By Sandra Beasley
How are you doing? I hope this gets to you. This is the best address I could figure. They weren’t much help on the phone.
Last week, we were sitting in the lunchroom at work and the women were each trying to pick the best day they could remember. I could have said when Katie was born, I guess, or the afternoon I married Isaac. Those are close to my heart. But I told them the best day was October 4, 1997.
Do you remember that Homecoming? We beat Wakefield, total blow-out. Isaac borrowed his dad’s Cadillac and Laura snuck two bottles of Malibu out from her mom’s stash. We poured it into cans of Dr. Pepper. Jesus, the things you drink when you’re 17.
We went up to the lookout on Skyline Drive, the one the park rangers never bothered to patrol. Blasting R.E.M., the good old songs from Automatic and Green. Liz insisted on Better Than Ezra and we hollered along to that too. You never sang loud, yet you had the best voice.
We could see the whole valley from there. You didn’t notice the shit industrial stuff, not at night. The town glimmered.
Then it was just us. I think Liz and Laura wandered off first, with a bottle of rum, and Isaac went after to make sure they weren’t eaten by a bear. The chaperone.
You and I were sitting on the hood of the car, listening to that B side silence of the tape deck. My dress was silver, thin satin. I was so cold that that you took off your jacket and put it around my shoulders.
You had a pack of matches you’d picked up at the 7-11 where we bought the soda and you were lighting them, one by one, shaking each one out at the last possible second. I was leaning back on my palms, watching you. I was leaning the way a girl leans when she wants to be kissed.
Except I wouldn’t have stopped at kissing. I wanted the weight of you on me, my back up against the windshield. I wanted to weave my touch through the hair that curled at your temples, that ridiculous runaway mop. I wanted to slip my hand below your waist, to cup you, to feel you cry out.
We didn’t do any of those things. Isaac is too good a guy. A wonderful husband. I was–am–lucky to have him. And you were his best friend.
You lit the last match from the pack and dropped it down into the nest of pine needles at our feet. We watched it flare for a moment, that sharp sap scent in the air. You stomped it out with the All-Stars you’d insisted on wearing with your suit, a kind of tap-dance, and I laughed until I lost my breath.
That was the best night. By prom, everything was so settled. Laura had gotten into Princeton. Isaac and I were headed to State. Liz was off to backpack for a year, and you were the good son, staying home to help at the shop and picking up a few classes at the community college.
Every Thanksgiving, we said we’d get together. It never panned out. I called a few times, but you were always slow to answer. Maybe you were embarrassed? Same job. Same people. Isaac’s family moved to a big lake house a couple of hours north, so we go there for holidays now. I had Katie.
As soon as my mom started sending the clippings last year, I knew. The star torched into the football field; the car fires in Belmont. The rope climb we used to play on at Albemarle Elementary melted into a tarry web. We’d stayed away too long. We left you behind, Danny, and I’m sorry.
They don’t get that it’s an art. You used to spend hours sketching, sitting at your locker. Our town became your drawing pad. I get it. There is a beauty to when Something Happens, even if it is a bad something and sirens come.
Everyone knew that the Caraway warehouse had been nothing but dust and raw concrete for twenty years. You couldn’t have anticipated some guy would be sleeping there. It’s his fault he was too drunk to do the most basic thing: get up and run.
Isaac is worried about you. He’d like to pay for the lawyer if you’ll let him. I told him I’d write and ask.
But I’m writing because I think about it, that night. October. I think about it all the time. How I stared at the tips of your fingers blackened by soot, match after match. How I wanted to soothe you. How I wanted to put those fingers into my mouth.
They say once a fire goes underground, it can burn for years.
Photograph by Dean Haspiel