Flash Fiction: Silence and Laughter (310 words)

Two in the morning was a strange time, sitting out on the beach, after everyone else we knew had decided that it was too dark, or too cold, or too late. The fire had been a wild thing a few hours earlier. It sparked and smoked and bit deep into everything we threw into it while a dozen of us ran around it, ate, laughed, did everything but sit still. Long after dark, it settled into its coals, hovered over the logs and touched them with tender fingers, and we all settled too. Then one by one moved back behind doors and under roofs. Until it was only he and I.

We had been laughing, too loud, a few hours before, but that was starting to fade as well. It started to hover over us, not really touching, but not really leaving. Something calm and quiet had seeped in beneath it, closer to our skin, and we weren’t sure yet whether the weight of it was too heavy or not.

He fell silent first, though I wasn’t far behind, pausing for a breath. When the pause turned out not to be a pause, I wasn’t sure how to break it, while he turned to look down into the coals.

A long moment passed, and then another. His expression flattened and his eyes focused down on nothing. I folded my hands, waited without wanting to. But he was turning serious, and the weight seemed more definite in its substance.

His tone was low when he pushed the silence to the side, and he didn’t look at me until just before he finished his first sentence.

“My family was eaten by a pack of wild rice.”

I tried so hard not to laugh, but was never really going to succeed. He didn’t, but smiled, slow and crooked, as if he had caught me.

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