Ravens and rain crows, omens of death. That was what Scarlett told him before she knew he was seeing them everywhere. Death is change, she said. Rebirth, transformation, opportunity. It was that way in Tarot: a death card didn't mean you were going to die. Scarlett reads the cards but Lucas reads the signs, and he knows: death is death.
Derek's face glows for a moment in the bonfire, then the coating of the photo paper melts and merges, like one of those spin-art paintings they did at the carnival as kids. When they were brothers: good as brothers, closer than brothers. Words stand out before they blacken, the metals in the ink flashing gold, but Lucas doesn't want to see those words again. He's read the letters too many times. He knows what they say. He remembers everything Derek wanted to forget.
Fire is cleansing, Scarlett says. Lucas wants to believe everything Scarlett tells him. She's always sure of what she knows. Lately Lucas is never sure of anything, but he knows Scarlett, knows her gold-threaded head scarf, her dirty blonde dreads, the coppery taste of the gold ring in her lip when he kisses her. I can take it out, she said once, but he said no. I like it now, he told her. It feels like you.
The letters take longest to burn. There are so many of them, and Lucas has been carrying them so long. There was a time when Derek wrote every night, wrote as if words were saving his life, and maybe they were. We were two cars away when the bomb went off. Lucas remembers the letter, Derek's tiny cramped writing in the pocket notebook he always carried. One of our guys was killed, but mostly it was just random people on their way to work. There was this woman cut in half -- sliced right through at the waist, it was like a cartoon, the rest of her was gone, but then I couldn't figure out what was coming out of her, these tubes, like shiny plastic hoses, so I had to get closer and then I saw it was intestines and I'm laughing like some evil motherfucker because all I can think of is SPILL YOUR GUTS!
He never talked about any of it. Like he'd written it once and now it was out of him, gone. "Just let it rest," Derek said the last time Lucas saw him, and Lucas tried. Two years ago, the last time anyone had seen Derek. He's been letting it rest, and then the birds started showing up everywhere. Last week Lucas was driving and his windshield cracked for no reason. There at a stoplight, no one around for miles except those crows, and the clear glass patterned itself into a mosaic, crazy spirals opening up like the eye of God.
Lucas leans over the fire, letting his arms dangle, hands so close he feels the heat, almost painful but somehow good. White sage and fire. He's waiting for cleansing. Breakage. He breathes in the smoke and watches a black bird land in a pine tree on the other side of the field. The bird doesn't move but Lucas is pretty sure it's watching him too.
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This work is copyrighted by the author, Kathryn Kulpa. All rights reserved.