WHEN THE WIND drew up the fire around Gracetown, an inverted tornado of orange surging round the steeple of Reverend Nevil’s church, Lida kissed me on the shoulder and said,
––“It’s over now. You check the nets and I’ll start a fire.”
––Fire was absurd and needed. No one was hungry but everyone needed food. Some of us had minor burns. Jupa Prek was the only one badly injured (her wounds, we would find out later, were impossible). All other measure of human life had been annihilated by the flames. Really considering the dark oppressive weight of this sudden termination of life would come later. It would come slowly but without ease, as the painful itch of an interminable skin rash, covering inside and out, everywhere. Some of us, the rash would eat alive, glue us to our pain eternally.
I RECRUITED YOUNG Fielding to help with the nets as a distraction from the moaning of Jupa Prek and Reverend Nevil’s dithering group prayer.
––“So,” I said to Fielding, “I saw Colette over by the reserve pyre. Bet you saw her too.” I kept my eyes on the stakes. Fielding said nothing. I continued, “What is she? Just a year older than you?”
––Fielding, still saying nothing, shifted the obsidian used to mark the anchor point on his side of the stream.
––“Hold that tight, now. I feel fish tonight. These nets haven’t been seined in days.”
––“Raoul,” he finally said, “Colette is almost two years older than me. I think she likes Kurn, the one with the whips.”
––The relief of having heard his mind occupied by these adolescent torments filled the air with optimism. I would not be the one to tell him of it and now was not the time to interject that his worries were sadly irrelevant, that Kurn, the one with the whips, was known to have been trapped inside the ring with his mother.
––“Colette just wants a friendly boy to talk to. Think you’re the man for the job?” I eyed him with a fake speculation that was soft but squinting. The net slapped with cutters as Fielding began to smile and we carried our haul back to where the largest small fire shone through the huckleberry and weed oak. It would be Lida’s fire.
SOME PEOPLE SCOLDED the purpose fires. One man, Jaycob, stupidly threw his shoe into the large one, cursing its heat and light and opportunistic hunger, then cursing his shoe for being so weak and undurable and easily consumed. It smelled of sweet burning ore as we ate around the tiny bones of fish. Well after the spell of night had made humanity tire of survival and the circuitous fear of a darkening beyond, something tapped me on the head. I was stirred into a sitting position.
––“It will rain tomorrow,” she whispered.
––“How do you know?”
––“The flowers have been shy all day.”
––I pushed myself against her. “We have lived all day.”
––“And now,” bleeped Lida, “we will not think of…wet embers.”