Burner Season

by Ellie Sawatzky

Ellie Sawatzky’s poetry and prose have appeared across North America with Prairie Fire, Arc Poetry Magazine, EVENT, the anthology Best New Poets 2014, and others. She was recently awarded second place in FreeFall Magazine’s annual poetry contest. Ellie holds an MFA from UBC’s Creative Writing program, and lives in Vancouver, where she spends her spare time singing with a folk-rock cover choir and wandering the streets with borrowed dogs.


After his daughter, Lynnie, was asleep, Wiseman stood in the kitchen of his mother’s mobile home, unpacking a box labeled “Kitchen Stuff.” His mother had had an extensive mug collection—her cupboards were filled with them. Everywhere she travelled, she had brought back a mug. Eugene, Spokane, Seattle. Then people had started bringing her mugs from their travels—“World of Walt Disney,” “Don’t Mess With Texas,” “Made in Winnipeg.” Wiseman tried reorganizing the cupboard, shifting and stacking, but it didn’t do much good. The kitchen was small to begin with. He paused, turning one of the mugs over in his hands. It had a pine-trees-and-sunset decal on it, and the words “Sunny Minnesota.” Elaine, his ex-wife, was from Minnesota. She was living there now for all he knew.

Wiseman set the mug down gently on the counter and exited the house through the screen door onto the porch. Darkness had thrown itself around the brown shoulders of the mountains and the town of Winema. A layer of clouds obscured the moon and stars, and the “Office” sign in front of his mother’s house glowed faintly. At the centre of the RV park was a concrete building, a couple of dim, buggy lights flickering over the bathroom doors. Mobile homes on either side of him made a horseshoe shape around the property, and a few windows pulsed with cold, blue TV light.

This was the landscape of Wiseman’s childhood, frozen in time. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had done the right thing, uprooting Lynnie and bringing her all the way back here, to the very site of his own upbringing. Months earlier, when his mother got sick, he’d dropped out of the English lit program at the North Seattle Community College, packed up the apartment he and Lynnie shared, and took his mother’s place as owner and manager of Wiseman’s RV Park. Since then, he’d been trying to fit his life and Lynnie’s into the already crowded house—their stuff mixing with his mother’s stuff, things from Wiseman’s adult life fraternizing with things from his boyhood. He imagined them whispering to each other, plastic tumblers bumping shoulders with cocktail glasses, a dog-eared Goosebumps book nuzzling up against The Norton Anthology of American Literature.

This was the landscape of Wiseman’s childhood, frozen in time.

He sat on the porch steps. The park was strangely calm. The last three nights, almost every RV site had been occupied by Burners. They were up until the wee hours of the morning, sitting around the fire, smoking dope, playing electronic music on their stereos. It was the last week of August, what residents of Winema called “Burner Season.” The town leaned back on the Oregon border, just two hundred miles northwest of the Black Rock Desert, where thousands of hippies flocked every year at this time, on their way to the Burning Man festival. Wiseman’s mother had always enjoyed Burner Season. They were like exotic birds, she said, in white bread Winema. Wiseman remembered her saying it when he was in high school, and over the years the Burning Man movement had only gained momentum. This year they’d come through in groups, mostly twenty- or thirty-somethings, though they were all ages, dreadlocked and pierced, driving Volkswagen buses, RVs, Budget rental trucks. Their bikes, on vehicle racks, were decked out with glow-in-the-dark electrical tape, streamers, fake flowers, hot pink fur. They stopped in Winema to stock up on bottled water and booze and other supplies. The less conservative residents took advantage of the accidental tourism. A week before, signs popped up in front of the K-Mart and Home Depot—“Welcome Burners!”—and the owners of the local head shop, Tammy and Raymond Campbell, set up a tye-dyed T-shirt stand in the liquor store parking lot. It was Wednesday now, and most of them had already passed through. They would be back after the weekend, coated in desert dust and swarming the RV park showers.

