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BAREFOOT WOMAN COMES TO FIRE TOWN Kenny Gordon Introduction: A Town Surrounded by Fire been surrounded by fire for so long that no one remembers any Tten,otherforgettable way for a town to be. Aside from that, it is only one of a thousand forgottowns, shabby and weathered, tucked in a crevice of the mounhe town has

tains. It does perfectly well without visitors, keeping to its own tasks, attending calmly to its own affairs. The men of the town amble. They are angular. The women put up peaches and sweep the porches. There was a child, but he is grown. The people are waiting for the apple harvest. They go about with shovels and pails to extinguish any embers that blow to close. Anyone who leaves, by any direction, will eventually come to the fire—at the edge of the fields, or a mile away, or ten miles. Perhaps smoldering grass, perhaps trees in flames to their tops. In all cases, impassable. The fire always finds a way to turn against the traveler. Those who cross into it are never recovered. Each season the men go out in a different direction to drive the fire away from the edges of the town. It is late summer, and they have just returned from the west, smelling of musk and smoke, with soot in their pores. They are preparing to go north, but will wait for the apples.

Part One: Perhaps a Woman It happened that a woman walked along a road, following two dirt furrows that wound through a high, mountainous country far from where she started. Perhaps she was barefoot. Perhaps she carried a bundle. The road crossed through a valley peopled with sagebrush and jackrabbits, by piles of stones and the gray smell of smoke. Sometimes distant, sometimes near, but always present in the back of her throat and pricking the corners of her eyes. Threads of smoke wove through the air behind the hills. A haze of smoke obscured the distance. The road rounded a bend and the woman passed between two smoldering banks, the fire low and sleepy, barely nudging through the grass. She may have noticed the fire, may have nodded to it in passing. As she passed, it flared up, rattling in the brush. It may have loped alongside her for a short while, friendly and playful, but when she moved beyond it, the fire closed behind her like the walls of the sea. If she had looked back, she would have seen it 24 |

Kenny Gordon

Permafrost Magazine Summer Issue, 36.2  
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