“You look hot,” says a woman.
Hey, I think, the sweat beading on my upper lip, a trickle of sweat running down my back, who doesn’t look hot in the garb of the serving class?
Several inappropriate answers apply near the front of my brain for release, and I riffle through them before landing on something work-suitable.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Polite chuckles all around, and I return to clearing the plates from a table of wealthy graduation-party attendees. Dressed in linens and sandals, they sit under open-sided tents, drinking iced beverages and eating fruits and kabobs from the buffet.
As they should.
I move amongst the tables, out into the 94-degree sunlight to the chef on the other side of the lawn, where the heat and smoke of the six-foot grill parked under an enormous tree intermittently blind him.
Service runs from 3:00 to 8:00. It is around 6:30 when I first notice that the heat has begun to melt my facial features. I anxiously reach for my ear lobes, which I discover lying on my shoulders. My brain begins laughing, then divorces itself from me on grounds of cruelty and leaves the party for the swampy lake at the bottom of the lush, expansive yard, where it lies, squelched in the cool mud and humming from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
I had liked my brain up to that point.
My body, having absorbed four large bottles of water since 4:00, trudges onward.
I am casually considering the words “swamp butt”, thinking of cool showers and talcum powder, when I realize that one of the plates I’ve just cleared belongs to a man I used to work with, a VP of Finance with whom I was friendly just three years ago.
Sweat streaming from my hairline, my starched shirt showing sweat-bleed-through in the crooks of my arms, I smile at him.
“Hey, Mark!” I say.
He looks at me blankly, then dons a thin-lipped dismissal of a smile, and I realize that right now, he doesn't recognize me. I am a humidity-afflicted, red-faced woman with a stack of dirty plates in her arms; and he can't place me because he doesn’t know anyone for whom that would be an apt description.
He turns away from me without returning the smile, stabs a chunk of pineapple on his plate and swallows it after two quick chews.
And in the dreadful heat, the sweat pooling at my collarbones, I am able to hang on to my smile.
Because Mr. Finance has just eaten a mosquito.