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A brisk October night: the high school football team, the band, the fire department flanking the assortment of folks that part a seam around the bonfire’s light,

and the cheerleaders. We are faces in that crowd, half-lit by those huge flames and half by what’s-his-name’s Jim Beam. The band plays loudly, intermittently,

like something on the blink. In the dry air, spots of breath. The tubas gleam and boom. The team wobbles: no room on their risers. “A human wreath around the fire,” I think

in my vainglorious way, but I know better than to say it to anyone. Their heavy hoses drawn for the worst, the firemen keep watch on us, but they,

though they are not completely unconcerned with the threat of fire, know that they are part of the display. Their helmets appear wet with light. We eye them discreetly.

The bullhorn blares a bid on winning (though the chance is slim). And then we hear, “Ready? Okay.” The cheer- leaders get up and dance. They make a pyramid

of their young bodies, an old routine. Bare legs, no slack, they brace in the shadowy light, trembling, their smiles—tight as their glossy hair pulled back— disavowing the cold.