• Desi Smith

Love & Bonfires

“Hey,” I said, making my smile twice as wide. “Steve is just getting the tent. Sorry, we’re late. Musicians,” I rolled my eyes.

The bonfire was roaring before we arrived, late as usual, because Steve had decided some new girl singer’s band rehearsal was more important than making the scheduled cookout time with my new friends, Iris and Shaun, two Brits I’d met at our local co-op. They had extended an overnight beach camping invitation. I was so excited, and had been planning and talking about it all week with him.

“This was my thing,” I told Steve, my voice hard, fired up in anger. “Remember when you used to care about the things that mattered to me?”

“I still do, babe,” Steve said with exasperation, hands clutching the wheel. “I lost track of time.”

Ryan Adams sang twang melancholy about loves lost in the background, as we drove winding Kanan Dune through the tunnels and back down to PCH watching the last of the sun set brilliant pink and disappear into the Pacific. I could feel I’d reached the hard edge of his patience, but continued, “If this had been an event with your musician friends, we wouldn’t be late. But no, I’m excited for one thing, camping overnight, with new friends. Friends who could be our friends. And we’re an hour late.”

“I know we’re late. You keep reminding me. I can’t make it better,” Steve replied between clenched teeth.

“What’s going on with us?”

He shrugged. “Nothing. I love you.”

I love was his answer for everything when he didn’t want to have a real conversation. Steve drove in silence while I wiped away tears to keep my face from turning puffy and red in front of Iris and Shaun. I didn’t want to look like a basket case. They were hip, lean, did groovy things like the co-op, volunteering at a soup kitchen, hiking the Andes. They had a real marriage. I leaned over and changed the station on the satellite radio. “And, I’m sick of listening to Ryan Adams,” I said, even though I wasn’t. Lucinda Williams raw and pure edge came to life, growling, “I love you mama, you’re sweet. I love you mama you’re sweet.”

We pulled into the beach parking lot, pit fires flaring orange up and down the strand.

Steve parked, turned off the car, and looked to me. “I love you,” he repeated.

Before he could utter another lame fucking excuse, I snapped, “You bring the tent. I’ll grab the rest,” and climbed out the passenger door. “And try not to hit on my new friends,” slamming it shut.

Adorable Iris and Shaun were snuggled in a chair in front of the fire, drinking wine and grilling soy burgers when I stomped to the site.

“Hey,” they said in unison, smiling but not bothering to get up from their comfortable seat because they were not people-pleasers, like me. They knew what they brought to the friendship table. Their accents, their scrubbed fresh faces, cheeks rouge-colored from wine and sun and love.

“Hey,” I said, making my smile twice as wide. “Steve is just getting the tent. Sorry, we’re late. Musicians,” I rolled my eyes.

“No worries, mate,” Shaun said, finally standing. “Beer or wine?”

The Brits were big drinkers. Steve brought the pot. And Woody, of course. Couldn’t go one night without being in the spotlight. And, I drank a lot of wine, more than my usual glass. In my defense I hadn’t realized how beautiful Iris was until I saw Steve see her for the first time. His eyes devoured her long lanky legs poking out from short shorts, underpants almost visible, small round behind, flat tight waist to halter top that revealed an almost flat chest, thin toned arms. All night long he watched Iris playing frisbee, laughing, drinking wine. Iris with her soft blonde bob, big blue eyes, a wide smile that boasted a slightly crooked eye tooth that only made her sexier somehow even though she smoked. She didn’t do anything to encourage it, maybe flirted a little, maybe sat on his lap at one point after too many beers when they’d started tequila shots. Shaun hadn’t seemed to mind. Teasing Steve at one point, “Please, she’s a lot. Take her off my hands for the night.”

At one point, it seemed like my husband considered it, as he played and sang a song I’d written, performing only to her, drawing Iris into him in that way he had. Just as Iris started to feel like the only girl in the room, Shaun changed his mind and took her into their tent. Yes, and no one asked me where I wanted to, or with whom I wanted to, sleep with that night. I was dressed in old baggy jeans with a big t-shirt thinking camping not modeling, my hair frizzy on my head, not short shorts and a halter top. It was cold out. And so I drank. And drank. And ate a bag of potato chips, because I was still hungry, and soy makes me bloat.

Later, inside our tent, the canvas swaying, spinning, slightly nauseated, I forced myself to focus on my husband above me, dry humping, pounding in and out, silently, without looking at my face. I was so dry, my mouth, my eyes, my vagina, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Babe,” he said, grunting, dirty talking the way he liked. “Fuck me.”

“I am,” I said, rolling and climbing on top of him swallowing back the vomit. Pretending that I was into it. I circled my hips for emphasis. “Oh baby,” I said, though I’d never been one who preferred sex talk during sex, I did try to meet his needs.

And then in the most horrible racist Asian accent Steve could muster, he said, “Babe, say, ‘Me love you long time’.”

My hips stopped moving, but the tent kept swaying. “What?”

“Say, ‘Me love you long time’,” he repeated in the horrible accent.

I pushed his chest away, crawling off of him. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Jesus,” he replied, not sitting up, hard cock staring between us. “It’s sex talk.”

“From some Asian hooker porn site for racist white guys?” I screamed. “You are disgusting, disgusting.”

He sighed. “Asian women are everyone’s ideal.”

My stomach lurched as if I’d just been punched. “Why did you even marry me?” I screamed.

I scrambled on my hands and knees out the tent flap racing barefoot across the sand toward the public bathrooms. arriving too late to open the door, projectile vomiting against the concrete wall of the building.

After the retching stopped, throat and chest sore, I went inside the filthy beach bathroom and washed my face and hands, rinsed out my mouth, and stepped back out across the sticky, sandy floor. Too drunk to escape via car, I searched for a large rock near the fire pit, but then spotted a better plan.

When I crawled back inside the tent with the lit kerosene lantern, Steve was snoring fast asleep, penis still erect. In the morning, he wouldn’t remember what he’d said to me, the woman who worked two jobs to support his fledgling musical career. Even if Steve recalled the unkind words he’d drilled into my heart because he’d been too high, too drunk, and wishing he could fuck anyone other than his wife, preferably Asian, he wouldn’t care. I was tired of feeling like a piece of shit.

The lantern accidentally tipped, lighting a patch of canvas. As the tent went up in flames, onlookers down the beach said the orange glare was like a harvest moon. The deceased’s wife was in the bathroom at the time the fire started, read his obit in the LA Times. Camping accidents, warned the paper, happen all the time.

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