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What Burns Inside

T

here are two-hundred-and-twenty-seven tragedies awaiting the flame of a lover’s heart. I have counted them all.

As I run, your flame grows longer and hungrier. You want to mix with things you better not: dry tinder, bin bags, the street-trash that hasn’t seen rain in weeks. I try to cup you with my hands like a cigarette, desperate to keep you alive, but even the breath of my passage through the night is making you waver and tear like a curtain of water.

You would think your flame would burn white – pure white like an angel’s heart, such is my regard for you – but you burn green, and sputtering and foul. You gutter with the smell of paint and window frame; lead and copper flaring like hot venom.

I cross the narrow bridge over the motorway. The cars stream past as uncaring as electric current, their lights dead and yellow, compared to your living green. Around us, the city, is as intact as it was before we started, though the ‘shop on the corner’ – selling its own trash from under the counter, whispering to children – is now a burned out mausoleum. For Sean, perhaps.

Though not you.

As the fire trucks and their writhing hoses tried to extinguish your rage, I slipped in and kindled your revenge: coaxed you onto a narrow spar of wood from the window, left when the gas tank exploded.

At first, you didn’t want to come. You wanted to die, but I wouldn’t let you. I fed you a morsel – you flickered, you writhed, but at last, you bit.

I would like you to become a majestic flame, standing as tall as the justice you felt you were dispensing – rag over mouth, petrol in hand like an alcoholic; so no other parent would suffer as we have done – but you cling to that stick with a barely defined menace, the ground beneath your feet turning to clinker; curling into red ash.

At parts, you try to escape, drifting on the wind, but I hold you as close as I dare.

At other times, you try to bite the hands that hold you; that want to feed and caress you. I don’t blame you – all that is left is your all-consuming rage.

Those masked and hooded savages were not there. The building collapsed before your revenge was complete. So, what? This is it? They’ll move on, peddle again? Other children, other shops arriving and blowing away like smoke?

But you are flame; the flame of you heart, and I won’t let you die.

We cross the canal.

Don’t do that. Please.

I blacken my fingers against your desperate desire for absolution in the oily waters below, but we we both make it over: my crying hot tears, burning a section of my own shirt just to keep you alive.

Now you passion is burning me up, piece by piece.

Two streets. Three streets.

A party is going on. I can hear an amateur band playing three floors up in a Georgian flat. Multicoloured lights phase one after another within a room’s hidden volume, as laughter and boorish shouts slip from an open window. They all make light, but yours is the focused flame.

Don’t let me down, now.

You sniff hungrily at the bottle in my pocket. Be patient. It’s sauce, not a meal.

Up the steps. Quickly. You’re dying. I can see it. That green ball of coach-light is shrinking, pulling back from the walls.

We scrape past sandstone.

The door three floors up is as red, and noisy, and full of lost souls, as a gate into Hell.

Trying to hold onto you – a wild cat, spitting sparks, as if you know what an opportunity this is – I’m slopping petrol from the bottle, the lid cross-threaded from my haste to fill it. But the last of my shirt is pushed into its neck, and then you are running up the taper, writhing up the last of me.

Your kiss ignites the petrol on my hands, but we push you in together, through the letterbox, dropping your exploding rage onto a doormat that no doubt says welcome.

Hell has its flames at last.

Who knows what chemicals were stored in that flat, because I barely make it down a flight before your revenge is so unequivocal and all-consuming, there aren’t any stairs left to run on.

***

In the darkness, as the fire engines come – wailing and lamenting – I flutter along on the evening breezes, watching their red and blue lights bounce around, as if the whole world is pulsing back and fore between just those two colours – red and blue, red and blue – the colours of violence.

Black smoke obscures the belching hole in the ground, but as I watch, a green shred of flame rises up majestically, darting this way and that like a butterfly with the aims of a meteor, attempting to retake the sky. I drift in your direction, willing a meeting of souls on the chill, night air, high above the city.

As uncaring as chemicals, we meet and merge; I consuming your scrap of clear, plastic film, you my scrap of wordless newsprint.

For a while we spiral together, ascendant, until the fuel of our bodies is utterly consumed by the last of our passions.

