Cooling Off

The grocery store’s air conditioning provides a welcome respite from the heat after a full morning of errands. With every hot sidewalk and parched parking lot, I’ve dreamed of a cold mocha. As the barista makes my frozen treat, I hear a wail. Peering around the corner, I see her.

A little girl, not too far from her second birthday, stands in the basket of a grocery cart, fists gripping the seat in which NO, she WILL NOT SIT. Her chubby cheeks flush as pink as her sundress. Tears or sweat, I can’t tell which, pull strands of curly hair down her neck. Her eyes squeeze shut and she inhales for another round.

“Here you are, sweetheart,” a woman’s voice croons. “So hot, I know, but this will cool you down.” Nana (or Mimi or Grandma) holds a small carton of chocolate milk to the girl’s baby-bird mouth. With expert timing, Nana tips and straightens the carton, watching with a hopeful smile.

The little girl swallows, widens her eyes, and opens her mouth for more. She bounces a dance in the cart, not yet appeased but willing to be.

The barista slides my drink across the counter. Dark, sweet, smooth—the creamy coolness spreads through my torso, down my arms, across my forehead. I smile at Nana and return, refreshed, to the day’s heat.