by Allison Field Bell
THE AIR IS full of smoke, ash on our tent. We pack up quickly and silently. Not much to say: not because we are at peace with each other, no. The opposite is true. His every movement. The way he folds the tent, the ugly face he makes when he lights the stove. I could scream. The ash is coming down thicker now: large flakes of the earth’s damaged skin. The campsite host assures us this is a symptom of wind and not proximity. Still: everyone is packing up. It’s August in California, and these days we don’t take any chances. Apocalypse of our lives waiting in the eaves, one gust of wind away. I do a sweep of our campsite and find a few gum wrappers—husband of mine always chewing gum. Even at night when we’re about to sleep, I hear his jaw clicking like he’s working out the problem of us through the physics of his mouth. The problem of us. The problem is I’ve been a bad person. I slept with a friend. Well, I slept with a few friends, but I’ve only told him one to gauge his reaction. It’s not going well. It wasn’t going well before either. This is why I slept with the friends. He was always at the office, by which I mean the room in our house with his computer, his bottles of whiskey, his posters of old shows he attended in his early twenties. We are no longer in our early twenties. Married a decade already, and one imagines we’d be used to disappointing each other. I’m not on the side of my infidelity, I’m just a woman wondering which decision was the mistake. His side: I slept with a friend I swore was a friend and how could I lie to him like that? How could my body do that? My body, which basically is his body, belongs to him. He throws a sleeping bag in the car and says, What am I to do with you? The sleeping bag slithers over the nylon of our supplies and pops out of the car onto the dusty, ashy ground. Above us, the trees shift with the wind. Sugar pine and ponderosas. Sugar pine or ponderosas: I’m not a tree person. I like them well enough, but I prefer cacti and the scorching heat of the Sonoran Desert. At least there, no one is burned alive in-between thick walls of trunks. The desert is honest about its danger. Everything right there in the open. What am I to do with you? I don’t forget to answer his question, I just assume it’s rhetorical. But he wants an answer. He stands in front of me and hoists his jeans higher, right below his beer gut. In general, I am not not attracted to him. But right now, I watch the way he can’t look at me, the way the ash catches on his hair, adding to the gray. I don’t know what my admission of truth was meant to accomplish. I just know that the forest is burning and somewhere out there, a woman and a man who love each other more than we do are running for their lives.
Allison Field Bell is originally from northern California but has spent most of her adult life in the desert. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Prose at the University of Utah, and she has an MFA in Fiction from New Mexico State University. Her work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, West Branch, The Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. Find her at allisonfieldbell.com.