I smack the barrel with the palm of my hand, sending a loud boom through the dark forest. A great flock of starlings rise up and lift away, flying over our heads. No one else will hear. We are alone here. One by one, my friends take up position by the exposed pipes and the doorframes of the abandoned factory, and begin to set a beat. I smack the barrel again, and then settle into a softer rhythm. Boom, ba doom da, boom, ba doom da… The clinks and chimes of other sounds join with me, raising the noise like smoke into the night sky.
Erik, my Erik, throws a heap of kindling on top of the dry logs already set up in the center of the concrete tarmac and pulls out his Zippo. He holds the lighter aloft to the sky, a single flame fighting the black night, and a great cheer goes up from the group. “Fire!” they scream enthusiastically. In the factory, we quiet our beats, waiting in anticipation. Erik, beautiful even in the dark, swoops down, as if in a bow, and touches the blue white flame to the edge of the kindling. The flame catches immediately, and Erik leaps back, howling in joy. He runs across the circle and grabs Zu Zu’s wrist and pulls her along after him in a twisted dance, where they run around the fire, whooping and hollering. They are striking together, their faces aglow with ecstasy, and for a moment I’m eaten alive with jealousy. My beat falters and I have to correct it.
The rest of the group joins in, screaming with abandon at the night sky. Ray and Button, the best dancers of the group, quickly take over the pace and the rest fell in line behind them, circling the fire. They reach towards the sky, trying to take in everything. My crew and I, watching them from the wall-less frame of the factory, respond with a burst of sound, pounding away on our chosen instruments. I am breathless and so alive. My palms begin to tingle, but it doesn’t matter.
They dance and we play through the night, throwing more and more fuel on the fire, until it is raging at six feet high. Erik and the rest are lit up against the wall of forest that surrounds us. The graffiti on the walls of the nearby building seems to move in the shadow and light of the fire, dancing along with them. When it begins to grow light, they start to fall off, first one by one, then in groups. I hate this part, when I know that it might be months before I see any of them again. In the end, it is just Erik dancing and me playing, the two of us greeting the dawn with our last bursts of energy. It is Erik who stops first, pulling up short and walking over to find the shirt that he had torn off in the middle of the dance. He picks it up off the tarmac and gives it a shake, removing the bits of broken glass and grass that cling to it, while I give one last mournful bang to my drum.
We look at each other, both exhausted and glowing with sweat. At rest now, I can finally feel my hands again. My palms are burning and bloody, but I don’t care. Erik looks me up and down like he could eat me up, and then walks over to me, his chest still heaving, and pulls me to him. I lean into him, my heart still beating to the time I had kept, boom, ba doom da, and kiss him hard on the mouth, trying to fill all of the months that we won’t have together. The kiss is still too short; we are both panting.
“See you next time,” Erik says, pulling away. I nod, not trusting myself to speak, and grab my coat out of the hole in the wall where I’d stashed it. He turns me around and kisses me again and then takes off running across the empty tarmac towards the forest edge as soon as he lets go.
I watch him run away from me, and then, purposefully choose the other direction, and begin to run as well.