Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FIZZLE (06/09/16)
- TITLE: Ashes
By Jan Ackerson
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I’m a writer—I tend to think in metaphors, while John is a more straightforward kind of guy. He’s a man who works with his hands, who gets dirty, who strikes up conversations with total strangers. We’d been the poster couple for the old saying that opposites attract, and it had worked for us through the first two decades of our marriage. But now it was just us again, without the buffering of our wonderful daughter. He’d begged me to try camping with him. I’m sure he thought it was romantic, a second honeymoon of sorts.
But we’d spent the day mostly in silence, awkwardly pulling back from accidental touch, sidling by each other inside the tent.
Now, sitting there near the ashes, I composed a good long speech. The sky was a pale periwinkle when John unzipped the tent some time later and pulled his camp chair opposite mine. I started to talk, surprised that my voice wasn’t as confident in reality as it had been when I’d mentally rehearsed.
“Hey, John,” I said. “I was thinking. This fire pit—it’s kind of like us.”
He looked, up, puzzled, and said, “Okay…”
“It’s a metaphor. That’s when you compare something to something else.”
John smiled. “You know, I actually knew that already.”
I breathed deeply; the air tasted of ashes. This was harder than I thought. “So…last night, when you built the fire. The way you so carefully constructed that little teepee of tender…”
“What?” John’s interruptions were interfering with my flow.
“The stuff you start a fire with. It’s tinder. Not tender.”
My shoulders slumped a bit. “Okay. Well, the metaphor works better with tender. Anyway. Starting that fire like that, it’s like when we first got married. We built a nice structure, and fed it with tinder, and it caught, and burned, and then we got really hot…”
He coughed—was he hiding a laugh?—and motioned for me to go on.
“Not hot like that—well, that too, but you know. Raising Natalie, how great she turned out, doing all those fun things together, building our house. We were kind of spectacular for a while there. But…” I looked over at John; he was poking a daddy longlegs with a stick. I couldn’t see his eyes.
“And then Natalie left for school, and it’s like this fire. We just kind of…fizzled away.”
John flicked the spider into the dead leaves behind him and finally looked up at me, but he didn’t speak.
“What I’m saying is…is…there’s nothing left but ashes. You know? Maybe we should just…”
“This is the first time you’ve been camping, right?” he said. “I mean, I know we never went camping before, but when you were a kid, maybe? Girl Scouts, anything like that?”
I sighed, unsure where he was going with this, wishing he had allowed me to finish. “No, never. You really should know that. I’m not a camping sort of person.”
He studied me for a few moments, holding up one finger as if to say, Don’t talk. Then he got down on his knees. He smiled at me and said, “Watch.”
He took the stick that he’d been using to bedevil the daddy longlegs, and bent close to the ashes. He stirred them, then put his face quite close and blew gently. Nothing happened at first; a few ashes drifted in the air and settled on his eyelashes. He blew again and an orange glow appeared. Once more, and the remnants of last night’s logs began to snap in the morning air. John stood up and gathered twenty or so sticks—he fed these carefully into the coals. Then he got the firewood that he’d stashed beside the tent. In five minutes, we had a bonfire.
We watched it burn together, from opposite sides of the fire pit. After a while, I walked over to where John was standing and took his hand.
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