families sharing one room with the cow, and swore that the following summer we were positively having central air conditioning installed. Finally we did.
Now I find there is a void in my life. The zest has gone from summer. There is no more dueling with the sun, since no special skills are needed for artful arrangements of blinds and shades to deflect brassy noontime heat. I don't have to plan menus for shady lunches on the patio, or picnics under the oak trees. Why bother to slice and chill melons, fix sun tea, and fry chicken early in the day? Eating indoors as we do now, I might as well roast a goose.
Worst of all, there is no anticipation, nor are there any rewards. I no longer purchase the coolness of a summer rainstorm by having poached gently in perspiration all day. When thunderheads roll over the horizon, sweeping buffalo winds before them, I am almost indifferent to their arrival. I don't feel a surge of joy when the first leopard's pugs of rain dot the patio, and the sweet dusty odor of wet brick arises. And I don't run to close the windows. They're always shut tightly now.
Seductive coolness has robbed me of summer nights. I sleep deeply. I no longer wake in the middle of the night to the barred owl asking, ''Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?'' Perversely, I wish I could toss on crumpled sheets and finally wander out the back door to smell the nicotiana and share midnight with the cat.
I miss the night sky, and the way the family would straggle out to the patio from the hot, stuffy house. We would sit in the darkness, conversation lazy, desultory. Was Sherry at the pool? Who wants ice water? And the cubes would clink, and the toad would hop from under the veined hosta leaves to a halfway point on the patio, and the 10 p.m. bat would skim our knees before joining the movable feast under the streetlight.
Those evenings of discomfort shared with my husband and children were my link to the past, reviving memories of humid July nights in the Midwest. I remember sitting with my mother, grandparents, and aunts on the front porch, partly screened by a trellis and morning glory vines. We could hear the chip of feet coming up Carroll Avenue, and as they approached, we would grow as silent as cautious crickets. The voices of the passers-by would be softly animated, discussing the weekly movie; and when they had faded, our glider would creak lazily again. Every night we heard the distant whistle of the Blackhawk as it rattled through Pecatonica Corners, slowing for the stop at Freeport. It would often be midnight before we unwillingly left the porch for the airless bedrooms upstairs.
The family room is almost chilly now. I get goose bumps while we watch television, and murmuring something about setting the table for breakfast, I go to the kitchen and pull out the plastic place mats. Four plates, cups, paper napkins.
Then silently, furtively, I slip out the back door into the bat-hunting, cricket-shrill night. The toad hops close to my chair, and the dog yaps insistently until I get up and let him out. He disappears to patrol the perimeters of the fence. A mosquito whines in my ear. Two katydids take up a counterpoint, then one misses a beat and the other sulks in silence.
My husband and daughters stay in the house, watching reruns. Last summer we saw Vega burning in the eastern sky, Aquila and Cygnus soaring above us. We chanted the brightest stars' names like a litany - Antares, Altair, Deneb.
''The weather belongs to the poor,'' my grandmother would say as she rocked gently on the front porch.
I hear the locusts' dry buzz, and the hoot of an anonymous diesel rumbling through Starkey. I am alone with a conviction I cannot explain: that summer is endless, slow and winding, trickling in a golden ribbon like syrup poured from a can.