Cal Fire


“Join the Army or go to jail”? That’s, like, still a thing judges say?

Alder shrugged, finished his cigarette and tossed it into the street. Said it to me, anyway.

You think they’re gonna send you—

They’re gonna send me where they send me, I guess. Just stay away from Brian, okay, Rosie?

He’s not so bad.

He’s not going to get better. He looked over the yard. Lawn looks all right. Hasn’t been too dry this year. Don’t cut it too short while I’m gone, okay?

I’ll try. Nana says I don’t do it as well as you.

He laughed. The trick is to be a little bit lazy about it. He kissed my forehead. I gotta go finish packing. I—


I’ll write you when I can.


I had to cut him off one night when he came back from the war. Give me your keys, Alder, I said, you’re stupid but you don’t deserve to die for it. He argued a little before he handed them over, and I dragged him to Nana’s old plaid couch and threw her green afghan over him. He slept for twelve hours before he thanked me, kissed my forehead, said he was going to dry out and get his head straight, said he knew some guys on a repo crew in Portland. Be careful, I said. Thanks, Rosie, he said. Don’t let that dickhead in here, okay? I’ll be back.


I just—I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have it. It’s been slow at the bar, I haven’t had any overtime at the hospital.

The punch just missed my eye but left a black bruise all the same. Seems like you could pick up hours somewhere, doing something, Brian said. You must have some free time, texting that drunk up Portland way.

Alder is just a friend, come on, you know we were kids together, I managed to say through the exploding ache, it’s nothing.


When they led him away in cuffs, Alder winked through the blood and said, It’s fine, I’d do it again, and I said, But your probation— and he said, I said, I’d do it again.


Listen, don’t worry about me. I’m still going to the meetings, and I get two days
off my stretch for every day I fight the fires, and that’s enough for me.

When I come back from a shift I’m ashamed of those fires I set when I was a kid.

So lucky I never burned more than grass or garbage.

Anyway, I go into the flames and I think, if there’s a purgatory, this is it. This is

all the shit I’ve done burning out of me so I can come back and be good to you, for you.


Some nights I don’t know where Alder goes, and I don’t ask. I take the extra money and buy ingredients for Nana’s cherry pie, cocoa butter to rub into the scars on his hands, trashy underwear one of us peels off the floor the next morning. I bring flowers to Nana’s grave and make payments on the twin plots down the hill from her.