In the low light, Wiseman surveyed his mother’s garden, a small, dry plot of land enclosed by a wooden fence. There were more ugly knick-knacks than plants—wind chimes, beaded dragonflies on copper poles, a surplus of ceramic fairies, and even one of those stuffed dolls that’s supposed to look like a sulking toddler hiding its face, dressed in overalls and a plaid shirt that had long since gone to rags. This was the kind of thing Wiseman knew he should be able to get rid of, and yet the thought of throwing it away brought a lump into the bottom of his throat. A few years back, when Lynnie was practically the same size as that doll, she’d given it a name: Huey Lewis. Elaine had played Picture This on a loop in the car during the nine-hour drive from Seattle. It was the last time they were all happy together. “Honey, you could attach sentiment to a pair of socks,” Elaine said to him once. He’d inherited this trait from his mother. In all of her sixty-eight years, the woman had never gotten rid of a damn thing.

A vehicle made a turn off the 139, its headlights blazing through the park. An RV, an eighteen-footer, crunched gravel and trundled like a giant turtle down the road towards him. Wiseman checked his watch. It was almost eleven. The RV pulled into the loop at the end of the horseshoe and came to a stop. A couple of bikes were visible on the rack at the back, one of them with a zebra-striped seat. A light came on in the cab and Wiseman saw two people, a man and a woman. The man was in the driver’s seat. There was a brief conversation between them, or maybe an argument, and then the man opened the door and got out.

Wiseman stood up and walked to the gate. “Hello there.”

The man touched his hand to the brim of his leather fedora and peered at Wiseman. “Hi,” he said. “You the manager?” He’d left the RV door open and the woman leaned over from the passenger seat to hear what was being said, or else to get a look at Wiseman.

“That’s me,” Wiseman said. “You need a spot for the night? You can take your pick.” He motioned to the sites at the centre of the property, the rows of wooden posts for electrical hookup, circles of stumps around ashy fire pits.

“Good, yeah,” the man said, looking.

In the cab, the woman turned off the engine and unbuckled her seat belt. She got out of the RV and came around to where the man stood. They both looked to be in their early forties. She wore cut-offs and combat boots, and her hair was long and sand-coloured. She stood with her hands on her hips and smiled at Wiseman.

“You’re late to the party,” Wiseman said to them.

“Sorry?” the man said.

“Burning Man.” Wiseman gestured east. “The party’s going on without you.”

“We came all the way from Vancouver.” The woman gathered great handfuls of her hair while she spoke, piling it on top of her head. “And we had a late start.” From her back pocket, she produced what appeared to be a long, slender bone, which she rammed through her hair to hold it in place.

“Vancouver,” Wiseman said. “Canada?”

They both nodded.

“Nice. We used to live in Seattle.”

“Oh, we love Seattle.” The woman smiled and nodded heartily, first at Wiseman, and then at her companion, who cleared his throat and touched the brim of his hat again. She said, “Are you new here? We usually stop on our way back home, and it’s always been this woman—Carl, what was her name?” She nudged her companion. “Oh—Patti,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s my mother,” Wiseman said. “Patti was my mother. She passed away two weeks ago.”

“Oh my God.” The woman clutched her heart. “You poor thing. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“It’s okay.”

“We loved Patti. She was the sweetest.”

“Addison,” Carl said, “for Christ’s sakes.”

“It’s okay,” Wiseman said again. “Really.”

“We don’t usually stop here on our way out,” Addison said. “We usually go straight on through. They’re saying on the radio that it’s storming down there.”

“In Nevada?”

“It’s been raining all day. The playa’s a mess. It gets like glue when it’s wet, so they’re not letting any vehicles in.”

“Some desert,” Wiseman said. “What can you count on if you can’t count on a desert to be dry?”

“Tell me about it. I’m starting to realize I can’t count on much these days.” Addison laughed and looked at Carl. Her laugh was odd, Wiseman thought—loud and hard. Her smile, too. It didn’t seem to suit her face. He thought of Lynnie, hoped the noise wouldn’t wake her. She’d been having trouble sleeping since the move.

