Green > Orange > Ash
The old tire was not smooth, nor the tree it dangled from. Three generations of children had carved names and crude jokes into both wood and rubber. From the first word, “LOVE”, cut into the wood eighty summers back, family members had followed the example and steadily, reunion after reunion, tattooed their young words for their children to behold. Some artists had died before their children learned to read, and so their words upon the tire swing were used as tentative evidence of what they had been in life, like a photo album or dresser drawer containing a handful of random objects: perhaps not understandable to those left behind, but undeniably meaningful, if only at a point in the distant past.
Len beheld it for some time, hose in hand and a beating in his chest that muffled his heart – deep thuds from the frenzied helicopters out of sight in the smoke. Soon the fire would arrive and consume everything in sight, and Len had only a garden hose to repel it – the water-bombers and firefighters were busy repelling the flames from the properties of families wealthier than his.
He had spent twenty minutes spraying down the sides of his house before a rumble up on the mountain grabbed his attention. A patch of forest became an avalanche of flaming logs, ashes and sparks. To Len it had resembled lava pouring down, a thick liquid which reproduced itself among the trees at the base of the mountain. It took less than ten seconds for hundreds of acres to be set ablaze.
Len had seen that and known there was no hope for the house. Too much surface area and too little water to oppose the flames’ appetite. So he’d turned back towards the car filled with electronics and expensive fabrics – his wife and kids had already left with the photo albums and heirlooms. Mid-turn, his gaze had passed over yonder tire-swing – then returned to it. It was small and alone in a grass field, just close enough for the garden hose to reach.
He wet down the tire, and the tree-trunk, and the branches, and as much of the grass surrounding it as he could reach. He watched the fire draw nearer, until the smoke became thick enough to block out all with a wall of gray. Then he listened to it grow louder. He kept dousing the tree.
Campfire-smell filled his nostrils and lungs. His coughs made the hose’s spray swing erratically. He coughed until there were tears in his eyes, but didn’t stop. If the tree was still there when the fire had passed, they could build again, have family reunions again, marvel at all the time and life woven into the wood, again.
He passed out just as the fire reached the nearest tree-line. The hose continued making marshland of the grass. Had Len collapsed face-down, he would have drowned in his sleep. Instead his ears filled with water, blotting out the roar of the approaching flames, the hiss as they met his bed of water, the plopplopplopplop of mud boiling, and the boom of his car exploding. When enough of the house had been incinerated to cut off the water, Len remained floating alongside the tips of the longest blades of grass.
When the fire had passed, the only green that remained was a circle around the tree which new life would eventually radiate out from. And some weeks later, the first new name added to the tree with a child’s determined hand was “LEN”.