The truth of Toronto summers is that the entire populace waits for them, pines for them, longs for the day when they don't have to spend ten minutes bundling up before they head outside; yet once they arrive, that same populace shuffles around in the fetid polluted air like microbes beneath the clingfilm covering a mayonnaise-dressed salad, left too long out in the sun.
Karen drew out a long breath in exasperation, then stopped short because the air hurt to breathe that strongly. A row of smokers stood next to the curb, mixing the scent of their cigarettes with the fumes from the cars. Karen noticed they were all sullenly blowing smoke back towards the doorways they weren't allowed to be less than five metres away from, and wondered why they didn't just quit if it bothered them so much. Especially in this heat. Who wanted to hold a smoldering tube of paper and dried leaves up to their mouth voluntarily when everyone's clothes and hair were already damp at eight o'clock in the morning?
She walked by the entire line of them, then turned right at the corner. Off the main street was a residential area with narrow houses and old trees. The air was better here, but Karen could feel the droplets of water sticking to the backs of her hands as she walked. She bit her lip, resisting the urge to check the time on her cell phone. She tasted like base metal and car exhaust.
At the next intersection she finally let herself check the time. She was early. She let herself stop for a moment and try to cool down. The soles of her nylon stockings felt funny, and she realised they were melting slightly.
"Keep going," she muttered to herself, and crossed the road.
She heard a low rumble from behind and above her. The sun was still shining where she was, but as she glanced over her shoulder she saw that a black stormcloud was overtaking her.
No. Perspiration she could comment over, but getting soaked in a rainstorm... no.
She walked faster. A run in her nylons trickled up her left leg.
Karen turned down the next side street and started checking house numbers. Once this had still been part of the same residential area she had just walked down, but now all the old houses had been converted into professional offices.
She felt a heavier wet spot splotch onto her shoulder, and a glance at the sidewalk confirmed it was a raindrop, not just her imagination or a random congealance. The number she wanted was on the other side of the street. She checked no cars or bikes were coming and crossed.
The numbers by the front door said "77A", so she navigated the frost-tilted stepping stones to the back to find 77B. A peal of thunder sounded so close and so loudly it made her jump. The sun was gone and all the foliage had turned the vivid green that meant the plants knew a storm was coming.
Karen figured out how to open the gate and let herself into the yard. She slammed the gate hard behind her, but it wouldn't latch automatically. The random drops of water were accelerating to rain in earnest, so she just pushed the gate shut and squelched across the lawn to the back door. She knocked, hoping they would answer before the storm dumped on her. Now that she was away from the street, she could smell the copper in the air that signalled a lot of rain was coming soon.
A hand pushed part of the lace curtain covering the door's window aside, then let the curtain drop back into place. Karen heard bolts and locks being worked.
The door opened, revealing a tall, willowy woman with a long braid of thick grey hair thrown over one shoulder. "Come in!" she exclaimed. "Looks like you made it just in time."
"I'm Ally," the woman said, closing and re-locking the door. She gave Karen a look-over. "Oh honey," she said, "did you think you were coming for a job interview? Do you actually need those tights?"
Karen checked her stockings. Both legs had sizable runs in them, and she could feel large holes in the soles. It was cool in Ally's apartment, but not the artificial chill of over-used air conditioning. Better than that, though, it was dry. Karen felt damp and covered with pollutants.
Ally picked up a pair of blue flip-flops from the shoe rack. "I got these for a buck and have never worn them," she said. "You take them if you want. Part of the reading fee. There's the washroom if you want to get that plastic mesh off your legs, and I'll find a bag to put your shoes in."
Karen was surprised by how much gratitude rushed into her voice when she took the flip-flops and thanked her.
When she emerged from the washroom, Ally had disappeared. Karen followed the sounds of someone moving around and found her in the kitchen. Ally gestured her towards the nearest chair at the kitchen table.
Karen sat down, and Ally took a seat opposite her. Karen held up her hands. "How do I — "
"Are you right-handed?"
Ally gestured for Karen to extend her right hand. Karen did, and Ally started kneading it with her fingers.
"Strong mounts, strong lines," she said. "Lots of possible paths here. Hard to say what to read first." She glanced up at Karen's face. "You're a fire girl. Summers must be very hard for you here."