She hurried down the street of the bustling city. The chill evening autumn air gave her cheeks a faint red blush. It was dark and light by turns as she walked into and out of the flickering halos of the dim street lights. Cars, trucks, and buses whizzed by, stirring up the fallen leaves, but she was the only person on the sidewalk. Alone like this, in the midst of people, she could imagine being the only person in the city. All the machines running around with no purpose. But she got lonely thinking like that, so she stopped and tried to think of something else.
She could not see any stars when she chanced a glance upwards. The sky was covered in dark, thick clouds which were threatening snow. She had a home, if you could call her tiny apartment a home, but nowhere she wanted to be right now. She was hurrying to the grocery store on some trivial whim she had convinced herself to be of importance. There was no one home to wait for her at home but her two cats anyway.
The hint of a pungent odor reached her over the smog and exhaust of the traffic. The smell got stronger as she kept walking, stinging her eyes and burning in her throat. A memory was teasing at the back of her mind, but she still couldn't place the smell that was pulling it to the forefront after all these years. Her pace slowed until she finally stopped under one of the trees lining the street. She leaned against it a moment and closed her eyes.
It was long ago and far away, or so it seemed now. A fairy tale, a story, a myth. When she was a girl, her family had owned a vacation house. It was situated overlooking a picturesque lake, surrounded by forest. It was about a far distant from the city life as one could get.
There was almost always a breeze blowing off of the lake, making the flags rattle and snap in their bindings. At least one day in any give three was perfect for kite flying, kite crashing as her dad called it, or tree decorating as her mom called it.
A charred pit ringed by cinderblocks in the lee of a rocky outcropping, filled with ash, twisted metal, and corners of pages held the unlikely position as her favorite place back then. It was where the nightly fire was lit, where friends and family would gather to roast marshmallows or chat or just hang out in silence together. She especially liked nights when dad would toss what looked just like regular pieces of wood into the fire and it turned emerald green or royal purple. Of course she now knew that it was only pressure treated wood, and that it's dangerous to burn very much of it, but that couldn't take away the majesty of those dark nights.
She and her siblings would spend hours chasing the sparks of the fire like elusive fireflies. They had been charged with the duty of making sure none of the fire fluttered or popped out of the pit, and each had their own little bucket filled with water in case some did. They would dance around the fire, in and out of the sharp and bitter smoke, then run down to the cold lake and fill up their buckets. More often the water would be dumped on each other than on any sort of danger, but the fire dried them off quickly.
And now she knew what the smell was that had accosted her today. Smoke, probably from a wood burning furnace, almost like that of her childhood. Pure and woody, an unexpected pleasure in this drab city. She turned around and went back to her apartment, previous errand forgotten.
When she got there and let herself in, she went straight to her address book. Maybe there was no one waiting for her here, she thought as she found the proper page and picked up the phone, but there sure was someone waiting for her at home.
"Hi Mom, hey listen, do you think you and Dad could make it up to the old vacation house this weekend? Don't worry about anything, my treat… Yeah, I have some unused vacation, and I miss you two. Great. I'll see you then!"