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Smothering the Flames

The couple sat in their Adirondacks on their back patio looking at their recently trimmed backyard.  A cool breeze occasionally stirred the night air.  A fire glowed in a nearby fire pit.  Each held a bottle of Shiner.

“Nice night.” Kevin said.

“All week’s been good.” Steph replied.

He nodded and stared at the fire.  A dog barked in the distance.

“I had to print something earlier,” said Steph.

He silently took a drink.

“I thought we’d agreed-”

“We did.” He interrupted with a sigh.

The dog barked again.

“I hope the Petersons don’t leave him out again,” he said.

“I talked to her last week.” Steph looked off into the darkness beyond the fire.

“It didn’t help.”

“No,” she said, “it didn’t.”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

They both sat and listened to the dog.

“I just don’t understand why,” Steph said.

“The dog?” he asked.

“No, not the dog.”

“Oh,” Kevin said. He contemplated his beer.  “I don’t know.  Because…” He shook his head. “Because.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I know.  I… I know.”

Steph looked at him.  He examined the fire.

“It just happens,” he explained.

“I know.” Her eyes searched his face in the firelight.

“I’m glad we got these.” He patted his arm rest.

She nodded.  “Me, too”.



“It was a good deal, too.” Kevin said.


“I think the stain works well with the patio.”

She glanced at her arm rest and then at the fire lit patio and nodded.

“Is there something I can do?” she asked.

He emptied his beer and smirked at her. “Get me a beer?”

Her eyes met his.  The fire gleamed dimly in his pupils.

“OK.”  She took his empty bottle and went inside.

Kevin sat and listened to the fire, the dog, and the crickets.  A large truck rumbled by on the nearby highway, just out of sight.

Steph returned and gave him a new beer.  She had one as well.  They sat.

“I didn’t mean the beer,” she said.

“I know.” His eyes returned to the fire.

“Is there?”

“No.” He drank. “No, I don’t think so.”

She shook her head and leaned back.

“We’re low on bread,” he reminded her.

“I don’t care about the damned bread.”

He turned to her, saw her face, and then peered into the dark night sky.

“Well,” he said, “we need it anyway.”

“We need to talk about-”

“We are, aren’t we?” He asked the night sky.

“There are groups…” she said.

“Groups?” He snorted. “I’m not an alcoholic.” He drank.

“No, you aren’t.” Steph replied. “But these groups might help.”

“You think I need to talk about it? To strangers? Or worse? No, thank you.”

“Kevin…” She put a hand out toward his arm, but found only his Adirondack arm rest.

“I don’t need some group.”

She slowly withdrew her hand.  The dog let out a chorus of barks.

“I might go shoot that fucking dog.” He growled.

She frowned.  He glared into the night.

“Aren’t you worried about Abby?” she asked.

“Abby? She won’t find anything.”

“I did.”

“You’re too nosey.  And she’s four,” he said.

“I was printing, not snooping.”

“Sure.” Kevin drank.

“You think I’m spying on you now?” Her voice captured some of the fire’s heat.

He glanced at her then away.  He raised his hands in surrender.

“I said, ‘sure’.”  His voice sounded playful.

She rolled her eyes. “In the exact way that means anything but.  Tone is everything.”

“Now I’m getting a grammar lesson?”

“It’s not grammar, but it is passive aggressive.”

He rubbed his eyes; his hand shielded his face from the fire and cast it in shadow.

“Did you do the dishes yet?” he asked.

She sat silently for a moment.  Then, “No.”

“When was the last time you did them?”

She tilted her head and opened her mouth soundlessly.  The fire had died down and both sat in its feeble glow.

“um… Wednesday. I guess.” She replied.

“Well, the kitchen is starting to stink.”

“When was the last time you did them?” she asked.

He snorted, “2005?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head.  The dog barked.

“Do you think a pillow will silence a shotgun?” he asked.

“That’s not funny.” She didn’t open her eyes.

He looked at her.  Her face glowed softly in the remaining light.

“Yes, it is.  A little.” Kevin said.

Steph opened her eyes and met his gaze.  He dropped his and examined his beer.

“Matthew 5:28 says-” she started.

“Really?  Really?” He raised his voice. “You are quoting scripture at me?”

“You disagree?”

“I think it’s ironic is all.  Don’t you? Or am I going to get a lecture on the usage of the word ‘ironic’?”

She took a deep breath. “That was years ago.  We weren’t married yet.”  She covered her mouth and then brushed her hair behind her ears.  “You said you forgave me,” she said quietly.

“Forgiveness is hard.”  He glanced at her. “Especially in the face of irony.”

“It never happened again.” Her hands held the back of her neck now. “Can you say the same?”

Kevin stood and stepped to the fire pit.  This close his face glowed orange.  His eyes were worn and weary.  His shoulders slumped.  The fire had been dying for awhile, now, but he covered the pit and smothered it for good.

Steph stood beside him.  She put her head on his shoulder and reached a hand up to caress his neck.  He flinched away.

“I’m going to sleep, now.” He said.

A breeze carried off the last vestiges of the fire’s heat.  He turned and went inside.  She stood in the darkness, clutched her arms to her chest, and shivered.


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  1. Studnougat
    October 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Interesting dialogue. I would have like it to be stretched out a little more, it seems like the tension was building and building and then crescendos fairly rapidly. Although, that would not be unlike a typical conversation.

  2. October 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks. On the forums for the workshop I’ve received an interesting assortment of theories as to what they are discussing. Theories I’ve read are: porn use, infidelity related emails, alcohol abuse. I’m happy people can read so much into it, because I think it matters more what the reader sees in the story than what I put there.

    I would have liked to have worked on it more. I copied Hemingway’s style too much in this, and I would have liked to spend the time making it my own.

    It does end quickly, but they were either going to get into a shouting match or he was going to walk. I think walking fit the passive aggressive way he kept dodging everything.

  3. Studnougat
    October 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    So when are you going to debrief about the writer’s workshop?

    • October 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

      Fair enough, I’ll jot one now-ish.

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