Her Field of Play—Clark Humphrey
Her field of play had distinct boundaries, defined by highways, industrial lands, and a polluted river. These boundaries were not the same as legal boundaries. Parts of this field lay within the city, parts in the unincorporated county.
The playing surface of this field was humble to the point of charm. No elegant craftsman bungalows, no mixed use monstrosities. Small one-story homes set back from big yards. Two story 1960s apartments. Smallish, modest churches. A short main street of small storefronts, none of them occupied by a chain. Many of these merchants conducted ther business in Spanish. But there was one coffeehouse and one Anglophone hangout bar. These were among her specific places to play.
Other such places included the community center (fashioned from a former firehouse), the neighborhood library (a gem of late modern institutional design), and especially the Bonfire House.
She instructed you to find the Bonfire House from the vintage outboard motors embedded into its front fence. She would send you there on your own, whether she was going to that night’s party or not. Just tell them she sent you, and you’ll be welcomed as if they all knew you.
On any given Thursday night in the spring and summer months, as many as 40 people could be at the Bonfire House party. She knew, or had introduced to one another, at least half of them. They were musicians, magicians, Evergreeners, Occupiers, metal sculptors, painters, potters, pot activists, pot “passivists,” home brewers, single moms on girls’ night out, white slam poets, old punks, young hippies, and at least a few people who, despite their ages, still didn’t know who they were.
On dry evenings, the titular bonfire would go on in the specially-constructed back yard pit until the wee hours, if not later. On rainy evenings, the party mostly stayed inside the house, where a different kind of smoke was never unsmelled.
On the nights when she was there, she flitted like a postmodern social butterfly. Forging new connections and networks. Bringing neighborhood people together with people she knew from other aspects of her life. Passing out seriously potent Jell-O shots (even after she lost part of her liver and had to quit drinking). Ranting vehemently against Republicans, big business, sexists, homophobes, the mainstream medical profession that had misdiagnosed and mistreated her for so long, and mainstream sports (EXCEPT hockey, which she adored). Exhorting the praises of her favorite authors and musicians, her cats, and her most loyal friends (of whom she had many). Discussing different strains and the medicinal and/or hallucinatory properties of each.
The nights she was there became fewer in the last couple of years, as her surgeries became more frequent and more invasive and her recoveries longer and less complete.
Then on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, she called for friends to drive her over. The Bonfire House was less than a half mile from her own house, but she didn’t feel like walking; and she’d stopped driving. The party, and the fire, were well under way. She had limped into the car but nearly leaped out of it upon arrival. Amid all the hugs and greetings and questions about her current condition, she steadily made her way through the house and into the back yard. From a hand sewn purse weighted down with pill bottles, she pulled out several old fashioned index cards. Each was neatly handwritten with a different regret from the past year. The top card read: MISSING BURNING MAN AGAIN. She flung the card like a Frisbee into the flame and watched it catch fire and turn into gases, smoke, and ash.
She didn’t stay too long after finishing the last card, even though everyone wanted her to. Some of her friends suspected, but nobody would dare say, that this would be her last visit to the bonfire.