Carl cleared his throat again and looked over his shoulder at the RV.

“Well, let’s hope it clears up soon,” Wiseman said.

“Oh, it better.” Addison grabbed hold of Carl’s hand. “We’ve got a wedding to take care of.”

“All right, Addison,” Carl said.

Wiseman bobbed his head. He’d heard of people getting married at Burning Man. “Well, congratulations. That’s great.”

Carl shuffled his feet. “It’s late anyway. We should probably let you go.”

“It’s okay.” A door opened behind Wiseman, and he turned around. Lynnie stood on the porch in her pyjamas, sucking her thumb. Lynnie was seven—too old to still be sucking her thumb.

“Hi, sweetheart,” Addison said. “Did we wake you?”

Lynnie shook her head. Wiseman walked over to the porch and she stepped down into his arms. She was heavy and warm from sleep. A stuffed dog dangled from her free hand.

“We have some guests,” Wiseman said. He noted the way Lynnie’s long legs wrapped around his waist when he held her. She was getting too old to be carried too.

“What’s your name sweetie?” Addison said.

Lynnie put her head on Wiseman’s shoulder.

“She’s shy.”

“No,” Wiseman said, “she’s a con artist.”

Lynnie smiled. She tapped her stuffed dog against Wiseman’s chest and removed her thumb from her mouth. “I don’t even see the moon,” she said.

“See that?” Wiseman said. “She’s trying to con me into thinking it’s not night.”

Carl reached for his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

Wiseman told him. Lynnie beat her dog harder against his chest and stomach. He tried to temper his impatience. “Lynnie, stop that please.”

“My dog wants to play, Dad.”

“Playtime in the daytime,” Wiseman said. “That’s the rule.”

“At least ‘til you’re a bit older.” Addison winked at Lynnie.

Carl handed Wiseman the money.

“I’ll write you a receipt.”

“I don’t need one,” Carl said.

Wiseman tucked Lynnie back into bed, pulling the blanket up to her chin. Now that they were alone, he regretted being short with her. She relied on him so completely, and he was afraid of being unable to give her what she needed. He could barely manage his own needs, and the last thing he wanted was for his unhappiness to rub off on Lynnie. She was a child—she deserved to be carefree, her days strung one after the other like fairy lights.

“I can’t sleep,” she said.

“It’s okay,” Wiseman said. “I’ll stay here until you can.”

Lynnie took her arms out from under the blanket. She ran her hands up and down on top of the blue flannel, then put her thumb back in her mouth and gazed glassy-eyed at the empty fish tank at the end of the bed. This was Wiseman’s childhood bedroom, and it had remained perfectly intact over the years. His mother hadn’t changed anything, not the sun-bleached curtains at the window, not even the threadbare sheets. The fish tank had been empty for decades. Wiseman thought maybe he would get Lynnie a fish. He’d had some goldfish when he was her age, the kind with delicate blowsy fins that swirled and billowed as they swam around and around under that blue light, all night long. It had been nice to have something to focus on, something other than the thoughts that swam around inside his head.

He could barely manage his own needs, and the last thing he wanted was for his unhappiness to rub off on Lynnie.

When she was asleep, he returned to the kitchen. “Sunny Minnesota” still sat on the counter, mocking him. Two years had passed since Wiseman had last seen his wife. Elaine hadn’t liked Seattle. “It’s one long season,” she’d complained. “Like autumn never ends.” She hadn’t liked being a mother much either, or being married to Wiseman when she was pretty sure she was a serious lesbian. She’d said that—“I’m pretty sure I’m a serious lesbian”—as if it wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if she was less serious about her lesbianism. Last he’d heard, she was living somewhere in the Twin Cities, dating a man who worked for the government. Wiseman’s mother had warned him about Elaine. “Now look,” the mug seemed to be saying. “Look what you’re left with.”

Wiseman put it back in the cupboard and closed the door.

