Fire Love

as published in The Pinehurst Journal
and The New Press under the title, Carbunculus

The wind has been exceptional. All morning long leaves have blown against my door dry and curled as dead spiders. Branches have fallen from trees, lawn chairs have tipped and skidded along fences and while standing at my window, I witnessed a small bird lifted high and carried completely away. The wind has been perfect. And mine as much as these cups and saucers, these sweaters and shoes, bracelets and bottles. How fast it comes and goes, erratic and circling as sharks in a dream. I could dry my towels with this wind. I could send a message with this wind. I could send a message to James; words on the wind, words he won't listen to; pieces of words, wisps of words, meadows full to be plucked free letter by letter and blown into his ear like puffs of smoke. According to the news this will be the hottest day of the year

I loved James. We loved each other. These are difficult times. I have not been able to stand the sound of my own heart.

She wrote these words, or thought them in the morning hours of her privacy before her father's voice called, before it was time to open the doors, unlock the cash register and roll open the windows to let in the scent of fresh pine. She did and thought many things in her privacy; so different from the way she was to customers. Anyway, who cares how you are perceived selling gasoline and potato chips; faces you'll never see again?

James saw more.


"Yes, Father." She went to the door that led to her father's side of the house, listening for the usual, never-changing instructions. She pushed at and straightened boxes and quick-shop items, her father's voice reaching her from over and under. "Yes, Father."

Outside, pine needles swirled and backed away, and the metal on the gasoline sign wrenched. She looked down the road where heat waves rose from the asphalt and mirages shimmered. She went back in, got a cold drink and sat up behind the counter. The smell of frying bacon came from her father's side of the house, the sound of opera and the thin click of his wheelchair moving around.

James had appeared one day as if she had conjured him, as if her thoughts had expanded in her head and he had jumped, clinking and jangling into a clear space. It was early July before the bypass was finished, and it was hot but no wind. She'd been taking change: "Thank you," Have a safe journey," and so forth, looking out the window mindlessly, yet picturing the words for no reason, ‘forest fire.' Suddenly he was there in helmet and boots, a yellow alien; clips, hoses, wires, and hooks all over him, outside the bright red truck with its trucks and ladders and men hanging from the side, a siren winding down. "Somebody report smelling smoke," he had asked. "No," she had said, knowing God had intervened.

Her father came in his wheelchair to the front of the store and they both watched the wind blowing, thinking both of them, how the customers no longer really came since the bypass had been completed and traffic diverted to the Interstate 40. Across the street the mineral shop had a' closed' sign on it, its fence rattling and whining in the wind.

"Where's your mother," her father said, calm as if he hadn't just traveled back thirty years. He looked at her as if she were hiding something from him, pivoting his chair to meet her gaze until his face softened and his mind reconnected and slid back into focus. He busied himself for a moment, then seemed content watching the fan blades overhead. ‘Where's that young man you like, then?" he said then as if locating anyone would do. "Where's that young firefighter that used to come around?"

She flushed. "I don't know," she said, her voice making every other sound loud.

And although he didn't mean to hurt her, he continued, unable to edit his words, "Tramaine, you know you ought to be thinking about the future before there's too much water under the bridge."

She laughed in a silly way, the future, she knew to well, as looking bleak. "You're a dreamer, Tramaine, you always were and you always will be. You're head is always stuck in the clouds, always thinking things are going to just happen," he said, going back to where he spent his days and nights, leaving her to the wind and the temperature and no one coming.

She sat for a long time thinking about it. Her father was right, she was a dreamer, abstract. She never could get anything going, never carried through with anything. She had called James at the fire station once, but was told he was not there and hadn't called back. Her life was going nowhere.

She came down off the chair and went outside. The temperature had reached 104 degrees according to the thermometer by the door; a clear, high heat, close to the sun and careening along the white line on the road. She felt it through her dress, on her thighs and arms and shoulders. The wind stayed low and then rose wildly so that the treetops swooped and waved. She stayed for a while watching it, her hair whipping against her face. Then she looked both ways down the highway and went across to the mineral shop where she reached down into her pocket, pulled out one of the disposable cigarette lighters they used to sell so many of, and lit the yellow grass by the fence on fire.

Then James was coming, the mirage down the road suddenly red and pulsating, dancing crazily toward her, sirens and dogs howling. Her vision was filled to capacity and overflowing; flames sweeping, leaping; gold, blue, orange; hoses spinning and buckling, rearing, unraveling; water arching, sailing. Bells clanged, ladders folded and unfolded, smoke spiraled, men shouted, laid out equipment; nozzles, saws, axes. Tanks pumped, hydrants spilled. James shouted and ran. James, efficient and fast. James, climbing, hoisting, radiating. Beautiful James.

She stood under the snapping little colored flags of the station watching.

It was something.