I still think of summer as inherently Jamaican – or at least, how summer should be: running through the prickly zoysia grass of my childhood home, dodging sprinklers, Devon Stout Ice Cream melting through my fingers. Those first moments before the air-conditioning kicks on in a car that has been left baking in the sun for hours. But I’m too old for that rubbish now, I guess.
Instead, for my internship at a high-end interior design magazine, I spent my summer in a cubicle, in an air-conditioned office – albeit a beautiful one: an office lined with glass doors and post-postmod paintings fresh from Art Basel Miami. An adult summer. But in that cubicle, summer is season-less, placeless.
Which is ironic, because all I wrote about was place. My writing responsibilities focused on producing shop/destination guides for the magazine’s regional markets. The voice of each piece took on the speech of some upscale Indiana Jones; a woman who spent her summer days wandering through charming neighborhoods and compiling little lux retreats – the perfect place to have Vietnamese coffee in Austin or the absolutely best spot for handmade stationary in D.C.
This was imaginary, of course. I never had Vietnamese coffee in Austin. I buy my generic stationary in bulk from the Target off Hillsboro. But for these blurbs I pretended. The visuals weren’t hard to capture with the help of accompanying hi-res pictures. But there was something else – some essence expressed in the way these little shop owners and barkeeps spoke to me about their work. There’s the sense that, if they get a chance, they will always be there – in Austin, in Colorado Springs, running their bespoke shop, making things, doing the daily work that’s needed to make a place that will last, that will be a hallmark for their communities. That if, when a customer does move, perhaps for a job in an air-conditioned cubicle far away, they will remember their store – their Vietnamese coffee, their handmade stationary – and feel sick to their stomach, but in a good way. In a way that makes them want to go back home.
This is, of course, what I have always wanted my fiction to do. To make you sick to your stomach. Make you want to go to these fictionalized homelands that, if done right, feel more final that your own.
Sometimes, when I’m back home in Jamaica, lying on my childhood bed, the fan cranked up on high, for some reason I find myself muttering “I want to go home.” This doesn’t make sense, except of course that sometimes the stories we tell about home are better than the real thing.
And sometimes, when I was done for the day, after turning in another copy about a place – detailed and shimmering in its polished fantasy (as much as 300 words can be) – I sat in my parked car and just let the hot air steam around me until I become pleasantly lightheaded. When you close your eyes in the summer heat, sometimes you forget where the hell you are.
Monique McIntosh is a third year MFA student at FAU. She is a fiction short story writer from Jamaica.