A Stirring Wind (Flash Fiction)

They sat together, on a lovely deck made of cedar wood and stained to a dark cherry, and attempted to enjoy their afternoon. Susanne made drinks, margaritas, to try to stave off the heat, but it seemed almost sacrilegious. Down the hillside and across the valley, the hot summer wind carried a terrible fiend away from them. The raging fire, now on its fourth day, had scorched the distant foothill and left nothing but burnt waste. As the sun nestled itself behind the curve of the Earth, the day faded and was replaced by something surreal.

Susanne held her own drink in her hand. Bob set his on the glass table that separated them. The cold glass condensed quickly and soon water rings formed at the base of the stem. They each took minor sips, as if to acknowledge the beverage, but none of them drank. Orange flames, seeming so small from where they sat, lifted their cleansing arms twenty feet into the air. Helicopters churned above them, swirling the smoke and adding their muted thudding to the silence. Along the ridge, beside the road that accessed the expensive homes that overlooked the nearby river, the red lights of emergency vehicles flickered.

“Still no word from Catherine or Brian?” Susanne asked.

Bob shook his head without checking his phone. “Nothing. I’ve been trying to get a hold of them since Tuesday.”

Susanne took another sip. Strawberry margaritas were her favorite, but today they seemed to lack a certain flavor. “Are you sure that’s where they live?”

Bob didn’t answer. He knew he didn’t have to. Susanne had asked him that exact question every day since the fire started. He knew now that she wasn’t trying to inquire. She was trying to wish the reality away.

“They have insurance, don’t they?” she asked.

“They do,” Bob said.

Susanne took another sip. Despite the lingering light of dusk, the brightness from the fire seemed to drive all other light away. There was a constant blackness that surrounded the flames. “That’s something,” she said.

“Yeah,” Bob said. He rotated his own margarita glass and spun the small pool of water that rested beneath it. When he lifted it from the table, droplets fell onto his shirt and pant-leg. He sipped lightly at his drink and tried to consider how many weeks it took for insurance companies to process paperwork. “Yeah, it’s something,” he agreed.

A gust of warm wind stirred the air around them and set the wind chimes alive. The song they heard was beautiful, melancholy. It was as though the wind itself knew the pain it brought and sang for its own forgiveness.

Susanne set her drink down and wiped at the condensation that had formed on her hands. In the valley below, the headlights of a lone car approached the burning ridge. “I wonder if that’s them,” she said.

Bob mused over the idea. “I doubt it,” he said. “They’re probably in Colorado by now. At least, that’s what I imagine.”

“They could have stayed here with us,” she said. “They could have stayed here and waited.”

Bob looked at his margarita and spun the slushy alcohol around in its glass. He took another sip, but it only confirmed that the flavor had been taken from his mouth. “And do what?” he asked. “Sit on our deck and watch their house burn down?”

Susanne looked hurt, and Bob apologized. “No,” she said, “you’re right.” The wall of flame rose as the gust of wind that had so recently touched them brought it fresh oxygen. Susanne noticed that a few of the emergency vehicles were beginning to move away. “I just can’t imagine,” she said.

She picked up her glass, and they sat together in silence and sipped.

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