Tuesday, 19 January 2021

 

The Fire Beside the Road

by Anita Kestin

            They had been driving for a while on back roads after leaving the main highway when they came upon the fire.

            "Stop," she said as he continued on. "Stop. Stop. We need to do something." 

            He stopped but they were already a thousand feet beyond the curve in the road where they had spotted the fire.

            "You aren't thinking," he said. "We have only one water bottle in the car and the fire is too big to stamp out. Now what? What's your grand plan?"

            He had a point. Her cell phone had lost reception a few miles back. There was one small water bottle in the car. He had removed the blanket from the car before they left on their trip. Perhaps they should push on and call when the cell phone reception picked up. Maybe there was nothing more to be done.

            The road was dark. Had they passed a house recently?

            She looked for information about fires on her phone but there was no service at all. 

            Up ahead, a pine tree leaned to the side just before the road curved again.

            "Go back."

            He was very cross with her now. She saw his hands tap the steering wheel and his face tighten as it always did before he hit her.

            "Go back!" she said, the words coming from a part of her brain she had forgotten existed.

            He turned the car around. His face no longer bore that tight look but he was unmistakably angry.

            She saw the fire, burning a bit brighter and higher than before, leaping to the side of the road where the brush and trees began. It now ran along a dry tree limb that led into the forest. She followed the branch with her eyes until she could see it no more. Sparks darted off the narrow shard of wood. The darkness parted as the fire streamed forward and engulfed the branch.

            "Happy?" he said. "Pour the water on it and lets go. Getting late."

            She poured the water on the fire, but, as he had predicted, nothing much changed. In the firelight, she could see the familiar way he set his jaw and the way his eyes turned in her direction. "Let's go. Get in the car right now or I will leave without you!"

            She braced herself against his anger.

            Out of the same place in her brain that she had forgotten existed, she heard herself say: "Go on, then. I will think of something."

            She saw him walk down the road. In his walk, she saw fury. In the way he bent his back, she also saw sadness.

            She heard her suitcase smash on the road and then the car engine. She stood as still as she had ever stood watching the car accelerate towards the curve in the road and the leaning tree and then turned to see the fire.

            Everything around her reverberated and cracked in the flames as she said to herself: Go on, then. I will think of something.


* * * * *

Anita Kestin, MD, MPH, has worked in academics, nursing homes, hospices, and locked wards of a psychiatric facility. She is a daughter (of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust), wife, mother, grandmother, progressive activist. She has been writing for years but just started submitting her non-scientific work during the Pandemic when she was in her sixties. She is delighted that several stories (fiction and creative non-fiction) and one poem have now been accepted for publication/published.

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