Summer Days and Summer Nights - Stephanie Perkins
There were a lot of stories about Annalee Saperstein and why she came to Little Spindle, but Gracie’s favorite was the heat wave.
In 1986, New York endured a summer so miserable that anyone who could afford to leave the city did. The pavement went soft with the heat, a man was found dead in his bathtub with an electric fan half-submerged in the water next to his hairy knees, and the power grid flickered on and off like a bug light rattling with moths. On the Upper West Side, above the bakeries and delicatessens, the Woolworth’s and the Red Apple market, people slept on top of their sheets, sucked on handkerchiefs full of crushed ice, and opened their windows wide, praying for a breeze. That was why, when the Hudson leaped its banks and went looking for trouble on a hot July night, the river found Ruth Blonksy’s window wedged open with a dented Candie’s shoe box.
Earlier that day, Ruth had been in Riverside Park with her friends, eating lemon pucker ices and wearing a persimmon-colored shift that was really a vintage nightgown she’d dyed with two boxes of Rit and mixed success. Rain had been promised for days, but the sky hung heavy over the city, a distended gray belly of cloud that refused to split. Sweat beading over her skin, Ruth had leaned against the park railing to look down at the swaying surface of the river, opaque and nearly black beneath the overcast sky, and had the eerie sense that the water was looking back at her.
Then a drop of lemon ice trickled from the little pink spoon in her hand, startling as a cold tongue lapping at her pulse point, and Marva Allsburg shouted, “We’re going to Jaybee’s to look at records.”
Ruth licked the lemon ice from her wrist and thought no more of the river.
But later that night, when she woke—her sheets soaked through with sweat, a tangle of reeds at the foot of her bed—that sticky trail of sugar was what came first to mind. She’d fallen asleep in her clothes, and her persimmon shift clung wetly to her stomach. Beneath it, her body burned feverish with half-remembered dreams of the river god, a muscular shape that moved through the deep current of sleep, his gray skin speckled blue and green. Her lips felt just kissed, and her head was clouded as if she’d risen too fast from some great depth. It took a long moment for her ears to clear, for her to recognize the moss-and-metal smell of wet concrete, and then to make sense of the sound coming through her open window—rain falling in a steady patter onto the predawn streets below. The heat had broken at last.
Nine months later, Ruth gave birth to a baby with kelp-green eyes and ropes of seaweed hair. When Ruth’s father kicked her out of their walk-up, calling her names in Polish and English and making angry noises about the Puerto Rican boy who had taken Ruth to her junior prom, Annalee Saperstein took her in, ignoring the neighborhood whispers and clucking. Annalee worked at the twenty-four-hour coin laundry on West Seventy-Ninth. No one was sure when she slept, because whenever you walked past, she always seemed to be sitting at the counter doing her crossword beneath the fluorescent lights, the machines humming and rattling, no matter the hour. Joey Pastan had mouthed off to her once when he ran out of quarters, and he swore the dryers had actually growled at him, so nobody was entirely surprised that Annalee believed Ruth Blonksy. And when, waiting in line at Gitlitz Delicatessen, Annalee smacked Ruth’s father in the chest with the half pound of thinly sliced corned beef she’d just purchased and snapped that river spirits were not to be trusted, no one dared to argue.
Ruth’s daughter refused milk. She would only drink salt water and eat pound after pound of oysters, clams, and tiny crayfish, which had to be delivered in crates to Annalee’s cramped apartment. But the diet must have agreed with her, because the green-eyed baby grew into a beautiful girl who was spotted by a talent scout while crossing Amsterdam Avenue. She became a famous model, renowned for her full lips and liquid walk, and bought her mother a penthouse on Park Avenue that they decorated with paintings of desert flowers and dry creek beds. They gave Annalee Saperstein a tidy sum that allowed her to quit her job at the coin laundry and