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The Northwest Passage

By Ben Nardolilli


The open windows and two fans oscillating over Adam’s body were not enough. Adam pulled up his blanket and liberated his feet. Cooler air started to move over his toes. He liked the feeling and bunched up the cloth around his chest. Now other body parts could enjoy a similar relief. Adam imagined his skin changing. Throbbing tracts of red turning into placid patches of blue. With this relief he was sure sleep would come.

It did not work. He still felt warm, too war to keep his eyes closed and for his mind to drift off into sleep. Adam turned over and reached out to the other half of the bed. Compared to the desert of a mattress under him, this side felt nearly polar. Adam moved towards the spot. He closed his eyes and they managed to stay shut for several minutes.

The feel of sweat on the pillow woke him up. His promised land on the bed was no longer cool. But all was not lost. Just beyond was another portion of the mattress that his body heat had not yet tainted. Adam reached towards it, and also moved his legs. He enjoyed the way the sheets with their faux toile patterns bunched up against his skin. The crisp sensation remined Adam of tiny ripples of water in a bath or pool.

He started to dream. Adam was in his aunt and uncle’s living room. His parents, siblings, and cousins were all there as well. It was time for brunch and they ate sitting on the antique furniture. A honey-baked ham seemed to be the centerpiece of the meal. The glaze shone like a pair of headlights right at Adam. His uncle started to talk about his new job as a professor of welding at the community college. Adam then excused himself and went to the bathroom. As soon as he sat down on the toilet, something strange happened. He was transported back to the living room, watching everyone and listening to them while he remained invisible.

Adam woke up again. The former frontier of cool was hot. He rolled over back to where he had come from and the traces of his warmth were still there. When the fan blew on it, it seemed to only pick up the heat and spread it rather than put it out with an artificial breeze. Adam looked at one of the fans and watched the metal frame moving from left to right and back again. He hoped that it might relax him enough to make him sleep.

He decided to explore other potential cool spots with his feet rather than his hands. In doing so, Adam uncovered a new corner he previously left untouched. Adam rejoiced in this new untapped territory and absorbed all the coolness he could, understanding that in scientific term he was not withdrawing anything. The situation was the opposite. The bed was receiving his warmth, and eventually his sweat along with it.

There were still some parts of the bed he had not reached, or had only lightly brushed over in his tossing and turning. Adam knew there was a spot between his legs but was unsure about how to make us of it. He could move his rear end over to the chilled patch of the bedsheet, but this was not the body part that demanded relief so he could go to sleep.

Adam flipped directions and took his pillows with him. He turned them over as well and fell back asleep. Everything seemed it would be bearable until morning. This time, he had no dreams, at least, none he could remember. There was only the darkness and he was fine with it. This deep shade of void seemed to offer another kind of cool, giving the inside of his skull some comfort.

The pillow was wet again and Adam moved his head to its edge. It was dry though still warm. He wondered how much longer he had until this spot was like the rest of the pillow. Adam reached out in all directions and imagined he looked like Vitruvian Man to any eyes on the ceiling. Maybe they belonged to insects that had also taken art history with professor Gottlieb. Wherever his hands or feet landed, he found only more parts of the mattress that were either as warm as the air or as hot as his body. 

Suddenly there was a sensation of chilly fabric at his fingertips. Adam slipped his whole hand into the space and reveled in the briskness. Once his hand was there, his arm moved over, followed by his shoulder. Adam wondered if he could bring more of himself to this space and slowly brought part of his chest out of the heat and into the cold. He closed his eyes but he could not sleep yet.

            Adam moved his head off the pillows and dragged it over the bedsheet, noting how sudden the temperature changed. He closed his eyes, let his leg move a little bit more, and fell face first onto the floor. It was a rough and sudden landing on the hardwood down below. The area was dusty and the surface was tough with no sink or bounce. Despite all this, it was cool. Adam grabbed his pillows and put one under his head and another under his rear. Now it needed relief.


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