Where the Wild Went
Flames lick at the leaves. Burning captured in photos. The pictures flash over the stage, stretched into obscurity, but Pike knows them. A forest eaten by fire, frame after frame.
Light pools and melts over their guitars; Pike purchased his sister’s portfolio for this purpose.
He drinks in the darkness off stage, large lungfuls of dank air from the club. Tonight Helen and the Torches are the headliners and he is not Pike, but Flint. No longer labeled a Flynn Twin.
Beer on the shoe, in the mouth, alcohol slows…the…songs…down. Acoustics arc the soul into shape.
Pike wonders what’s happened to live shows. The painful beat in the ear, in the head. Understanding the lyrics like no one else. The beauty of lavender light from stage on skin. Hot kiss of melody sung just off-key enough to be endearing.
Now people want perfection.
Their filters are new and they are new and he wonders why they can’t trust their own memories.
He only trusts what he remembers.
Keeps the music his own.
* * *
Pike took a beer out past the tree line, walked until the bonfire burned like a lit match in the distance. He’d been led from town by the blaze; hot and thick and delicious.
“Thought you’d forget, Pember,” he said.
His sister joined after the beer was gone, sipped slow, can crushed in his hand.
“A promise is sacred,” she said, smiling through her discomfort.
Pike knew she didn’t like the past.
They unearthed the plastic Power Rangers thermos, which once fit into the matching lunchbox before Louis Alexander stole it during their third grade field trip to the Jell-O museum. Pemberley had kissed Pike’s forehead after, took him to bury the dead.
His thermos had lost its twin.
“You’ll do the same when I die,” she’d said.
They’d sworn with paper cuts pressed together: “To be opened again, before we become different.”
College was coming.
They knew the world would change them.
Pike popped the lid, revealed old things inside. Their dad’s favorite matchbox car. Papers and pens.
“Ever think, maybe, we were never the people we were supposed to be?” Pike asked.
“You think you’re so much smarter,” Pemberley said. The words arrived soft and sure, and they sounded raw. Too real. And it hurt Pike to hear this from his twin.
“Belongs to you,” he said, handing a piece of paper with her small, seven-year-old print on the lines.
“One secret for another,” she said, using her phone’s light. “Always Remember: Never trust dreams. They’re not real. Don’t show your emotions until night. Kids ruin you. Don’t fall. Always be strong.”
“That’s — Pember, do you — ”
“Just give me your secret.”
“I don’t hate him,” he said, spinning the wheels of the matchbox between his fingers. He scrunched up his nose to keep himself from crying.
He knew, even as he said it, that the words weren’t the same for his sister. She’d needed their dad, and he hadn’t been there. Their father had left once when they were six, again when they were nine. He’d returned broken, and maybe Pemberley still blamed him for being weak, but he would never ask. And the silent way she still hurt had always been enough to keep him quiet, too.
“God, Pike. He’s not a parent. Not the way he should be.”
“Dad will miss us,” Pike said. “He loves us.”
He needed the words to mean something.
“Used to think that, too. But maybe he just loves the parts of us that belong to him. Your name, like some fucked up fishing trophy. My eyes. The way we fight. Whatever. But that’s not love.”
He wanted to write her a poem then about love being the wild within them, how he only felt it around her. But they walked back to the bonfire without words. Pike first, Pemberley a few steps behind.
* * *
Too often, he sees her in trees, the way leaves flutter. Pike uses her pictures throughout the set, his own paramnesia. The destruction. The death of it all. He believes this is his sister.
There are nights when he tries to find the only girl really watching. Other times, he searches for the one staring at anything but them. He can’t know how she’d watch, feel his music. But he hopes she wouldn’t want to sway with strangers who only see the show through phone screens. She might read about his band while openers calibrate voices and instruments to octaves she couldn’t care about. She’d still need him to sing some sense into her.
They’d parted ways; separate colleges on separate coasts where they’d needed to become separate people. The distance never meant anything. He knew they’d come back together for the important things.
After their dad died, she didn’t come home. She sent him a postcard, featuring a picture she’d taken on assignment. It was hers, words her own, too. But none of it was his sister. None of those things were real. Pemberley promised: see you soon. but not now. not for this.
The image of her first forest fire in Wyoming is obliterated by those words, projected on his face, in the song. He plays the opening chords of “Heart Attack,” croaks the first line: “She was obsessed with time.” But he doesn’t finish it, because he can’t. His father’s death is still too real.
He knows he could’ve been the one to go to her after.
But he is here now with music and words and the past trapped somewhere between them; the betwixt formed and fossilized from too many months of not speaking.
Now, when they open with “Of Embers and Pyres,” he understands her obsession with fire, bones breaking into dust; their father’s cremation too much like a Viking ritual.
Pike’s lyrics take the crowd to distant places: “Soon you’ll hear this song, and remember the fire. They will know your name. Sing of embers and pyres. Pemberley, Pember. All of us, liars…”
And they sing with him, voices in unison. Each of them calls her out instead of him, sets Pike free.
The blame should burn.
When Pike sings about her now, he gives her to empty people waiting to be filled, and they take her. He wonders if the crowd understands she’d burn down an entire town if given the chance. Watch it disappear.
Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on August 11, 2016.