A match, half a bottle of liquor, a full can of gasoline, a house covered in cheap carpeting, with ancient, oh-so-flammable wooden furniture in every single room…

… and a house burned down in flames…

            There was smoke there was heat there was…

            …and dark. So much black and long and deep and…

            …except the blue and the red and the yellow. And the sounds weren’t dark at all. They were bright and shrill and…

            Something else.

            And the anger. Not mine, his, but still. It was there. It started the fire, tossed the fuel that would ignite their lives. End his…

            But before there was fire, there was a little girl, and she was dying. And before her parents made the call, there was me, and there was the rejection, and there was the booze to cover over that. Like a mind-numbing bandaid on the soul-crushing reality that was my life.

            And before that of course was everything else, but everything else isn’t important, except that it had contributed to the drinking of booze.

            You’d think the parents would have realized. Would have had some sense of the state of things. But there was the sickness, and it had spread, she said, and they had to go.

            I’m not sure how I got there but I did and that’s all that matters, it seems, when your nine year old has been swooped up so effectively in the firm arms of the grim reaper– you have no choice but to call on your sister, regardless of the fact that she’d been home since three thirty with little else to do but…

            All because of the boy. The teenager. The one who couldn’t be alone, even though he could, even though he fought that he was old enough, but his parents wouldn’t allow it.

Enter me. On my feet, though barely, and trying to smile, though I’m not sure it didn’t come across pained, and I couldn’t seem to figure out if smiling was quite right anyway, because why was I there again?

A girl. In the arms of–

No, that was just a parametic. And he was taking her away, her parents trailing in their stead, and sister turned her soaked through eyes to me and muttered something about the boy that I pretended to hear, and nodded, and then it stopped.

The noise. The lights. The feelings.

No, no those were already gone. Or numbed. Or, is there a difference?

The boy looked numb. Or dead, I couldn’t tell, but again…

And I couldn’t think, I couldn’t

Process the situation because all of my thoughts were still on the fact that I was having too many thoughts, and it was wrong right then, that small back corner of my brain said, but I went to the only place in their house I could even remember anymore, and found the bottle of clear liquid hiding in the back of the pantry.

I don’t remember my own drinking, really, but I remember the boy, and his bleeding eyes.

Or maybe they were just red.

But I remember them coming over and looking at me, through me, through the veil itself.

And he took the bottle.

And I thought good, someone to do it with. Less alone. More depressing when you drink alone.

Then there’s a long blank stretch, which doesn’t ever seem so concerning when you’re in the middle of it, just in the afterward. I know he said words, and I know they were slurred, though that also could have been my brain slurring them for him. And I know he started yelling, and I probably yelled along with him. It seems like the thing I would do. I hear the words fair and die and them in my head, that last one especially, over and over again. I think he said the words, or screamed them. I think I agreed with his words then.

It’s all a blur except for the moment. The moment when he decided. You could tell, even when you couldn’t tell your own name. You could tell he had decided he needed to do something, even if you didn’t know what that something was.

Apparently, he had decided to find the match book. The container of gasoline kept in the garage. Apparently he thought it was a good idea, the proper rebellion. His only choice, if I had to guess.

What I don’t remember is what happened immediately next, but I know it was fast. I remember the utter relief that set in when I escaped, when the fresh air hit. The smoke mixed with the alcohol mixed with the dizziness of the day, the night, and I couldn’t stand it, and my body must have agreed, because I left the world for a time then, right there on sister’s front lawn.

The next day I woke up to more of it. Screaming. By then, the numbness had worn off, replaced by the pain that comes automatically as a function of remorse. Also the confusion, because was I on grass? Grass coated in a thick, white substance that seemed to have grown out of the soil itself. And then I realized.

And I looked up. There was sister, and she was on the ground, and her house was…

Not.

She said words– or wailed them– and they hurt, which I realized. And I realized I didn’t like it.

So I left. I stood up on legs weak with remorse and I walked, and then I kept going.

Why feel when numbness is such a blissfully present option? So I say to the man next to me, the one who grunts back. The one who holds up a hand for another. The one whose head falls down onto the wooden bar with enough force to make my teeth clatter. And the fact that I can feel the teeth clattering isn’t a good sign, so following suit, I hold up my hand, too.

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