The young man, aged 23, sat on a log by the campfire, his left arm wrapped around the back of the 36-year old woman beside him, his right hand held close to her stomach under a wool coat, her fingers intertwined with his.
He felt a sense of déjà vu. How often had he been here before, repeating this same steps, the same words, the same outcome?
She looked up at him, her chapped lips curled outward, her deep brown eyes focused only on him.
“I cannot believe I’m here with you, alone. I’m practically throwing myself at you, cuddled up to you as close as I can get, shivering, when, if you weren’t such a gentleman, we could…”
His memories of what his father taught him in a situation like this replayed over and over — never take advantage of a drunk woman… unless… — but he couldn’t remember the last part.
He was almost twice as old as he was when he earned his Eagle Scout Award at 13. At 23, he was, for all intents and purposes, still a virgin.
She was a married woman with kids, a supportive if somewhat misogynistic husband, 250-lbs heavy, 6 ft, 8 in tall, and constantly demonstrating that as husband and head of household, he owned his own construction company, able to toss 100-lb bags of dry concrete like a 5-lb sleeping bag.
Speaking of sleeping bags…
Sleeping bags weren’t that far away. The young man leaned in and looked more closely at her eyes in the dim light, his thoughts spinning with the cold air in the fireside party that had lasted from dusk until this wee hour of the morning, and brushed his lips over one of her eyebrows.
She kissed his Adam’s apple, giggling at the sensation of his day-old beard tickling her lips.
Out of nowhere, an image flashed into his thoughts, an article called “Breeding Minnows” by Dr. Robert J. Goldstein:
Most minnows do well in single-species groups in 20-gallon tanks with canister or trickling filtration, water changes, powerheads for current, a pebble substrate with rocks. They do well on a diet of flakes, bloodworms, brine shrimp, white worms, grindal worms, blackworms, and/or Daphnia. Most cannot tolerate heat, and some require a chiller.
He heard the babbling water of a creek that flowed in a J-shape around the campsite. He thought about the aquariums at home, who was feeding his fish while he was gone for the weekend. Had he forgotten to set the timed feeders?
She whispered in his ear, “I am getting really cold. And I’m not as drunk as you think I am. It’s probably just the altitude and lack of food.”
He realised he had turned his head away from her to look for the creek in the dark.
He returned to her intoxicating eyes.
Their lips touched.
She held his gaze, as if waiting for him to make the next move.
A professor they both admired had brought them here to this moment, a philosophy teacher who was instructing her in a History of Philosophy class this term and had taught him in a Logics class the previous school term.
The philosophy professor was passed out in a tent nearby, separated from the fire by another tent, empty, unused, quiet, warmed somewhat by the fire.
He pressed his lips more tightly against hers but he didn’t kiss her.
Instead, their eyes made love to each other, exploring the pupils and irises, noticing the tiny creases at the edge of eyelids, the leftover mascara, the bloodshot veins, writing history like a magician conjuring a lovebird out of thin air only to disappear just as quickly in a puff of white smoke, unwritten yet remembered forever by the audience.
Out of habit, she licked her chapped lips, passing her rough tongue across his dry but unchapped lips.
They both smiled and pulled apart, tickled simultaneously, breaking the bond they played with, testing the future without thinking about consequences.
Another thought passed through him: “Has anyone ever written a parody of The Charge of the Light Brigade, substituting the terrorist group called the Red Brigade for the main ‘character’ of the poem?”
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Half a league, half a league,
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Cannon to right of them,
Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Cannon to right of them,
When can their glory fade?
Copied from Poems of Alfred Tennyson,
J. E. Tilton and Company, Boston, 1870
And what, or who, determined the definition of a terrorist group? If, as his philosophy teacher had oft repeated, human labeling systems are meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe, what divided a terrorist group from a government that used threats such as random tax audits and accidental home raids to keep its people in line?
She pressed her lips back against his, mumbling, “Sorry, but I’m cold.”
They slipped off the log and broke out into nervous laughter, instantly shushing themselves like giddy children.
He helped her stand up.
She squeezed him as tight as she could. He hugged her back.
Her whole body shuddered. “If this is it, then I think we better find a tent. If this isn’t it, I think we better find a tent. Either way, I’m cold!!”
He nodded, leaned down and pressed a cold ear against hers.
“That feels good.”
“What are we waiting for?”
He let go of her and looked at the fire. A few embers glowed orange and red. “Well, I better put out the fire.”
His heightened senses made the few embers look like a giant furnace. He picked up a water bottle and slowly emptied its contents over the embers, watching each one sizzle and turn to grayish-black. With the last ember extinguished, he kicked the ashes around, feeling the leftover heat through his leather boots but seeing no glow or flame.
He put his arm around her and led her to the empty tent.
There were times when his father’s advice was not available for reference, unable to answer the questions that arose in moments his father had never experienced or at least never described to his son.
In that moment, the son was creating a memory that would last a lifetime, shared by two.
The snoring chorus of their fellow campers sang to them from the other tent, a serenade that doesn’t play well in romance novels or Hallmark Channel movie soundtracks.
Perhaps, instead, a rom-com or an avant-garde film filled with arbitrary flashbacks.
To try breeding [minnows] in an aquarium, separate the sexes, and feed them live foods while keeping them cool and on an 8 to 10 hour light cycle for a month. Then place them together in a larger tank with large gravel or pebbles. Raise the temperature 5 degrees, and increase the light cycle to 12 to 16 hours. Spawning starts in a few days with flashing undulations by the males, fin erection, operculum flaring, and color intensification. Non-adhesive eggs are scattered above the gravel or in thick bushy plants. After spawning, remove the adults. The eggs hatch within five days, and the fry need rotifers, ciliates, or other infusoria as a first food.