Firelight, Moonlight, Lightning Bugs

Friday night was one of those times you’re not sure of how it’s going to go. Only four of us could make it; if one canceled at the last minute, well, three is not such a great number for a party. One is in Toronto, and one is in New York going to a class reunion. Plus it has been so damn hot — who wants to sit outside all evening in soaking humidity? — and every day the heat has been triggering storms with lightning shows worth paying to see. We didn’t even want to think about getting rained out.

But there were four. We all wanted to do this.

Three of us rode together south down 65 past Columbia to the gentleman’s farm of the fourth. “Cedar Ridge” — acres out in the country near Fountain Creek, with trees “thick as hairs on a dog’s back” which my father always said about wooded land, two pastures where a horse or mule or two might snort around, wild turkey, a family of deer, a cat, an old barn with a silo, a pond, moonflowers, and blue hyacinths that grow wild. The gentleman farm owner had dug a fire pit in the pasture behind the house, lined it with stones, and filled it with wood to make a bonfire…on a night with a heat index of 100.

We sat in a circle around the fire and stuck hot dogs on old clothes hangers untwisted and let them sizzle in the flames until they were black and then put them in buns with mustard and relish and ate them with potato salad that Colleen made and baked beans that I made. [Note to self: This is creative nonfiction and you are supposed to tell the truth, so mention that Colleen really didn’t make the potato salad, she had volunteered, but the gentleman said not to and he bought it at Kroger.]

It was late, the sky was black and star-spangled, the moon was three-fourths full, heat lightning flashed, and lightning bugs blinked on and off in the pasture stretched out in front of us. The fire was hot, the yellow flames licking around and melting the wood, and we couldn’t help but stare at it. We — four members of our old writers group that used to meet regularly and critique each other’s work — each brought something new we’d written.

After we had eaten and were sufficiently satisfied, with mustard dripped on shirts and fingers sticky with marshmallows and enough beer and tea to wash it all down, we took our papers with stories in hand. Each one, beginning with Colleen, clicked on a flashlight, shined it on the black print — one small center of light, then concentric circles of light spreading out on the page — and read aloud. We passed the flashlight around, we gave pleasing comments on each reading, we bonded with words.

After the readings, the two men passed a guitar back and forth and we sang old songs, a new twist for us, but one appropriate for a bonfire.

We’ve been together about seven years, we’ve come to know each other through our writing, we’ve formed a friendship circle of support not only through our writing, but through change and loss, and there’s been lots of it, and so sometimes when we’re together, we not only read the stories we’ve brought to life, we also just laugh — just laugh, because it feels good to laugh, about nothing really, or about something silly, or about something really funny.

The heat was bearable. And there was no rain. There was a little lightning moving in slowly from the northwest. Tree frogs screamed, trying to out-do us. Firecrackers popped in the distance. We could hear an occasional car and see its lights on the road nearby. But for the evening, it was just the four of us. And we filled it with words and songs. And laughter. And it was good.

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