The Burners were still around at noon the next day. He had seen them going back and forth to the bathroom building, had seen Addison come out wearing only a towel. When he stepped onto the porch, he could hear the low buzz of a man’s radio voice coming from their RV stereo.

It was still overcast, and the sky looked like a rumpled blanket. Jordana Heyens from a few doors down came over to play with Lynnie. Jordana was nine, and Lynnie adored her. All little girls adored older girls, Wiseman had learned. It was a thing.

Jordana and Lynnie ran off into the small woods behind the park, and Jordana’s mother, Holly, came over a few minutes later. Over the last two weeks, Wiseman had grown accustomed to frequent visits from Holly. She was a stocky, stumpy woman with the high cheekbones and well-formed features of a fashion model. She had been close with his mother. After the funeral, she’d brought him a bouquet of snapdragons. Sitting across from him at the kitchen table, she’d cried and told him his mother had been like a mother to her. This didn’t surprise Wiseman. His mother had had a way of making people feel like they were the centre of her universe, that they could tell her anything.

Now Holly leaned on the fence, jerking her head towards the Burners’ RV. “They’re a little late aren’t they?”

“It’s raining in Black Rock City.” Wiseman shrugged.

“They look foreign,” Holly said. “Johnny and I were just saying this morning how they look Swedish or something.”

“They’re from Vancouver.”

“Ah, Canada! I knew it.”

She asked Wiseman if he would keep an eye on Jordana while she ran some errands. Wiseman’s mother had often looked after Jordana for Holly. “I have to bring something to Johnny at work,” she said, which meant that she had to check to see if Johnny was, in fact, at work, and not somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. Eagle’s Pub, for instance. “Johnny’s a bit of a drinker,” Holly had told Wiseman, “but at least he’s not abusive.” Every so often, Johnny would come home drunk in the middle of the night to find that Holly had locked him out. Wiseman would wake to the sound of Johnny banging on the side of the trailer and hollering, and Holly, out the window, saying, “If you would just get a fucking grip!” Johnny would spend the rest of the night sleeping in his car, and Holly always let him back in in the morning.

When Holly was gone, Wiseman sat down on the bottom step. Jordana and Lynnie came barreling out of the woods and past him into the house. They re-emerged moments later, Jordana wearing a pair of swim goggles, and Lynnie with one of Wiseman’s mother’s blouses tied around her shoulders like a cape.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Wiseman said.

The girls turned back, deeply perturbed by this interruption in their game of make-believe.

“You can’t wear that,” Wiseman said to Lynnie. “That’s Grandma’s.”

“But these are my wings.” Lynnie flapped the arms of the blouse.

Wiseman went into the house and came back with one of his own shirts. “Use this instead.”

Lynnie complied reluctantly, and the girls returned to their play. Wiseman folded the blouse and lay it over the porch railing.

“Cute kids. How many do you have?” Addison leaned on the fence, her hair still wet from her shower and tied in a long braid.

“The other one’s not mine,” Wiseman said, but Addison smiled her odd smile, and he could see that she already knew that. “So,” he said, “still raining?”

“Yep.” She opened the gate and came into the garden. “It’s weird. They often get rain out there, but in little spurts. It doesn’t usually last this long.”

“Too bad,” Wiseman said.

Addison stood with her hands on her hips, inspecting a stone statue of a gnome pushing a wheelbarrow, then a set of wind chimes that tinkled gently in a bay laurel. Her scrutiny unnerved him. He could sense her passing judgment.

“You’re probably anxious to get there. What day is your wedding?”

“Saturday. Day after tomorrow.” She wandered over to the sulking doll, its stuffed arms folded and leaning against the side of the house, blank face pressed into them. “This is cute.” She laughed. “Your mom’s, I’m assuming?”

“Yeah.” Wiseman put his hands in his pockets. “That’s Huey Lewis.”

Addison laughed again, but not in a disparaging way, as he might have expected. She nodded as if this made perfect sense.

