In front of me in line, a man hisses at a woman. I can’t distinguish all of
the words, but the words don’t matter; his voice crackles and stings. He talks to her the way fire talks to wood
She stands perfectly still, unflinching. She makes no eye contact, but I see
her head sink lower between her shoulders. I feel her heart constrict. I picture Queen Anne’s lace in November, a singed claw still defiant at the edge of the road. A frail fist clenched in the hard place between sun and frost. Silence. Her hand flutters to her throat. Her eyes are red-rimmed coals. This is the way wood answers fire.
When he turns and catches me staring, he shrugs, offering me a closed-mouth smile and a wink. He dramatically wraps both arms around her neck, pulls her close. Repelled, I’m still relieved by his abrupt playfulness. Then I realize that he’s holding her exactly the way lightning embraces a sapling, enfolding leafless limbs in its crooked gold arms. Hollowing a scorched place at its core.