This was supposed to be my wedding day.
Instead, I stand with my sister, the two of us clad in our wedding finery, staring at the wall of flame scraping the blue from the sky, devouring evergreens that have stood since before my parents were born. Trees that sheltered our childhood games and witnessed my first kiss. Trees that stood guard as Tommy slipped the ring on my finger.
Trees that were supposed to witness our vows.
I think of the chairs set up in the clearing, the carpet spread for my father, the judge, to preside. The wind spinners, lovingly crafted by my sister, Carrie, and hung from low-slung branches. It all happened so fast.
The early-spring wind, heavy with the smell of smoke, whips my hair as I stare, willing Tommy to appear from within the inferno. Even at this distance I can feel the heat, yet I shiver with cold. Please let him be all right. Please.
Carrie squeezes my hand. “He’s lived in the woods his whole life,” she says softly. “He’ll be okay.”
It’s what I’ve been telling myself ever since the wildfire began. But as a helicopter zooms overhead, dumping orange powder, I shake my head. “He should’ve been out of there already.”
At noon, my parents bring the mountains of food prepared for the wedding reception and spread it out for the fire crews, who wolf it down and trudge back to work. The chief turns his cap round and round. At last he takes a deep breath and says, “Folks, I’m real sorry, but it’s not safe here. I’ve got to ask you to evacuate.”
In the silence that follows, the only voice is that of the fire, a low-pitched, unintelligible utterance from the depths of Hell. My eyes burn as I stare into the variegated depths, but nothing can make the shifting shadows coalesce into a human being.
The chief shifts uncomfortably. “Look, the only way out of this thing now is the bridge on North Street. You’re welcome to wait there…”
My mother wraps an arm around me, forehead resting against my temple. Her fingers tremble. “Come on, Joy,” she whispers.
The far end of the North Street Bridge fades into a shroud of smoke and fog rising from the cold river. On the opposite bank, shadowy figures move. The voice of the fire taunts me as it gnaws at the backdrop of my childhood. Tommy, please.
By evening, my body and soul are both numb. The thick air glows weirdly as the masked sun drops close to the horizon. A pair of figures emerge from the roiling mass, one clad in bulky fireproof gear, the other limping, wrapped in a blanket. My breath catches. Carrie grabs my arm.
I shake her off and take off running. Tommy lets go of the fireman and catches me to him. “Joy,” he whispers hoarsely. “Joy.” My name has never sounded so beautiful.
Smudged face, smoke smell, it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect moment. Thank you. Thank you. Tommy looks over my head at my father. “Hey, Joy,” he says. “I see a judge. How ‘bout we get married?”
‘Wedding Day’ was first published on Kathleen M. Basi’s personal blog in April 2013.