Wet October seeped through the seat of my jeans from the sodden log where I sat a quarter mile in woods, awaiting fire and liquor. Kit and Sally were bringing Match-Lite, kindling, and cigs with their pocket lighters; Keith and Brad charged with supplying the drink. I spread the driest leaves I could uncover in a circle where we’d lay the fire. At sixteen, I looked to siphon power from most every person I cared about. What I could touch, I figured I could have. I was permanently wet, often pursued, sometimes caught, always left wanting. Desire twisted me inside a damp wood, caught me up the way fires do even the greenest twigs, how they smolder, how fire spreads, turns, switches back, and re-burns.
The boys I loved unraveled me. They worked dirt under my fingernails and I allowed it. In the earth they gave me I tasted decay, in their old cars I licked crumbs at the mouth of the seat belt. They dipped me to the world, dangled it only inches from my eyes so I might more closely examine the greasy pore, the inflamed follicle, the beetle’s antennae, mold in its finest bloom, a neck crease, an ear swirl, a mighty cock.
With a lit cigarette I waited, then touched the dying filter to the dry circle I’d set, watched it eat and make lace of the leaves. My hands smelled of tobacco and fire. If someone didn’t come soon I felt I’d fly up to the trees. No magic, and not of my own accord, simply smoke in my blood I barely kept a lid on. The twin inside me was no green thing, she was seasoned wood and prime for burning. Was she who set the blaze, but me who spread my legs. Kit and Sally must have been dallying out of sight the way game-players do, affording me time with both boys. After, on our backs like stuck beetles, like satisfied cats, we—the two parts of me— each took confession and chewed it for food, swallowed it down with whiskey that Keith and Brad had swiped from a house along the route.
Giving the boys my back, I pulled into my clothes, hunched, not embarrassed just chilled. Anyway, they were already on to their next thing, smoking cigarettes, testing the dark with catcalls. Maybe in the future I’d learn, change, slow up, care more, but while they preened and peacocked with the silly, prettified girls who’d arrived, piercing the night with perfume and flashlights, I receded. Quiet was a cover, and sleep smelled of loam, where loam married star-struck my restless, pungent self. I gulped at my breath and then spent it on a cigarette. As one ember, I moved through the forest, along the back road berm, to a newly poured sidewalk, and across our lawn begging to be mowed.