“So … how does it work exactly?” Wiseman sat down. “A Burning Man wedding. I mean, is there like a minister?”

“We have a friend who’s a shaman. He’s married us all the other times. It’s so great—we burn sage, and there’s a drum circle.”

“All the other times you got married?”

“The first time was in ’03. It’s our thing. Any marriage that lasts—you have to make it work, some way. Once a year we shed all of our shit. Our baggage. It’s like starting over.”

Wiseman was amazed. He knew people sometimes renewed their vows after being married for many years. He’d never heard of a couple getting married over and over again. But it made sense, in a crazy way.

It was a statement, not a question. Some understanding had passed between them.

Addison lowered herself onto the step, next to him. She took a pack of Camels out of the leather utility belt that she wore around her waist, then extracted a matchbook and lit one. Exhaling smoke, she said, “Carl didn’t want to do it this year.”

A spark fired in Wiseman’s brain, but he tried to appear nonchalant.

“Why’s that?”

“He’s got this girlfriend.” She shook her head, like, God, what a nuisance. “I mean, I knew about her and everything. We’re honest about stuff like that. I’ve had other men. But this one’s different.” She paused to take another drag. “He loves her.”

Wiseman nodded.

“He feels guilty. I make him feel guilty.” Addison was quiet. She was still trying to convince herself that things were okay, Wiseman realized. But her eyes were heavy-lidded and slow-moving. They landed on something and stayed there.

He listened to Lynnie’s shrill voice in the woods. The kids would be getting hungry soon.

Addison flicked ash into the silver sagebrush that grew all around the porch. “So you were married.” It was a statement, not a question. Some understanding had passed between them.

“I was,” Wiseman said. “Yep.”

He invited Addison for lunch. He invited Carl too, but Addison waved her hand in front of her face, as if she were moving a branch or a cobweb. “He won’t come,” she said. “He’s sulking.”

“It’s nothing special,” Wiseman said. “I’m only making box macaroni.”

“That’s the best kind.”

Wiseman put on a pot of water on the stove and Addison studied his bookshelf, trailing a finger along the spines. She made a little humming sound in her throat while she did this. She tipped a copy of Finnegans Wake out into her hand and thumbed through it. “Did you know James Joyce was nearly blind?”

“I didn’t,” Wiseman said.

“He wrote with a blue crayon and wore a white coat to reflect light onto the page.” She replaced the book. “You’ve got a lot of books.”

“I was studying English lit in Seattle before I came here. I never did the whole college thing when I was younger, so.”

“Will you sell this place and move back to Seattle?”

“I don’t know,” Wiseman said. “I grew up here.” Addison looked at him like she was expecting him to say more, but Wiseman just shrugged.

“And you’ve never been to Burning Man.”

“Nope. It was never really my thing.”

“Yeah,” Addison said, “I’m getting that.”

Heat rose to Wiseman’s cheeks. He turned away from her, opening the door to call Lynnie and Jordana.

Over lunch, the girls fought over who got to sit next to Addison. When she mentioned her wedding, they insisted she show them her dress.

“Is it okay?” she asked Wiseman. “If I show them?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

He cleaned up lunch and made another attempt at unpacking some of his kitchen stuff. There were boxes stacked in every corner of the house, like well-behaved animals, watching him. Something would have to go, he knew that. He couldn’t hang on to every little thing. He would suffocate.

A little while later, he heard the girls’ voices outside. He heard Lynnie saying, “Lookit me, Dad. Dad, look.”

He opened the door. Lynnie was running up from the RV. Over her clothes she wore a gold belt with trinkets hanging off of it. She also had on a pair of neon green wings. Jordana, behind her, was similarly dressed, wearing a white tutu and a collection of necklaces whose weight caused her head to bend forward slightly.

Addison brought up the rear, wearing a cream-coloured crocheted dress that tapered off below the knee into floor-length tassels. She had on some kind of headdress too, with white and brown feathers coming off of it, and what looked like antlers.

Wiseman said, “Who are you, the Lost Boys?”

