Exceptional Drought by Candace Nadon

The snows never came this winter, and now the state is on fire. The map on the FIRE! website shows a little red flame for each fire. There are so many you can’t tell where one fire ends and another begins. My peonies droop minutes after I water them.

There are fires everywhere but our little valley, and we wait to see what will happen. Eddie is not worried. He tells me we are safe here, but I don’t know.

When no fires start on the 4th, I think we’re in the clear. The monsoons are predicted to start any day, and on the afternoon of the 5th, the sky darkens. I get ready for the rain to fall, thinking about how happy my peonies will be.

I’m about to grab Eddie, who’s outside practicing his swing, when I hear the first crack of thunder. Here comes the rain, I think, but instead of the sound of droplets falling against the windows, thunder booms again, and I hear Eddie call for me.

“You’d better look at this,” he says, pointing his club towards the mountains rising to the west, where a plume of smoke snakes into the air. He waves the club to the east, where another cloud of smoke pulses into the sky.

“Want to go out tonight?” He bends his body into position, whacking an imaginary ball towards the smoke. “I’m in the mood for sushi.”

“Shouldn’t we pack a bag with our important documents and medications, like they keep saying on the FIRE! site?”

“We’re safe here.”

I look up at the mountains behind our home. All it would take is one lightning strike, and boom.

“Don’t worry,” Eddie says. He leans the club against his leg and pats my shoulder.

The thunder cracks again, and I jump. “Don’t you think you should put your club down?”

“Nah.” I think I see another column of smoke wafting into the sky.

The rain does not come.

There’s no sense arguing with Eddie, so I give up and go inside.

I refresh FIRE!. Where there were once blank spaces in the Western part of the state, now there are one, two, three – five flames indicating new fires. I refresh the page again and see yet another flame, one almost directly on top of the pin indicating our location. “Eddie!” I yell, just as another crack of thunder shakes the house.

He’s staring at the mountains behind us. A plume of smoke pushes into the air, black and roiling, seeming to grow with each turn it makes, flames churning beneath it. It’s happening, I think.

“Well. Look at that.”

“It’s coming for us,” I say.

“Nonsense. They’ll have it out in no time.” As if on cue, a helicopter churns through the sky, skimming the flames and dropping water. Then it speeds away, only to be followed by another one.

“See? We’re safe here.”

I pull up FIRE! on my phone. Across the top in red vibrating script are evacuation notices for our town and for the development just to the west of us, the one that’s been there for 30 years that Eddie refused to look at. The writing’s on the wall, he kept saying when I said I didn’t want to live in a place with a gate, which seemed too uppity to me. I scroll through the evacuation notice, but we’re not listed.

“Fire doesn’t like to go down,” Eddie says. “We can do takeout if you want.”

I shake my head. “ZenPlace just got evacuated.” Eddie seems dejected. “Shoot. Should we grill?”

“I don’t care,” I say, my eyes on the growing flames. It’s impossible to turn away.

When the wind picks up a couple hours later I hear Eddie, who is now washing his truck, call to me again. I’ve been watching a live streaming video of the fire engulfing our town, eating home after home. After it envelopes ZenPlace I turn away and rush to Eddie. It’s time to go.

“Look at that,” he says, pointing towards the fire above our house, which is now so close ashes drift from the sky like raindrops. The blaze roars above us, moving closer and closer with each tree and shrub it inhales.

“We need to go.” I tug at his sleeve. “The town is burning.”

Our neighbors are outside watching the fire, too. “Quite a sight,” Mel calls. “Indeed,” Eddie yells. Then we all turn back to the flames.

They’re not going anywhere. We’re safe here.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” I yell over the sound of another helicopter chugging above. “We’re going to burn up if we don’t leave.”

“There’s no way they’re going to let these houses burn.” Ashes fall on the truck’s shining chrome. He brushes them away, and more fall.

“I want to leave.”

Eddie stares me straight in the face. “Where are you going to go?”

The wind gusts, the fire rushing forward so fast even Eddie inhales in fear.

I consider, thinking about the map on the FIRE! website. I think about the photos of the people crowded into shelters at high school, all huddled inside, munching off-brand granola bars. It occurs to me the real reason for the gate and the security cameras, for the night watchmen at the entrance of our neighborhood. The writing is on the wall, I hear Eddie say.

I start to protest. Something doesn’t seem right. Then the helicopters descend, five of them, dumping water on the flames. Tanker after tanker dumps retardant, leaving orange entrails in their wake.

I watch the fire pause, like it’s considering, then retreat, crawl back up the mountain, and burn towards the old development.

The Jenkins cheer, Mel pumping his fist in the air. Eddie puts his arm around me. “See?” He drifts away, returning with one of my peonies, which he hands to me after blowing the ash from the petals.

“My beautiful girl,” he says, kissing my forehead while the helicopters continue to buzz overhead. I lean into Eddie and bury my face in the flower, just like the heroine in a movie, the petals falling to the ground like ash.

Candace Nadon is a Colorado native and currently lives in Durango, CO, where she is Assistant Professor of English at Fort Lewis College. She also teaches for Western State Colorado University’s Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing. Her fiction, essays, and poems have appeared in Hartskill Review, New Mexico Review, Platte Valley Review, and Dogwood, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel about 90’s skate punk culture. When she’s not writing or teaching, you can find her on her bike or on the trails.

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