In The Embers
By: Nicole Wasylak
It was now almost midnight and the fire didn’t seem to relent as time progressed. The embers were just as alive, popping and floating into the sky like orange stars, as if they were finding their way back to the universe.
The silence was heavy but comfortably so, like a weighted blanket on a frigid winter night. It was so comfortable, in fact, that the girl wondered how silences before this one were ever awkward, why she always wanted to fill them with the thoughts that swirled in her head like oil in water.
She craned her neck upwards, watching as the dark sky collected dust and ash from the fire, listening as each ember would crackle and then disappear. She smiled at the stars and saw them smile back. The small body in her arms took a deep, sleepy breath, and the girl felt her heart swell with emotion. She swallowed it back, not prepared to allow her eyes the reprieve they demanded. She squeezed the sleepy child tightly in her arms once, twice, three times. She wanted her to know that with every squeeze she spoke to her heart, with every squeeze was a silent mantra she wanted to communicate without words. She didn’t know if the child understood, but deep in her chest she knew she did.
“You can see the Milky Way.” He said, his eyes cast to the night sky. She took in his body, the way his legs were splayed out like a king on a throne, how his shoulders drooped with an ease she had never seen on him before. They were always higher up, closer to his ears, but here, surrounded by tall, sleeping mountains and trees that sang in the dark wind, they were as taught as loose string, his body almost fluid in the chair his body rested. She mimicked the language without conscious thought, her head sinking to the side, her chest exhaling and expelling any stress that followed her here. She imagined a dark ghost slipping from her lips and dissipating into the sky, leaving her here forever and getting lost wherever it decided it wanted to.
She nodded concedingly, her head slowly bobbing up and down like a buoy, a smile tickling the edges of her mouth.
“I’ve never seen the Milky Way before,” she whispered, and her words spilled from her mouth like smoke, coalescing with the fire’s breath and disappearing as they danced higher into the sky until there was no trace at all. A part of her envied them, envied the idea of creating so much light and heat and energy and then just simply disappearing, leaving no trace behind but warmth. Would she do that, one day? Would she simply cease to exist, leaving nothing but warmth and light in her path?
The silence carried on until she realized she wanted to hear the sound of his voice. She wanted to hear the music from the best song in the world. And so she spoke.
“Do you remember meeting me?” A fisherman caught his head, slowly reeling it up until his eyes met hers. The moon sighed happily. The hook was in his lips, because it curved at the edges. Three more stars winked into existence.
“Of course I remember meeting you.” The trees leaned into his voice, the crickets ceasing their songs so that they could hear his. The girl cocked her head to the side, and in the firelight, it was the most ethereal thing the man had ever seen her do. She was a myth who fire bowed to, an angel in human clothes. Her hair swayed with the fire’s breath, in tandem with the flames that licked the stone edge. Her brown eyes had never made more sense. They absorbed the flames, and it was the first time the man had ever seen someone’s eyes embrace fire instead of shield themselves from it.
She heard the story whirring in his head, the mechanics spinning, the gears turning. They were slick with oil and were spinning slowly, assembling a story that demanded care and attention. Once the gears slowed down, the words flowed from his lips. Sometimes, the gears would shift and try and piece the story together in the best way possible, but the girl didn’t need that, for she could hear the thoughts in his head sometimes, could hear what the gears could not. Sometimes she was faster than the mechanics in his brain and he knew that. He would not speak it out loud yet—but he knew.
“I remember your smile first. I remember how it lit up the room. I remember how dull everyone else looked, how you had a halo around you that no one else had.” He didn’t speak the words out loud. He didn’t have to.
His head sagged lower and stared at the calluses on his hands. The girl wondered what he was observing on his palms that was more interesting than everything around them. He looked up and met her eyes, his own suddenly much sharper in the firelight. “You stood out to me the moment I saw you. You were a mountain that rose from a sea of valleys. You were a hyperion in a forest full of oaks. It was impossible not to see you, not to find that spark that would one day grow into a tether. I heard it. From the moment I saw you, I heard it.” With every word that flowed from the girl’s mouth, she knew in her chest that they were all true. She thought back to the first time she saw him, the first time they spoke, the first time she noticed that glint in his eyes that looked as though someone has placed stars in them. They were a denim blue, blue like the sky before dusk, blue like the stoic ocean at night. They were so bottomless it was easy to get lost in them, but somehow, the girl was always pulled free, even though often times she thought that she did not want to be free of them. Sometimes, they reminded her of the forest; enthralling, endless, a place she would not mind to lose herself in. For she knew that nothing was truly lost if it was one day found.
The air swelled with silence and she popped it with her needle tongue. “I’ve never seen so many stars.” Her voice was light and airy, carrying itself on the wind until it reached his ears. She was surprised he could hear her over the crackle of the fire but from the way his lips tilted upward she knew she was heard as clear as the night sky.
“I’m glad I could show you them.” Music and color was expelled from his mouth. His words were green like the trees, like sunlight spilling through leaves. She thought about the sound of green. Green sounded like the sigh of the forest. It sounded like the ocean laughing. Green was suddenly her favorite color. She was glad of how chilly the night was for the blanket resting upon her and the child was contributing to the sleepiness that began to seep its way into her bones. The fire sang a lullaby to her and she wrestled the weight of her eyelids, knowing she would win.
She took a deep breath, the child on her lap swelling with her, two souls that breathed in tandem. In then out. In then out. She ran a hand over her head, feeling the soft curls and brushing them away from her forehead. Her skin was soft as velvet, warm like the fire before them.
And as the night carried on, and the child fell asleep, the two golden souls talked about everything in between. Words flowed from their lips as if they spoke a language only each other understood, tears welling in her eyes when all she could think about was the fact that she had never not only felt happier in all her life, but never more at peace. She had never felt peace before, never experienced it, and she realized that for her entire life, peace is what she would chase after, that sleepy feeling in her chest that was so warm she was sure that for the remainder of the night she, too, became an ember. That she, too, floated into the heavens, lighter than air, warmer than the sun.
And as the conversation dwindled with the fire, the last bit of light she saw was the golden tether that jettisoned from both their hearts and met in the middle. It hummed and sizzled and vibrated, and no matter the distance that separated the two the tether remained. It would always remain.