The sand was so hot underfoot I crow-hopped to the ocean. Fucking California, I hollered up at squawking seagulls I couldn’t see for all the smoke. The waves broke over and over—their repetition oddly comforting—everything else was so foreign; especially the dense, orange sky. Farm animals baaed and whinnied in the sand; people had erected make-shift paddocks out of driftwood and ropes and beach chairs, anything to try to contain the terrified animals.
I texted Mom: Got out. The message failed. Why was I bothering? Her demented brain likely wasn’t even aware of the wildfires. I spun her bracelet on my wrist; the charms jingled. It was probably the only thing I now owned. Would she remember she gave it to me? Rubbing the gold heart, I recited what my father had inscribed to her: There will still be you and me. Never had I felt so utterly alone.
I texted Jimmy: We lost the house. Message failed. But our relationship already had.
Down the beach a man hollered, “Stop the horse!” It was barreling toward me. My heart was in my throat but I flailed my arms and the horse reared, his eyes wild, his terror absolute. Caught between the palisade and the roaring ocean, I begged the horse to quiet. My voice was alien, calm and assuring, as if this weren’t the end of everything. He stood, half in the water, half out, sides heaving with exertion. The musky animal of him mixing with the smoke and salt water settled me some. I moved toward him, the waves hitting us both. I put my hand out and gently touched his fur. “It’s okay, you’re okay,” I said.
Header photo by ashkabe, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Anamyn Turowski by Jacqueline LaChance McKeon.