Gehenna (vii)

05 Mar

He makes his own fire, this night. He doesn’t try to understand why Henya’s father indulges such a whim, cutting deeper into their limited supply of flammable materials, just takes his portion of food and slinks off, hides behind the mules, out of sight and, he hopes, out of mind. Alone with his thoughts, alone with the taste of the tough, sinewy beef, overpowering brine, a small canteen of lukewarm drinking water. There is a single flat, dry cracker; utterly flavorless and wholly unpalatable without the water to wash it down, but it fills in his stomach what the meat alone cannot.

Each item in sequence. Meat, cracker, sip of water. Repeat. The mules bray gently, nervously. A brief wind picks up, but dies down just as suddenly, its appearance pulling at the flames, urging them to dance. The shadows warp and bend on the ground, Uza’s own circling around from behind him, curling back like the hand on a clock before splitting in three directions and returning to a single spire once again as the fire settles down.

He hears footsteps, but does not turn, sips at the canteen and chews the last of the meat. A cushion splashes against the earth beside him, Henya circling around and lowering herself upon it, extending her hands to the fire to warm them. He can feel the tension in her presence, the unindulged desire to speak, and thanks her silently for keeping it so checked. Without a word she takes his hand, now empty after his last bite, and cups hers around it. He meets her eyes and sees only a distant shadow of the coldness from earlier, the last evidence of her feeling of betrayal, the final remnant of his lie. She closes her hands together, tighter, and he feels something else against his palm, between his hand and hers, then she lets go and returns hers to her lap, eyes darting back to the fire and staring at it with single-minded intent.

Uza looks down at his hand and sees half a piece of dried meat, part of another cracker. He hears something—a liquid—splash and then settle within its prison, Henya’s canteen on the ground beside him. She continues to watch the flames, orange and white with flashes of amber and blue, waits for him to eat in her penitent silence. It makes him feel the urge to make amends, to make penance. He tears into the meat with his teeth, chews off a piece of the cracker, swallows a mouthful of the water, and passes all three back to her, cupping his hands over hers as she had done with him, again meeting her eyes.

They hold the gaze for a long moment, then both return to the fire, the source of heat, with a sudden need to see something so bright. She finishes her food, drinks the last of her water and moves closer to him, shoulders just a paper’s width apart. He notices, only now, that hers are bare, rolled up into the torso of her garment. He inches toward her, so that they are touching, skin to skin, and she does not pull away. And so they sit and watch the flame, waiting for it to burn down.

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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Writing


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