I knew I had work to do, but it was an impressive sunset.
The clouds were charcoal-grey, streaking away from the sun as it sank into the sea. Each had its own orange halo, as though catching the reflections of a fire that was burning the whole horizon.
I watched it for a few minutes, letting the sound of waves lull me into a waking dream. Then I smiled and shook my head. Time enough for that later. For now, there was still important work to be done: the world's best date was not going to set up itself.
I stood up and started my trek down the beach for driftwood. Anything I needed would have been dumped at high tide, near where the sand turned to grassy parkland. There was little enough of it; just as well I'd thought ahead to buy some timber. But driftwood was necessary for the feel.
Thinking ahead was important to tonight. In dates, like most ventures, planning is half of success. The other half was luck. But start with what you can do, right?
So by the time the sky had gone from pink to purple I had a neat collection of wood lying on the beach, in a spot that I hoped would be just out of touch from the waves by the time they came in. I grabbed my spade – a plastic toy I'd found for a couple of bucks; it was made for kids, but I figured that some silliness was necessary – and set to digging. The sky was deep before I finished; Lucifer was winking down at me (the cheeky bastard) and black was creeping in from the east.
It was later than I wanted. I'd been lazy.
Hell, I'd always been lazy. That was the problem. That was what tonight was about, I guess. Doing something I should have done a long time ago. Making an effort.
So into the pit the wood went, in as good a pyramid as I could make it, and by the time it was there the night-wind had started, the sun was gone and the stars were out.
My lighter was in my pocket. The strips of bark, dried leaves and grass had been much easier to locate than driftwood. It still took some time to get going; that damn sea-breeze made it hard to keep a spark. I had to be quick, though. This had to be timed right, if it was going to be right.
Eventually it caught. I watched long enough to make sure it wasn't about to flicker right back out again, then leapt into action. The moon was coming up (a full moon, I'd checked the papers to make sure), and everything had to be perfect.
I grabbed my staff and trailed the end through the sand. Writing by the fire was hard; every time I looked up I was hit by that orange light and then all the shadows only grew deeper.
It was done soon enough, though, and by then I saw that my first guest had deigned to turn up; Orion. He glittered over the horizon, one arm raised as if in greeting, looking particularly bright tonight. I waved.
Orion and I go way back, as I like to say. We both enjoy clear summer nights, after all. Not one other of my friends is as good at advice as Orion is. No-one listens like he does.
“Good to see you.” I told him, “Would you mind sticking around for a while? If this doesn't work, I could use the company.”
Orion glittered. I flashed my own pearly whites back at him.
“You're a pal.”
I went back to my backpack to fetch the essentials; two bottles, two glasses, half a milk bottle. The necessities.
The bottle of wine I left in the sand, and the two glasses next to it. The bottle of kerosene I poured into the milk bottle, to light the ends of my staff.
Once both wicks were alight and dripping, I held the staff between my palms, and looked up. The moon was coming up. I winked at Orion, and spun my staff between my hands.
The fire blossomed upwards as the excess kerosene was flung into the lit wicks, like a tiny explosion. From above, or on the other side of the inlet, I imagine the light would've revealed the word Welcome! bright and clear for anyone to see, written in the sand, and beneath that a swirling pattern I'd made up just to look pretty.
So now, with the sea breeze blowing in, everything was perfect. I had a clear night with a waning moon, a bottle of wine and two fine glasses, a sea so dark it looked like a void crowned in foam, and the air smelled of woodsmoke, salt and kerosene. An enchanted evening, lacking only one thing; my lady love.
I didn't know what she'd look like. I ranted, when it came up, about the wonderment of curves on a woman, but somehow I saw my love as gangly, all limbs. I don't know what colour her hair would be, but her eyes would be dark. She would laugh sharp and sudden, like thunder, and her smile would light up a room.
With luck, she'd be turning up any moment now.
I spun my staff until the fuel ran out, hand over hand, through my legs, behind my back – anything that I knew how to do, and I figured would look attractive. I had some success with moths, but none with any women hiding in the grass, or mermaids waiting in the sea.
A mermaid. There was an idea! I think I could love a mermaid. She would always smell of salt, and she could drag me into the depths of the sea to show me things I'd never see otherwise.
I re-soaked, re-lit, and re-spun, going until I'd burned through my fuel. Then, panting, I lay my staff at my feet, breathing the smell of fuel in deep, and lay down on the sand, my head on my hands, my eyes looking straight up at Orion.
“I'm being maudlin, aren't I?”
Orion had the grace not to say anything.
“I know that look. You think this is pointless; a waste of energy. I should be out meeting people, not hoping on spells and wishes.” I sighed, turned away, turned back. He was still looking down on me. Concerned, I imagine.
“Look, you're probably right. But wishes are important too. Magic is important. Fire and salt and smoke; they're important to me. And if I'm to love, I want my love to start in these things.”
“Have you been in love, Orion?” I asked, then smiled. “Ah, of course you have, you poor bastard. You spend all your time chasing a scorpion around and round the sky. That's the kind of thing someone who's been in love does.
“It's a nasty thing, isn't it? All made of glass. Exquisite, spun like confectionery, rising up like it's about to take wing. All sharp edges and fragility, brittle, that shatters at a touch.”
Orion was staring now. I looked away “Shutup, I can spin lyrical if I want to. God knows there's nothing else to do here. She's not coming, is she?”
A wave crashed to shore and dragged back with a hiss; behind me, the fire crackled. There was no other sound. I lay there until the fire burnt to embers and the sea was curling by my heels. My welcome had been washed away. The chill was setting in, and Orion was near off the other horizon.
“Well.” I said, standing up. “Maybe tomorrow.”