Maureen: Not any fire? Just ashes?
G: I guess. I don't know what blowing fire would look like.
M: Wouldn't there just be tongues of licking flame?
G: Well people always talk about tongues of flame. There's something Pentecostal about it. But fire does seem alive, doesn't it?
M: Yes. (Pauses.) I think it might be. Even the embers.
G: Even when you can't see any more flame through the smoke?
G: Did you say you worked around here?
M: Yes. I work at the cafe just down the street, on the corner of Cobb and Sullivan.
M: That's it. I don't think I've seen you in there. (Pauses and gazes intently at the fire.) Wow. This house has a balcony on the third story.
G: The fire's not there yet.
M: I should go home and sleep. But this fire will keep me awake. Kind of a holographic imprint. Only with sound. Not a memory. More immediate. Bigger. More present. Do you ever get that?
G: Not quite.
G: I have a kind of synesthesia that happens when I'm working sometimes. Usually it's strongest around the big cats. That sad old king with the tattered mane. Then sometimes with the lemurs. Don't ask me why.
M: Because they're so noisy?
G: (Chuckles.) I don't think so. But maybe.
M: What else?
G: The wolves.
M: (Softly but eagerly) I can see that. Kind of. Tell me something. Tell me a time.
G: With the wolves?
M: Yes. With the wolves.
G: (Takes a deep breath and rubs his eyes.) This was last week. These wolves are getting old. Their attachment to each other is almost (pauses again).....palpable. They don't have the territory to heal when they need to. So things just hang around in this air.....(Sweeps an arm towards the entrance to the zoo, down the street.)
M: Go on.
G: So, they bay and yip and howl during the day, now. Midmorning, midafternoon. There doesn't seem to be a pattern to it. I've paid very close attention and it seems to happen independently of anything I can see. So last week this big male was loping across the grass towards the edge, the fence, where the hidden gate is. I could see his fur through flashing through the leaves. He knew I was watching him. He ran right up to the gate. Like he could go through it or it wasn't there. Then he skidded to a stop. Very undignified and very unlike him. He didn't know what to do with himself, after that. I felt embarrassed and sad for him. I went the other way.
G: I know. You know what's really odd, though? Not what happened but how I received it. How it (pauses) registered with me. (Glances at her as if to make sure she is following him.)
M: Please. Tell me the rest.
G: Well, it isn't a story. Just how.....well, it was like I heard him running. He wasn't making any noise, but it seemed like I could hear the air around him moving aside. Or something. Not his footfall, you understand. But the air itself. Like it was alive and trying to give him room. Moving aside for him....
I wrote this in response to a dialogue exercise a couple of summers ago and tweaked it a bit just now as I typed. The prompt read "A zookeeper talks to a waitress at a house fire." I named the zookeeper Gray and the waitress Maureen. I may do something more with this. I didn't come to a satisfactory stopping place.
©Laura Sorrells 2012
all rights reserved