This Isn’t Gray

Teddy Engs


Yesterday Skye went for a run wearing two N95’s and came back hacking.

Today he thumbs a beer, levers his recliner.

He says over ninety percent of wildfires are caused by human activity.

He says forests are supposed to burn, that it is a part of their cycle.

These statements appear to contradict one another, but they might not.

I look outside; it isn’t gray; it’s more a matte, carcinogenic sepia.

Portland’s AQI is 612, the highest on Earth.

The next highest is Jakarta, Indonesia at 196.

I think Skye gets his information from Instagram.

I know I do.

Smoke is a visible suspension of carbon in the air, typically one from a burning substance.

I got that from

A DIY treatment for smoke inhalation is to boil yarrow, thyme, and eucalyptus.

I got that from Mom.

Dad was a smoker, and when I was little, she’d have me inhale the therapeutic steam.

I announce that the Beachie Creek Fire is 7% contained.

Skye says containment statistics are often falsified.

I wait for him to elaborate. He does not.

Sometimes I wonder if Skye has actual opinions, or if he just repeats things he reads.

What is an opinion, if not repeating things you read?


I once read that recycling is a way to combat global warming.

I also read that recycling is a ploy to trick people into thinking they can combat global warming.

Although these are both opinions, it is a fact that people have these opinions.

I don’t think I said that right.

Here’s a fact: our trash service has been temporarily suspended and we keep mounting garbage

on top of the already-full cans, balancing things at precarious angles.

Another fact: a bus with nobody in it passes our living room window.

Skye spills his beer.

I toss him a rag.

Fact amendment: there was a bus driver in the bus.

I step outside for the first time in three days.

The trees hug themselves; there aren’t birds; the sun looks like the most organic egg yolk you’ve ever seen.

Logically, I know smoke comes from fire, but for some reason, this feels like a separate event.

I try to picture fire.

I see a coiling (smokeless) orange.

In the middle of picturing, Mom calls.

She asks what I’m doing Sunday.

She’s worried Church will get canceled.

She’s worried Church will burn.


Teddy Engs is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chestnut Review, Split Lip Magazine, and Expat Press. He is an associate editor at Typehouse Magazine.