Monday needs someone to tell her that she sounds like Lauren Bacall, so she walks over to the fire station and lays herself down on the top of a fire truck. I clean the truck and listen. She’s like a fever except what I have to wait for her to do is the opposite of break.
My house is next to the station and her house is next to mine. She moved in six months ago and, just as quick, her drapes went up in flames. Someone flicked a cigarette through her window. When I broke down her door, she was just sitting there, ready to burn with them and everything.
“I don’t know what to do differently,” she says from the top of the truck, about how to sound like Lauren Bacall, about how to stop fire from following her.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” I say, Bacall’s big line in To Have and Have Not. “You just put your lips together and blow.”
I put my thumb over the mouth of the hose and spray over the truck. Monday, on her back, watches it arc above her body like a shield.
Monday does impressions for money and attention and all the other things people sometimes die from having too much or not enough of. She’s got dozens of voices and they all think I suffer from some form of Florence Nightingale effect. I saved Monday’s life and now have to listen to Meryl Streep and Bart Simpson convince me that I’m in love with her.
“It’s romantic,” Monday says in her own voice, the sound of ice cubes expanding in something like hot gravy or outer space. “The rescuing me part, not the think of all the people who will die because of this part.”
After the trucks are clean and I’m at home with ice cream and books, I glance out my window and see Monday watching The Big Sleep. It’s to the part where Lauren Bacall says, You’ve forgotten one thing—me. Just as Humphrey Bogart grabs ahold of the inside of her elbow, the last action of the movie, Monday shuts the tape off.
I know how it ends, with Bogart asking What’s wrong with you? and then Bacall saying Nothing you can’t fix, but for some reason what I hear instead of their voices is the string section ballooning up behind them, floating toward the door like flames.
When Monday’s drapes lit up, it was the first fire in eight years. A month later, we had our second, a garbage can by the baseball field. By the time I got there the ash had blown itself up from home plate towards third base.
Then a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. An abandoned shed on a farm outside of town. Nobody was hurt, but the fires were bigger and closer together, contractions for shit luck.
Monday’s told me about the other fires: an upturned candle on a nightstand in Missoula, bad wiring in an old coffee maker in Pensacola, a dozen more she’d conjured up like static or, worse, who-knows-what.
“I bet you became a fireman so you could have people love you without having to give any of yourself away,” Monday tells me as I try to do bookwork on the part of the desk she’s not sitting on.
I just got back from putting out the newest fire, an Oldsmobile in the corner of the used car lot that went up and caught the gas tank of the car next it. “My life doesn’t count as risking anything?” I ask her.
“You’re talking about the end,” she says. “I’m talking about the middle.”
When the bookwork is done, I drive her to a palm reader. She walks out afterwards and shows me her palm, a curved ring of Solomon, a feathered beginning to her line of heart.
“No truth without emotion,” she says. “What do I do with that?”
The taco truck burns to the ground and the owner loses three of his fingers, all of his lettuce. Monday doesn’t come over to the station when I get back from putting it out, but she’s in my house on the couch when I go home a few hours later.
“The fire’s running towards me and I’m running towards you,” she says, crying, a glass of my iced tea in her hand. “Do you remember after you carried me out of my house, after the fire was out, and I’d wandered into the street? I said Now what? and you said Get out of the street.”
“That’s good advice,” I say.
The next morning she’s still sleeping on the couch. I come out of my room and see her like she was after she got out of the street, after she walked onto the grass and kept practicing her Mrs. Butterworth impression, going And buttery! over and over with different inflections.
This is to say that, often, the sun hits her like she’s a big bottle and I am to her like she is to fire, a touch of gravity in the face of easy destruction.
It’s all colors, the only simple thing in the whole damn world. Once Monday hears the color, she can do the voice. She tells me there’s no easier way to explain it.
“Elizabeth Taylor is salmon. Lucille Ball is neon teal,” she says, back up on the truck, still avoiding her Lauren Bacall.
“What am I?” I ask. The fire whistle goes off before she can answer. It’s only been two weeks since the taco truck. Monday climbs down quick, runs home looking like a Jenga tower.
The storage shed of the meat processing plant burned down with one of the butchers inside. Old kerosene and a misplaced smoke break. Later, I answer the phone at the station and hear my own voice come back at me.
“Yellow,” Monday says, sniffling. “Like a hazard.”
And she laughs my laugh instead of hers, a small comfort, perhaps.
Monday explains her name to everyone. We’re at the market so she can get vegetables and cake mix. The line behind us keeps getting longer as Monday goes through her spiel to the cashier. The voice of Tuesday Weld, the voice of Wednesday Addams. Days of the week and so on.
I don’t believe she’s causing the fires until we’re outside and a cart with nobody pushing it moves towards us. It has in it a brown paper bag full of something I can’t see and a bunch of flames I can.
Monday pulls me to the side and kicks the cart back in the direction it came, the bag spilling over and going out when it does. She takes a piece of hair from the corner of her mouth, looks at me and says in Humphrey Bogart’s voice, “You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how, how far you can go.”
We look at the bag, hear it crinkle as the wind stokes the embers, there, but quiet.
Ryan Werner is musician living in the American Midwest. He’s released many albums and books of varying genre and quality that have propelled him on tours across the USA several times over, despite better judgment.