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  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich


The ground under Samar’s bare feet was scorching. She wriggled her toes and watched as clouds of dust rose only to settle again moments later. A bird in a nearby tree tried to catch her attention with his chirping and she dug her feet deeper into the colder layers of the dirt as she turned to him to listen.

Samar was a good listener. She listened to the cicadas’ song and the murmur of the trees. Patiently, she listened to the stories the sea brought to shore and the secrets caught in the rain. But most of all she liked to eavesdrop on human conversations when the sun sank into the night and the words that were uttered became more honest. Samar was a good listener, and it was not often that she raised her voice.

With a final chirp, the bird spread his wings and disappeared into the sky and Samar turned her eyes back to the ground. With a fluid motion that made the drooping leaves and dying branches around her sway lazily she knelt, and her hand closed around a low-growing plant. Its leaves crumbled under her touch and the small thorns along its stem dug into her palms. Samar tugged gently and the plants’ roots released their grip from the earth.

It took her a good while to gather all she needed. The dryness of the plants, the oils that were stored in their stems and leaves, and their size and density were all factors she needed to consider. It mattered how she layered them, packed tightly enough to trap heat but not too tightly to leave enough room for air to fill the gaps. And in between there were always more stories to be listened to, softly spoken words to be exchanged.

When she was satisfied with her work, Samar sat and waited. It took a while but eventually, a spark ignited within the small pyre. Slowly, Samar brought her face closer and took a deep breath. When she exhaled, the steady stream of air that escaped from her lungs kindled the spark into a flame. Around her, a hot and dry wind rose that rustled through the trees and whirled up the dirt.

And the flame answered her call. Leaves burst into dust and ashes. Sparks scattered and spread as the fire ate through brittle stems and latched onto branches. Its crackling sound reverberated in the air as the flames began to speak. The fire, too, had its stories, and Samar listened. It, too, knew ageless songs that it sung with a sputtering and roaring voice, and every so often Samar would tune in with her voice – gentle as a whisper and as loud and forceful as the fire itself.

There had been a time when she had feared the voice of the fire but as she had welcomed and heard it fade time and time again, as she had listened throughout the centuries, it had become a visitor that was not so different from the spring rains or the winter storms. It would dance through the days and howl in the nights for a while until it burnt itself out. And Samar would be there to listen.

Written by Merle Emrich.

Cover photo by Landon Parenteau.


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