Only cinders remained in the fire pit. Marcus leaned back in his lawnchair and lit another cigarette.
Molly cleared her throat. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Think about how great tonight was. We had, what, a hundred people over? On a Thursday? People would kill to have that many real friends.”
Molly smiled. “Happy birthday. Again.”
“You know what I mean. Thirty-four years living in the same town. How many places have you lived?”
“A few. But I always come back. See? Here I am.”
Marcus looked up. A few stars managed to poke through the suburban fog of streetlights. His friends had come to his birthday party with stories of adventure and accomplishment: extended vacations, hard-won careers and destination weddings. All he could think about, as he’d smiled and lauded, was how thirty-four years could pass in any man’s life without one moment worthy of praise.
He stamped out his cigarette. “I’m leaving, Molly. I’m going to finish my degree and do what I’ve always wanted to: I want to write that book.”
Molly hugged him and kissed him and mussed up his hair, and something warm crept from Marcus’ guts to his heart.
In one year, Marcus finished his bachelor’s in three semesters of nights and weekends. On the day after finals, Molly went over the plans for his graduation party. Marcus declined. “Unless the theme is bon voyage, there’s nothing I’ve done worthy of celebration.” Molly watched him pack up on the day he was bound for the MFA program at St. Jude’s.
There he read and he practiced and discussed big ideas, and with the help of his Colleagues, both professor and student, decided the time of the The Novel had passed. It was time for something new.
His thesis approached and Marcus endeavored to write from within. The words spilled on the page like a rust-ruptured main and Marcus knew he had something quite special. He shaped his long journey from nothing to something like the someone he knew he could be. And as his tale went, so did his task, until the very last word marked the end of them both.
“A memoir to be remembered,” said Professor McDowell, and the students agreed assiduously. With manuscript in hand, walking on air, Marcus returned to his hometown to recoup. His friends hailed his return and he was given his chance, to share the story about the book about nothing he’d written.
But Molly had gone, in search of who knows, and at the end of the night, Marcus sat all alone as the bonfire spat its last cinders.
Photograph from the Boston Public Library. No modifications were made to the image.