Mikey and I walked down the street with a paper grocery bag of beer. There was no sidewalk and we walked only slightly on the side of the road. The traffic sounded far away on Alliance street, only two block back. The light had begun to fade and the sky took on the look of a burnished jasper. It was only different around the tree that Gina and I used to call the autumn tree. There, behind the dry branches, was a streetlight that threw out a baleful glow. It was low but also beautiful. From the low-income housing behind us kids could be heard crying and laughing. The sound of evening television floated in the air with a chirping sound. The gravel was not especially smooth and the rubber of our tennis shoes dragged very slightly over it. From over by where I lived, there was a fire burning. The figures of light reverie made their way around the fire, to the house and back out again.
I was very thirsty and upon reaching the house went inside for water. I did not bother to pour the water cold, but turned up the tap so that it would be warmer and easier to drink. There were a few people that had arrived since I had left. I said hello to them and took a beer from the many that Mikey had placed in the refrigerator.
Back outside, the fire was burning in the pit that Gina had dug about two months earlier. She had ringed the pit with stones so that it was clear that it was an intentional pit with a purpose and not just an unfilled hole in the ground. After she and I had begun burning wooden scraps in the pit, the rocks were no longer needed. Still, they served a decorative purpose and reminded one of camping trips and starry skies. The fire was now being fed by Gina’s brother Jackson who had taken over the job in my absence as he always did. There was a pile of wooden scraps by the fire that had already greatly diminished since I had gone to the store. Jackson and his roommate Nick sat by the fire, sipping their beers and talking very little. I sat down with them and opened my own beer. It had no taste but cold, which was good by the hot fire. I lit a cigarette. I don’t like the way cigarettes taste when there is wood smoke in the air, but I always smoke them anyway. Cigarettes balance my thoughts and resulting conversation.
I joined Jackson and Nick’s combined taciturnity and listened to the popping of the knots in the wood scraps which were burning and the conversation coming from inside. I finished my beer quickly and went inside to get another one, stopping to eat a cookie from one of the many dishes on the countertop, arranged potluck style: desserts, main dishes and snacks of different kinds all heaped together with plastic cups and unfinished drinks. I wasn’t sure who it could be when I heard the gravel crunching outside and walked outside without excusing myself properly. Jackson and Nick, still sitting by the fire looked over to the car, but did not get up from the up turned logs they were sitting on. I walked over and waited for someone to turn off the headlights so I could see who had come. Away from the fire, the night seemed damper and the crunch of the gravel under my feet made me think of going to work early in the morning on my bike.
Armen and his girlfriend got out of the car with a few Armenian dishes they had brought. One I had never heard of and had never seen in Armenia was very good and was eaten right away before anything was brought out to be roasted on the fire. I had not seen Armen for a while and asked him to sit down next to me by the fire. We spoke in eastern Armenian and this made us more excited to discuss mundane things. I noticed as we spoke that Nick seemed to be regarding us. I wondered if perhaps it was possible for him to understand any of our conversation. The others mocked us in a joking way and I remembered how once, when speaking to a girl in Italian on the phone, I had asked Mikey if the sound of the language had been annoying to overhear. He told me that it was, but without him telling me so, I knew this was only because we were in the same small apartment and that it wasn’t the sound that was annoying, but that it was forced on him.
I went back inside to get some more beer. The light seemed harsh to my eyes. In the absence of the fire I could smell the smoke, now very strong on my clothes. Everyone had gone outside to sit on the upturned logs around the fire. All the plates and casserole dishes on the countertop were nearly empty; the floor was dirty as hell and I frowned slightly to see it, though I was really too drunk to care about it very much.
Back outside I found Armen trying to explain the word in eastern Armenian for eggplant to Gina. He did this by saying ‘brother’ in English and ‘jan’. He pronounced it ‘baderjan.’Gina laughed at this and pretended not to understand saying Azerbaijan when she was prompted to repeat the word. I noticed that over by the fire they were roasting the eggplants whole without taking off the leafy green top or cutting them in half. The garlic and peppers had already been roasted and the smell was delicious, although I was not hungry.
When I sat back down, Nick leaned over to me and asked me what language Armen and I has been speaking. I told him about Armenia and how I had come to live there; I would’ve started to get slightly sentimental since I was talking to someone younger than myself about an experience that had made an impact on me, but Armen came back over and he and I began to speak again. We spoke mostly in English now and when we used an Armenian word, I would stop to explain to Nick what it meant. We were using them for no reason at all other than to hear their sound and this made us use words in Russian, too, although Armen knew very few of them and I began to feel alone in my language.
Mikey went to bed early because he had to drive us to Oakland the next day. Lyndsey was one of the last to leave and I offered to walk her back home. The entire walk she kept telling me that I didn’t need to walk her the whole way. At about the half-way point, I said goodbye to her. I walked back to the house with the lightness of the beer in my head. I began to feel disappointed that I was not going to leave the country the next day and that I still had to say more goodbyes and hang around Oakland for a few days. It had been a definitive kind of party. It made me feel like I should leave quickly and begin something else in another place.
When I got back to the house, Jackson and Nick were still by the fire, only now they were in sleeping bags, lying next to it.
I walked past them into the house to get a last beer. Inside, Gina was asleep on the bed under a pile of blankets; Mikey was on the futon. I couldn’t hear his quiet breathing so it was difficult to tell if he was actually asleep. The small house smelled of wet grass and wood smoke.
I closed the door gently, opened my beer and took a long drink. I tilted back my head so I could look at the stars that I had looked upon for so many nights. I thought about all the jokes I had made about those stars that now seemed so serious to me.
I sat back down by the fire and Nick sat up in his sleeping bag. He told me that he wanted to leave Humboldt county and travel. I told him that he needed to leave right away.