“Dad, we’re girls,” Lynnie reminded him.

“Yeah, duh,” Jordana said.

“Right, duh,” Wiseman said.

“We’re going to build a man!” Lynnie said. She and Jordana were running past the house now. “And we’re going to burn it!”

Addison held up her hands as she went by. “Don’t shoot,” she said. “It was their idea,” and she followed the girls into the woods.

They meant business. Wiseman watched from the yard as the man took shape. Lynnie ran in and out of the house collecting elastic bands and bits of string and wire. The man’s body was made up of bundles of twigs and branches. Its head was a square-shaped frame with sticks crisscrossed inside it, and it had three stick legs, like a tripod, so it could stand on its own. It was almost as tall as Lynnie.

Carl came out of the RV and watched for a while, smoking. He said something to Addison, but she ignored him. Wiseman saw him look at her in her dress. Then look over to where Wiseman was standing on his porch. Wiseman waved and Carl raised one hand in return. Then he stubbed out his cigarette and went back inside.

Holly came back from town, her eyes bright and bloodshot, like she’d been crying. “What in God’s name is my daughter wearing?”

“They’re Addison’s costumes. Don’t worry, I’ve been keeping an eye on them.”

“Are they going to light that thing on fire?”

The man was propped up in the fire pit, and Lynnie and Jordana were shoving bits of dry grass between the sticks in the man’s head—for hair.

“I’m afraid so,” Wiseman said.

At this point, many of the residents had come outside to take a look. They sat on their porches or leaned on their fences. Neighbourhood kids gathered around the fire pit, watching.

A grey light hovered over the mountains beyond the town, about to slip away at any moment. Finally the man was ready to go. When Addison emerged from the RV with a bottle of lighter fluid, brandishing her matchbook, Wiseman crossed the road.

“Remind me to thank you for teaching my daughter to play with fire,” he said to her.

“This isn’t play,” Addison said. “This is as real as it gets.”

The man’s head was given a healthy dose of lighter fluid. “Keep a safe distance, girls.” Addison winked at Wiseman. Lynnie and Jordana held hands and jumped up and down. There was the scritch of a match being lit, and then the slow crackle of fire as the man’s grass hair went up in flames. The kids cheered. There were whoops from some of the neighbours.

Wiseman sat down on a stump. The RV door squeaked and Carl came out with a can of Beck’s in each hand. He offered one to Wiseman, who hesitated, and then accepted. “Cheers,” he said. Carl nodded and sat down. Lit a cigarette.

Electronic music thumped from the RV stereo. Addison linked hands with the girls and danced around the fire, the tassels of her wedding dress flying dangerously close to the flames.

‘This isn’t play,’ Addison said. ‘This is as real as it gets.’

Night closed in, and the neighbours drew close to the fire like insects. Holly wandered over and sat on a stump across from Wiseman, orange light flickering on her lovely face. “Watch your tutu,” she said to her daughter as the girl whirled past.

The man’s head crumbled and fell away. Addison added lighter fluid to the body, lit another match to keep it going. Wiseman watched Lynnie. Her neon wings were glow-in-the-dark, as it turned out, and the gold pieces of her belt floated around her. Maybe she’d become a dancer. When she leaned into him for a moment he could feel her heart pounding.

“Dad,” she said earnestly, looking up at him, “do you know what it’s called? The man? It’s called an effigy.”

Addison produced a package of hotdogs and a bag of buns, and they had dinner, roasting the dogs over the man’s flaming limbs. Addison sat on Wiseman’s left with Carl on her other side. “The first time I ever went to Burning Man I was going through a break-up,” she told Wiseman. “Not with a man, but with myself. It was a real crisis of faith. The Burn changed me. When I got home, I took a box of my old clothes and books and letters and things, and I buried it in the backyard. That was the year I met Carl.” She put her hand on Carl’s knee. “The great thing about this whole ritual is that it doesn’t mean any one thing. It’s about doing what you need to do, however you need to do it. It’s personal.”

