Editors’ Choice: Tom Ipri

Six Minutes

If not for the fight with his wife, he would not be outside on such a hot evening and he definitely would not be smoking. He takes one last long luxurious drag—the indulgent drag of someone who smokes only on rare occasions—before dropping the butt on the stones in front of their house. They do not have a lawn, as many of their neighbors do. Instead, their ground is covered with small rust colored stones with several cacti poking through here and there. He thinks houses with lawns look foolish here. There’s something to be said for native landscaping, for the southwest to look like the southwest. At least the terra cotta roofs and the methodical beigeness of the houses give some clue that this isn’t the same east coast suburban development they left behind.

The night, not surprisingly, is brutally hot. During most of the year, the days will be hot under a relentless sun, but the nights will still be comfortable. But this late in the summer, there is seldom any reprieve. A heated wind kicks up which makes waking hours feel like they are being spent under a hair dryer. Of course, he knew when they moved to Vegas that they were moving into the desert, but he was not mentally prepared for how hot it really can be. What gets to him is the relentless sameness: just one cloudless hot day after another. People back home don’t believe him when he complains about how tiresome day after day of sunshine can be.

Some clouds have moved in, but there’s no danger of the rain he would so openly welcome. No rain in the past three months. From their house well to the south of The Strip, he can still see the glow of the lights reflecting on the clouds, especially the eerie green patch hovering above the MGM Grand, haunting people out having fun. Fewer than before and more cautiously than ever.

Nearby, someone is barbequing late trying to avoid the worst of the heat. Another hoses off his driveway. No rain in the past three months. A foreclosed sign stares ominously from across the street. A teenager walks by talking on her cell phone. Wars rage and people starve. Dogs bark from a few blocks away, trapped in the complex inner circles of their development. Somewhere, a lake is drying up.

During the fall, smoke from California wildfires fills the valley. He has no shoes on and cannot crush his cigarette into the stones. When out drinking—the other time he may smoke—he can become obsessive about crushing the butts under his foot, grinding them back and forth well beyond any need to do so. Last summer, a neighbor’s bushes went up in flames. Spontaneously. Mysteriously. No rain in three months. He bends over and grabs the butt, presses what’s left of the dim red and ash into the stones and brings it back inside where the air is still heavy with her tears, their adrenaline, and the words of two people believing each is right. A world has lost its precious balance. From here on, he fears, it’s all dénouement.

The contrast between the heat outside and the air conditioning inside always feels so glorious to him, but she is perpetually cold. There she is, predictably, sitting under a blanket. No compromise is enough. She stares at the TV with the remote control in her hand, but the TV is not on.

She had stormed out of the kitchen after the argument and buried herself on the couch as she often does when anger enters the house. He remained in the kitchen and put up a kettle of water. He didn’t even want a cup of tea; it was just an excuse to linger in the kitchen and be away from her. He took out his favorite mug and fed it a tea bag before heading out front for his smoke, making a point of not looking at her as he walked through the living room.

Now he sneaks a look at her as he comes back in. She stares at the silent TV and he wonders if he detects a slight smirk on her face. Maybe she is pleased that he went out for a cigarette. What is it they say? That each cigarette takes six minutes off your life?

Back in the kitchen, he sees that the heat under the kettle is off, that the tea bag in on the floor, that his mug is in pieces on the counter. He flicks the cigarette butt into the sink and leaves the kitchen not even attempting the slightest glance her way as he bounds up the stairs.

He goes into their bedroom and tries to slam the door, but the pressure altered by the air conditioning cushions the attempt. He sits on the edge of their bed, his hands shaking. In a way, he wants to just curl up in sleep, but he is too upset. All he knows is that he cannot stomach the thought of being in the same room with her. As often happens, he has lost track of what they were fighting about and how the fight escalated to this point. In fact, he didn’t even realize they were fighting until he was deep in. He remembers talking about his parents’ impending visit. What suggestion had he offered that caused the conversation to slip, so unwanted, to the point where the mere thought of being in the same room with her makes his hands shake?

He puts on his sandals and grabs his wallet and keys from the nightstand and jogs downstairs. He stops at the bottom and waits. When she finally looks at him, he glances down at his keys, raises them up by their ring and jangles them in her direction before leaving the house, heading into a night where the rush of hot breeze, the smell of barbeque, and the sound of the barking dogs still hang in the air. The beauty of Las Vegas, if there is any for him, is that he can leave in anger and have the option of staying out all night, producing a worry in her that was never possible in the east coast suburb they so regretfully moved away from.

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