You came back with the firewood, exactly as requested. It was a varied affair: twisting extensions with gnarled tendrils and eyes, stunted segments broken off long before due, thick, thin, dry, wet, the straight and narrow.
-I can’t use all of these but good job. Well done.
You recoiled into that same whimper that Marley does so well. She was just a puppy but she excelled at that. A natural. Scowl. You retreated into the wood with your bottom lip protruding and a raised brow. The light gait of your walk betrayed your feigned feelings of hurt.
-Hurry home, boyo!
Without pause, you flicked your hand and wrist at me with a flash as if to say, “nag.” Guilty. I’m the first to admit. Watching your back recede in the distance, a bellowing laugh erupted into the clouds with a violent shake. Some fair weather feathers above responded in fear, or in kind. It’s hard to say. Chirping is chirping.
The fire relies on a specific structure, or at least, that’s what I remembered from scouting, possibly the only thing I remembered from scouting. The newspaper sat within a carefully knitted pyramid of kindling then to sticks to branches to logs. It was, or aspired to be, a perfected gradient in size and weight. It fell more than a few times. I’m not that good at it apparently. As long as it held, I was happy, it was just going to burn down as the sun set.
I pretended not to notice as you returned with a bounty. In retaliation, you dropped your fresh collection directly on my task at hand. Before I could take in the pile in tatters at my feet, you grinned, leaned in, kissed my right temple and scampered away before I could swat at your ankles. Calve socks pulled high, city shoes, shorts. An unexpected quirk that you can’t help but find endearing regardless of how disastrous it appears. You really weren’t an outdoor kid.
You went on to fumble with the tent as I attempted to rebuild this combustible affair. Beads simultaneously formed on our furrowed brows. This plot of forest was your friend’s backyard – expansive, but needless to say, “roughing it” was a generous term. We could leave this world at anytime, reverting to our need for running water and electric light, if need be, not fifteen minutes away in one direction. Instead, we held our ground with an unspoken determination, a shared knowledge that there was magic embedded in this moment.
I could imagine running barefoot through the moss gathered under the shade, hand in hand.
I could imagine stepping gingerly into the waters, pressing our weight into the stones beneath us. The stones would be smooth, slick with growth clinging on as the force of the snowmelt pummeled into them year after year.
I could imagine us lying down in these waters, face up, fully clothed, a result of childlike tussles, breathing deep, relishing in the wet seeping into our fibers, the chill soothing our bones.
I surrendered my sphere to join yours. It was still light out. The fire could stand to wait. You looked at me, hands splayed, asking for an inspection. Each pole was staked into the ground with conviction, burrowed deep into the earth. The stretched skin bowed over them, lying in wait to take on the world outside. You did well, but you knew that.
I returned to the pile of branches in anticipation. You stood by the tent, hands on hips, triumphant, proud of that feat of construction.
When night falls, we will huddle by this fire, arduously achieved, naked save for this shared shroud wrapped around our shivering bodies. Our shirts, my pants, your shorts, our socks, your boxers, my briefs will be draped across a makeshift rack. We will stare at this smoke and flame rising up and up.
When this fire dies, we will retire into this dome you built. Dry. It will hold, it will hold us; we will look up through this skin into the skies above and understand that we’ve done something right. In the morning, we will carry on.