The Fireside Café
The Fireside Cafe is an odd mix of adult fascination and childhood wonder. I wrote it hoping to capture the imagery of a candle as the beginning of fire and how powerful that can be though it seems so small. In the end, the story became a way of bridging protection and love into a single concept conveyed from a mother to a child. It is her child in the story, but honestly, as I wrote it the blood relation was irrelevant and it was more about an adult bringing light into a child’s life, and through her story, giving the child hope toward becoming an adult.
Today, stories appeal to me in new ways, but I believe that the magic they brought to me during my adolescence has remained. If anything, I see more connections now, and I hope that some of that comes through in the story.
The Fireside Café
She seemed so far away. Sitting with her hair falling softly around her face, she looked comfortable and content. Her dress was white, flawlessly folded around her body. It was a summer dress, to be sure, with thin straps exposing the smoothness of the skin of her shoulders, holding the dress up and probably crossing somewhere in the middle of her yet unrevealed back. Her legs were hidden in swirled whiteness as the dress crumpled up from where it spilled onto the sandy beach.
The café was set on the beach. It lay just before an eternity of ocean, the purest, softest bed of snowy sand. And on the sand they served coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, and velvet mochas to those who cared to sit and watch the sun pass time. The kinds of people who can quietly read alone immersed in someone else’s imagination and still observe the slightest changes. They see the wavering in the greens and blues of the water, feel the most subtle hesitance in the breeze, and recognize the simplest introduced scent of another who wants to take a seat and feel the tide. The café seemed to run up and down the entire expanse of the beach. There were no seats or tables to distract from the scenery. Oddly placed shallow pits separated one patron from the next.
They were sitting alone. Everyone so far who had arrived on the beach was without company. Each had his or her drink delicately in hand, watching the sun make its way to the water. It appeared as though their gazes were locked on somewhere out there, but I think they were lost in themselves. It was strange to see such a gathering of individuals.
In the center of each pit was a log standing up on its end. Most were charred from long nights of burning, but she sat before a log free of blackness. A breeze caught in her hair and lofted the curled auburn strands for a moment, a moment of exquisite beauty. Every person there was beautiful, and each one held a certain reverence for that breeze. It was as though they dreamed of willing themselves out onto that wind. There was something happening.
The sun was just low enough to alter the hues of the surrounding sky. The waves were peaking out in sparks, twinkling brightly, saying goodnight. If they were saying goodnight to each other or the beachside observers, I don’t know. Overhead and behind, above the roof of the brewery that served the shore, purple was bleeding into the blue.
She lifted her mug to her lips and took an imperceptible sip from its limited reservoir. It was then that I determined to sit beside her, no matter what propriety I might be violating. There was such a curiosity surrounding her, I could not steal my eyes back. But my bare feet hesitated too long because I saw a gentlemen already making his way over to her.
He was a man of austere angles, a chiseled face, but elegant in his loose grey blazer and pants. Crossing the sand smoothly, he came up to her from behind and slowly rounded to her front. Hanging down from his right hand was a pair of dress shoes, his fingers hooked inside the heels. As he folded to the ground without greeting I noticed that his face, though markedly handsome and strong, possessed a disarming softness. The deep blue of his eyes engaged her with intense adoration. They looked like strangers with a higher sense of familiarity.
The air was becoming slowly cooler as the sun continued in its passage. It was heading to the ocean to be extinguished, to put to rest the day’s events. Colors began to ribbon the horizon and above the purple was deepening. The water was splashed with orange and red and yellow. The display captured everyone’s attention except the young man’s. He continued to stare fixedly at the woman across from him.
It happens more and more quickly each time that I see it. The sun spreads out over the water and shrinks back into itself as it sinks into the ocean. It is just a spark before it winks out and I realize how close the night is. The air turned cool and the breeze calmed.
The water was thickened with silver and indigo. In the fading light I saw the woman as a strangely illumined cloud, her dress catching whatever remnants of light were curving around the earth. She turned to face him. The man smiled and she followed close behind, returning his favor. I was so engrossed that I barely noticed the waiter sandaling over to them. He brought no food or beverages but instead a box of matches. He stood between them and waited.
The man reached out his hand to the woman and she accepted. They stood together with choreographed ease, neither helping the other. Their hand never parted though they held loosely, gently. The boy in uniform was still visible between them and still waiting.
Hand in hand they turned toward where the sun had set and bowed. The waiter leaned over and struck a match that I did not see him draw on the side of the box. The little light showed so much. Everyone at the café was anticipating a moment, watching the two perhaps even more closely than was I. The waiter touched his match to the log and it came to life, bringing the night with it. Hurried by some unseen superior, he dashed away from the pair.
The flame was strange, wrong. It was bright and strong, so strong that it did not waver or flicker or move at all. The entire log was ablaze with a static fire, a supernatural warmth.
The man pulled the woman closer to him and held both of her hands. He tugged her gently even closer until they were chest to chest. They closed their eyes simultaneously, and from their back, unfolded great wings. I was no longer breathing.
They began to dance. Their bodies were completely united by motion and emotion. And as they danced their wings beat firmly against the air. They rose turning slowly and the flame at their feet fluttered and flickered, spurred into life by the currents of wind flowing from the couple. They dance. They danced and the flames danced with them, and with our eyes.
“I’m going to light this candle for you honey. To keep you through the evening.”
The woman was maybe twenty-eight years old. She was pretty; smiling at her little boy tucked so snugly into his tiny bed, hugging his teddy. “Everything is going to be fine. You will have marvelously sweet dreams and your mama will be right next door in case you need anything. You aren’t sleeping alone.”
She lit the candle at his bedside night table. There were coloring books and crayons in disarray around the room and on the little table beneath the candle’s dish. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.
“Goodnight sweetie.” She stood and went over to the door.
She turned off the overhead light.
“Remember when you see the flame flickering and fluttering and waving it just means there are angels dancing in your room, and I love you.”