It was a hot job. Hot like the Sahara, hot like lying down on Arizona asphalt in August, hot like if you put on a ski jacket and rubber rain boots and went for a walk on the surface of Mercury with a thermos of chicken broth for sustenance. He had a lot more where those came from. Most of the hours that he spent coaxing fresh wood onto the fires he also spent thinking up new metaphors. One month had turned into two, then three, then five, and at six days a week and nine hours a day, that was a ton of metaphors. Or similes. He couldn’t remember which was which. In any case, the tourists ate a lot of lobster.
It was a one-man job. Some days he appreciated this more than others. He liked the not talking part because most of the time he didn’t have anything to say anyway. All he had to do was make sure the fires that kept the sea water at its boiling point kept on burning. Nine hours a day and six days a week he listened to the logs crackling and collapsing and the occasional high whine of a trapped air bubble when it screamed through the seam of a reddening exoskeleton. At the end of the day his muscles were shredded from hauling cord after cord of wood from the pile out back. Throwing log after log through the low iron doors. Bending over and up. Over and up. He slept like the dead: no dreams, no memories.
It was a lonely job, hence the metaphors, but after five months he was finally running out of new ways to describe the heat. It was the long hours ahead, full of nothing for his brain to do except to think, that made his arm hairs stand on end in the middle of the Indian-summer days.
He was trying so hard not to think, because if he started thinking for too long, he would eventually think about what had happened last winter, and the tumbling and the rolling and the loud fracturing of ice-laden branches and the strange knowledge that it was their bodies and their bones making these terrible, violent sounds, and the deadened crunching of yards-deep, months-old snow and then the cold that was so cold that it was not like the North Pole or like flying through the stratosphere in swim trunks because it was just so unforgivingly cold that all it could be was utterly and completely cold, and their eyeballs turning to ice cubes from the outside in and the blackened pads of their fingers that they raised to their cheekbones and felt in their faces only a phantom tingle and the walking and walking and then the crawling through the never-ending snow until he knew the blood had slowed to slush deep within his thighs, and his friend, his best friend, who had been hauled right through it all with him, because of him, and then, finally, not anymore…
Next week, he decided, he would start looking for a new job. Not a better job necessarily, or a harder job, but at least a job that made him think more about the thing he was doing so he didn’t have to work so hard to avoid thinking about the thing he had done.