As we drive back east from Anacortes, we leave the heat and the haze behind. We listen to the rain as it bathes us in coolness, washes the soot out of the skies. You keep your eyes on the road, and I watch my own reflection in the window, the rivulets of water rolling down my cheeks. On the radio, they say that the flames have died; the smoke is clearing; that now, at last, we can breathe again.
The day before, we’d walked out to Crescent Beach with your mother. Ash from the wildfires lay in a black film over the water. “It’s suffocating the poor creatures,” she said. She showed me a starfish clinging to the bottom of a rock, abandoned by the tide. I picked up the empty shell of a shore crab. Perhaps it had moved on to better things. “It’s so nice that he’s found a friend at college,” she told me. “A boy his own age. He never had a brother.” The respirator muffled her voice, and her eyes, like yours, were unreadable. If you were ever going to tell her, the moment was now. But you had already moved on, turning over a different rock, and left us there, alone together, abandoned to the lie.
Three days ago, on the way out to your mother’s house, the clouds had been tinged with red, the sun weak and struggling in the roiling skies. It was a long drive from the U to the ferry landing. I told you I was starving. You refused to stop. You said your mother would have made a big meal for us; she’d be waiting, hungry, so we could eat together; you couldn’t disappoint her like that. When we arrived, after an hour of holding our breath on the boat so we wouldn’t inhale the smoke, and more driving on the wandering island road, there was no one home. She’d left a note for us: she’d gone out to buy respirator masks, and then she was meeting a friend for lunch. You found rotis and warmed them on the stove, your black eyes flickering brown in the light of the flame. When I took a bite, my mouth caught fire. I could hardly breathe.
Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story, Jellyfish Review, and Pidgeonholes, and is forthcoming from Paper Darts. Find her on Twitter @vanyala.