Carl ran his hands through his hair a few times, then got up and walked away.

“Probably going to call his girlfriend,” Addison said, watching him go.

After a couple of hours, the charred frame of the man collapsed in on itself, black and powdery white rubble shifting over the remaining embers. It looked like it was trying to breathe.

Wiseman took Lynnie home to bed, and she fell asleep quickly, her hands on top of the covers, palms open to the ceiling.

In the kitchen, he opened the cupboard for a water glass and “Sunny Minnesota” gawked out at him. That was enough of that. He took the mug out into the garden, along with one of his mother’s trowels. He dug a hole behind the sagebrush and dumped the mug in, then covered it back up. He stood there for a while. He looked across the road. The fire had burned out and the RV windows were dark. Above him, the clouds had cleared enough space in the sky for a yellow splinter of moon.

Suddenly, he felt foolish. He uncovered the mug and brushed off the dirt. It was a perfectly good mug. He would take it to a thrift store, like any normal person. He carried it back inside, and then he went to bed, in his mother’s old room, surrounded by her things, things that were no longer of use to her, or to him, for that matter.

A knock on the door woke him at six a.m.

Addison stood on the porch wearing a halter-top and a skirt made of individual scraps of coloured fabric. Her wet hair draped over her shoulders and she held a towel and a little bag. “Last shower I’m going to be taking for a couple of days,” she said. “It finally stopped raining. Cleared up overnight and the playa should be mostly dried out by early afternoon.”

Wiseman glanced behind her at the empty lot.

“Carl’s gone to fuel up.” She laughed. “At least I hope he has. He was gone when I came out of the shower.” She held out a stack of bills. “What we owe you.”

“Come in,” Wiseman said.

He made her a piece of toast and a coffee in a “Pike Place Market” mug—one of his own. He sat across from her.

“Where’s Lynnie?” she asked.

“Still sleeping. She wore herself out yesterday.”

“She’s such a sweetheart.” Addison tapped her fingers on her mug. Her nails were painted dark purple. “Carl and I tried to have kids. We tried for a long time, and then we just sort of stopped trying. I told myself we had our lot and that was that.”

“You wish you had kids,” Wiseman said.

“Hell, I wish I had curly hair too. You know what they say.”

Wiseman knew.

Addison looked out the window. “Maybe Carl’s left me. Maybe he’s finally done with me.” She chewed her bottom lip. She wasn’t smiling anymore.

Wiseman sipped his coffee. Part of him held the guilty hope that Addison would have to stay. And part of him didn’t.

Lynnie came out of her room dressed in jeans and a sweater, holding the gold belt and the glow-in-the-dark wings. She held them out to Addison.

“You keep them, honey,” Addison said. “You might need them if your daddy decides to take you to Burning Man next year.”

“We’ll see about that,” Wiseman said.

“Baby Burners are a big hit there.”

A horn sounded from the road.

“Well, what do you know,” Addison said.

She hugged Lynnie and then went out onto the porch. Wiseman followed her. The RV idled in front of the house, Carl in the driver’s seat. Down the road, Wiseman could see Johnny Heyens’ station wagon in its driveway. He imagined Johnny waking up in the back seat, crawling out to knock on the trailer door, saying “Baby, come on, please let me in,” and maybe she would, but maybe she wouldn’t—maybe she’d finally decide she’d had enough.

“I hope you have a good wedding,” Wiseman said to Addison.

Addison, in turn, leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.

The horn sounded again, and she turned toward it. “Looks like we’re ready to go.”


Ellie Sawatzky’s poetry and prose have appeared across North America with Prairie Fire, Arc Poetry Magazine, EVENT, the anthology Best New Poets 2014, and others. She was recently awarded second place in FreeFall Magazine’s annual poetry contest. Ellie holds an MFA from UBC’s Creative Writing program, and lives in Vancouver, where she spends her spare time singing with a folk-rock cover choir and wandering the streets with borrowed dogs.