Control Lit Mag was good enough to publish my short story, “Silence” back in June, in their second issue. Given that some of the spacing is off in their journal, I decided to re-post the piece here (and yet, I am extremely appreciative they were kind enough to accept the story). Other stories from the same work-in-progress have been appearing in various places lately (which is enormously cool, including Grain, The Puritan, Matrix Magazine, Atlas Review and Numero Cinq, with another forthcoming in The New Quarterly.
Books themselves take time, more time than most of us are used to giving them.
Ali Smith, Artful
I awoke from a dream of fire. In my dream, I was standing alone in our two-bedroom condo, which morphed into a three-storey Victorian house. The flame was deep. The air sparked.
White curtains shriveled. The pulse of my footprints burned into the hardwood.
The fire surrounded me, feral, and grew. It concurrently curtseyed, swung, screamed running, jumped bare boned and stood, stock-still.
I wake, woke, startled. A confusion of tenses. Bedsheets damp at my chest and my belly, smelling of sweat-musk.
Asleep on my left side, I pushed slightly back, jostling against him just enough to hear him grumble, feel his slight shift of torso. Make room.
We settled, both of us, and melted, returned immediately to sleep.
I don’t know anything about you.
At thirteen years old, she salvaged three books of matches her mother had abandoned on the kitchen counter. Each held a busty outline with neon lettering, plucked from her father’s laundry.
From the back step she caught the firefly of passing headlights sprinkle up from the highway, through summer dark. The evening settled, inch by noticeable inch. She flicked matches, lit, at the moon.
The moon rose, orange-pink. She did not know the name of it. She did not know that each moon had a name. Pink, Wolf, Harvest. Errant Blue.
The breeze stole the last of the matches and flung it, mid-air, into a stack of cardboard, set resting against the house. Before she could salvage it, flame began to devour. Cardboard refuse smoldering slow from the inside. It took. Burning cardboard, up against brick.
She panicked. She stomped with her feet and mashed the worst of it out and the rest in succession, ash floating free in small gusts.
What is often most important is what is the most mundane. The jars beneath the kitchen sink. The coupons that created her stockpile. Dish soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cereals, toilet and tissue papers, diapers, wipes, crackers and salad dressings. This is what has kept us, she knows. What stretched them beyond their small incomes. It had helped make them strong.
Her father’s only advice: never pay full price for anything.
She clipped and saved, negotiating the spaces between the world, between commerce and income.
Couponista, she called herself. It was more soothing, even impish, compared to what her husband had named her: crazy coupon lady.
I woke from a dream, which was a dream of fire. My skin was warm, and yet, would not burn. I was hot metal naked, deep through the conflagration. Not a hair on my body was singed.
In the mirror, I could see only what the fire had left.
It flickered deep inside me. I felt the flame harden blue, low in my abdomen, resting just on the bladder. The baby kicked, and I became agitated. I feared for my baby, trapped inside with the fire. I clawed at my belly with hands and fingernails, finding little but blood.
And then I stopped, realizing that the baby wasn’t trapped inside with the fire. He was the fire.
My skin froze. Water vapour rose from the surface.
And I was afraid.
According to stories, what Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, Baron de Rais caught first was the smell. It was May, 1431, and he had arrived too late to save the maid, Joan, from her death at the stake.
The skin blisters, bubbles, burns. Skin blackens, fades and slowly crumbles to ash.
The sight of my old flame: a meaning that didn’t emerge until far later, into the 1840s.
Joan, burning up into fable, and legend. Cremated, burned alive. De Rais arrived too late, and spent subsequent years killing and burning the bodies of young boys and girls, releasing the scent of burnt flesh. He might have killed hundreds.
He, who has been falsely identified as the model for Bluebeard.
He killed, savagely. By recreating the loss, he had also recreated the moment immediately preceding that loss, when his life with his near-lover Joan was still possible. He burned.
Is this love turned impossibly ugly, or a form of pure narcissism?
Whatever might have been beautiful in him had been broken.
I don’t think I am afraid of my unborn child. A flutter, evolved into a kick. The sensation is impossible to describe, but for what is obvious: the feeling of being kicked from the inside.
I dream cannibal dreams. Sometimes I am ravenous, violently attacking everyone around me, and feeding off the remains. Sometimes I am the one being consumed, from the inside. Like some dark version of Victorian consumption, a cough bleeding into white linen. To waste away in a sigh, the back of my right hand affixed to my forehead.
I am afraid of what I do not yet know. I am afraid of fire. This soft, growing flesh within coincides with but one of those fears.
Most days I am certain which one, but other days, I am not sure.
It is not uncommon for pregnant women to dream of being devoured.
Geena Davis in The Fly (1986), and her nightmare of giving birth to larvae, the result of her husband’s terrible metamorphosis.
They say to know a person is to read what they’ve written. I write in my journal, daily. I wonder what it might say about me.
There is a lonely teenage boy in every pop song.
The way you can see heat in the air outside, shimmer. My father, who once melted aluminum siding along one side of the homestead, unaware of the potential heat generated from the back of his barbecue.
From my third-storey vantage point, a sequence of neighbourhood cats skulk about, each with their own shady purpose. This Saturday afternoon deck, and the yard behind ours, as small children scream through their turns on the swingset.
I am learning to filter out everything.