Kirby lit the wooden match and held it under the tinder he’d arranged in the fire circle. The stones were blackened with soot and the white marks of ash. His campsite was behind him, the tent battered but homey. Nearly gray now, it was once an autumnal pumpkin color. It had faded.
Like her love.
He scraped an angry hand across his cheeks, dismissing tears that leaked out. It figured Sara would unman him yet again even though she wasn’t even physically present. The song that had played on his drive here flashed back into him mind, the refrain, ‘I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem,’ seemed overly accusatory.
The balls of dryer lint and wax flamed with a hiss, each igniting the next. He’d put all of them down, which was excessive; but he’d wanted to get them out of his house. He’d made them for Sara one weekend. Really, they were supposed to make them together. That was the plan. But like so many of Sara’s plans, it amounted to Kirby doing the work while Sara talked on the phone, chatted with her online friends, or got called to visit someone while Kirby finished the project.
He was done with that now.
Armand had told him to relax, go away somewhere to just ‘find himself.’ He snorted, nose stuffy from the tears. He knew where ‘himself’ was, he just didn’t want to spend any time with the guy. Armand had insisted, so finally Kirby relented and came to the campsite.
He could have gone any number of places. But this one was Sara’s favorite. ‘Our favorite campsite,’ she’d insist to their friends, but she never asked Kirby his opinion. She liked it, therefore it was ‘our favorite.’ He stuffed more twigs on the fire angrily. His favorite campsite was in the mountains outside of Philadelphia, not that anyone asked him.
Once the flames started licking the kindling, he arranged three of his logs in a tent over the baby fire and sat back on his heels. After a moment or two his knees cramped, so he sat down in the gravel and dirt, wishing he’d thought to bring a camp chair or something. Or maybe it was fitting that he be uncomfortable. He looked over at the daypack laying on its side next to him and pulled it closer.
Their collection of photographs lay higgledy-piggledy inside. When Sara walked out, she’d thrown them on the floor in a fit of pique. “You keep them, then!” she’d shouted and slammed the door. He sat down among them, tears drying on his face, and began collecting them into piles one by one. By the time he was done, his tears were over and he had a plan.
He pulled them out now and glanced at the top one. It was at the zoo in front of the lion enclosure, him and Michelle, Sara’s niece. Michelle loved lions and had begged Sara to go. Sara agreed and then at the last minute, canceled so she could go to the salon with her friends. Horrified, Kirby whisked the little girl up into his arms and carried her the two miles on his hip. She forgot her tears by the first block and was laughing and pointing things out to him by the time they got there.
He set that photo aside to keep.
The rest, he knew from memory, were of him and Sara, Sara and her friends, or Sara herself. He grabbed a handful of them and crushed them in his hand, tears falling freely now. The flames blurred in his vision and he burned his fingers a little as he fed the mass into the center of the fire circle. His stomach cramped from anger and he fed them faster and faster, nearly throwing them onto the flames. They curled and hissed, some melting oddly as the emulsion reacted to the heat of the fire. But they all turned black and burned.
All of them.
By the end of it he was panting. He scrubbed his face angrily, offended at his tears, and sat staring at the flames. One in particular caught his attention. It licked the small tag-end of a piece of kindling and its heart was purplish blue. It waved at him like a hand, beckoning. He felt himself start to breathe more deeply as he gazed at the flame, the light and color filling his vision. His eyes watered, now from heat, but he didn’t care. Enthralled, he leaned a little closer, the heat fanning him. He lost himself in contemplation of the fire, the campsite fading from his mind.
One of the logs popped with a loud crack and he jumped. He inhaled deeply and sat back on his hands. He looked around and noted with surprise that the other campers nearby, for the most part, had already retired. He stretched his neck and caught sight of the moon, luminous and full, overhead to his right. The cooler air away from the fire caressed his face and he took the first breath in quite some time that didn’t hurt.
He looked back at the flame, at the charred bits of paper in among the ashes, and was shocked to feel a sense of completion. His heart still felt sore, but it didn’t seem as raw as it had.
Feeling a flush of gratitude to Armand for suggesting his trip, he set about making up his camp for sleep. The fire, consuming a last log in greedy abandon, crackled and popped behind him.