Every woman in Evanston over the age of twelve owned a red dress. The Fire Lighting Festival was the biggest party of the year, and they all showed up to dance and sing and just in general relax and enjoy. The men always stayed home, with the boys and the girls too young to be in skirts yet. The mothers, the aunts, the older sisters, all of them, got to relax from sun down to sun up in their red dresses and amongst their lovely ladies. And when people really started to let go, those red skirts spinning and twisting, made them women themselves look like fire.
Marena put on her red dress and tied a ribbon in her hair even though she knew she wouldn’t be able to dance. Her aunt helped her get to the party and found her a good spot to sit, safely out of the way where no one was going to step on her and Marena could keep her knee stable, but where she could still watch all the dancers, and still feel like part of the fun. Her aunt had spent a week trying to convince Marena that everyone would understand if she felt like sitting this Fire Lighting Festival out, but Marena was insistent that she go anyway. She hadn’t missed once since turning twelve and didn’t intend to miss one until the day that she died.
She tried to hold on to the that determination and that smile as she watched all the women swirl around, and tried very hard not to think about why she wasn’t up and dancing.
Marena didn’t even notice Brisa approaching until she fell into a ball next to her. She was panting and sweating from the dancing, but clearly smiling and happy with the way the night was going. “How ya doin’, Mar-Mar?” She asked with a smile, “Enjoying the view? Do you need anything? I can get you a drink if you want.”
Marena silently held up the drink that her aunt had already gotten her, trying not to laugh at her friend’s enthusiasm. “Having a good night, hm? Glad to have an evening without your little boy?”
“Lysander is the light of my life and the best little toddler a mother could ever ask for,” Brisa said easily, “But, god, yes, it is so nice to not be worrying if he’s getting too close to any of the fires.” She made a little gesture, and Marena handed her the drink to take a sip. As Brisa handed the drink back, she trapped Marena’s hand in hers, and looked her in the eye. “Seriously, are you okay? If you want to get home, I have no problem helping you get there. Everyone would understand if you’re tired. Physically or emotionally.”
Marena leaned forward and gave Brisa a little kiss on the knuckle. “I promise. Right now, I am fine. If that changes, I’ll find a way to get your attention, okay?”
Brisa considered her for a second longer, then let her hand go. “Okay. You know you are stronger than I could ever hope to be.”
Marena’s smile came easily for the first time all night. “Yes, yes I am And don’t you forget it.” She nodded at the dancers. “Go, have fun. Come say bye before you leave.”
Brisa stood and stretched, before stooping down to kiss Marena on the top of the head. “Have a good night, Mar-Mar.”
Marena watched the dancers as the music picked up a faster tempo and a yell came out of the group as they switched to a more popular dance. Marena swore that next Fire Light Festival she would be dancing again. No matter what.