—–

Time for a footnote. If it wasn’t going to screw up my rather old and shaky drop caps plugin, I’d have put this at the top so you could’ve skipped the reading should you have desired.

Been meaning to do this for a while, but I finally got down to recording myself reading this week’s #FridayFlash. Despite the embarrassment of talking to myself again (while editing the text, and now, recording and editing the audio)  I figured I’d give it a go. If you fancy, click on the arrow below. Let me know what you think. Yes, that is my voice. My neighbours are are probably, even now, barricading me into the flat… 😉 St.

What Burns Inside – Read by Stephen Hewitt

 

 

11 comments

1 Steve Green { 04.23.11 at 1:24 pm }

Stephen this is so very good, I don’t think I have ever read of fire being described so utterly elegantly before.

There are some wonderful details in here too,
“The lid cross-threaded from my haste to fill it” a snippet that adds a further human angle to the story.

Bravo.

2 Stephen Hewitt { 04.26.11 at 10:25 pm }

@Chuck, hopefully those contrasts made sure things weren’t too dark. Glad you liked the writing. Thanks for popping on a comment.

@John, yes, there was a fair amount of cauterizing going on in there. Got through a fair amount of the scenery and characters. Feelings and flames fun to write about.

@Aidan, have a happy Valborgsmässoafton if you decide to transplant it to San Francisco. It sounds brilliant. There’ll be something on YouTube, I’ll be bound, so I’ll check it out. Can’t understand why my spell checker is complaining about the word, ‘Valborgsmässoafton’.

@Icy, my stories mostly reveal themselves as they go so I’m happy you stuck in there. ‘love note of a pyromaniac’ 🙂

@Harry, arson and vengeance — just add poetry and simmer. I’ll probably dial back on the poetics for the next one, but this one kind of took off. Good you liked the narration. Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much.

@Steve, glad you liked my attempt to play with fire. Thank you very much 🙂

3 Harry B. Sanderford { 04.24.11 at 3:54 pm }

“I watch, a green shred of flame rises up majestically, darting this way and that like a butterfly with the aims of a meteor, attempting to retake the sky.”

Arsony and vengeance have never been more passionate or poetic.

Another killer piece Stephen, excellent narration too!

4 Icy Sedgwick { 04.24.11 at 5:57 pm }

I wasn’t sure where you were going with this at first but then it all clicked into place. I’ve never read the love note of a pyromaniac before, but you pulled it off with true aplomb.

5 Aidan Fritz { 04.24.11 at 6:16 pm }

Very elegant. I love the way you capture the ember’s love. Seasonal appropriate as well. Next Saturday is Valborgsmässoafton in Sweden which is celebrated with huge block parties around bonfires. The ending reminded me of this because the sparks fly hundreds of feet into the air.

6 John Xero { 04.25.11 at 7:58 am }

Great writing, again, maintaining and sustaining the flame through the whole piece, seamlessly merging the burning of passions and fire – feelings and flames – into one flowing idea.

With a relevant and important subject underlying it too.

The ‘corner shops’ are just a symptom of the weeping wound, far more effective to cauterize it at the base…

7 Chuck Allen { 04.25.11 at 8:38 am }

The title says it so well. This piece is so full of emotion – rage, revenge, desire. The love language used (kiss, heart, etc) is a wonderful contrast to the darkness that is unfolding. Well written!

8 justin davies { 04.29.11 at 7:50 am }

Great first line, it drew me in completely. You have captured the obsession and compulsive nature of your MC’s ‘love’ affair with fire. I like the focus on colour early on and the small details of how a window frame burns. Chilling.

9 Stephen Hewitt { 04.30.11 at 10:44 am }

Hi there Justin, thanks for the compliment on that first line. Tricky those things. With so much on fire, I figured I’d throw the windowsill on as well 😉 St.

10 Joan { 05.03.11 at 8:57 am }

Wow. At first, I thought this was going to be some sort of love story … and of course, it was! Good to hear your voice!

11 Stephen Hewitt { 05.05.11 at 10:25 am }

Hi there Joan — yes, a sort of strange love story mixed up with revenge. Fun to write. Fun with the voice. 🙂 St.

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