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Jack and Jill

by Bruce Stirling

Spewing smoke, the old car carried Jack and Jill up the mountainside. They pulled over and let the engine cool. The valley below, carpeted with pine, spread out at their feet.

“Look,” Jill said, pointing at a pillar of smoke rising from the valley floor.

“That’s where we had lunch,” Jack said.

Jill paled. “No. Oh, God no.”

Jack turned away. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

He crushed his cigarette out as a plane circled a sudden leap of flame fed by record heat and no rain. As they drove off, fire trucks raced down into the valley, which was rapidly filling with smoke.

That night at the motel, they watched the news.

“One dead,” the announcer said. “Thousands of acres of old growth gone.”

Jack turned away and took a cold shower that felt burning hot. Finished, he sat on the bed, the lighter she'd given him for his birthday clenched in his hand.

“A cigarette,” his wife said, turning the TV off. “They say that's what started it.”

She pulled the curtain back a crack and peered into the black. In the distance, sirens wailed as the smell of smoke crept under the door.

She climbed into bed but couldn't sleep. Long after midnight, she finally asked, “Am I a good wife?”

“Forget it,” he said.

“Am I?”

“What's done is done.”

He held her as she cried.

The next morning they rose early and watched the news. Three dead. Five houses destroyed. Record heat. No rain forecast. The governor had declared a state of emergency.

They checked out and drove off, the old car struggling as the National Guard raced by.

Twenty miles down the road, they pulled over. She offered him a cigarette. He turned away. She shook one out for herself only to shove it back. They pushed on.

At the first gas station they came to, they bought a pack of gum. They split a stick. They hadn't done that since they were kids.

Copyright © 2007 by Bruce Stirling

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