We’re grilling chicken thighs and deep-frying pickles and donuts, watching the cartoonish red glare of the burning city and taking bets on how long before it all spreads here, all of it, the fire, the former inhabitants, the thugs who started it all. They aren’t even on the same side, the thugs, united only in violence when they heard breaking glass and when the riot police showed up, indiscriminately cracking heads. That’s my theory. Could be wrong. Maybe it was an explosion, like we’ve been told.
Anyway, we’re cooking the last of our food, that’s why it’s such a hodgepodge of a feast. Because maybe they aren’t done burning. Maybe they’ll burn our house, our barn, the field out back, the forest that begins its three-thousand-acre march across the road and is the last known habitat of the critically endangered preening wheel butterfly.
We’d flee too, ahead of the din already undoubtedly flowing out of the city, but we never got around to fixing the transmission on the truck and I picked up a nail in the old Dodge Shadow just yesterday and we don’t have a spare tire. Jimmy was going to swap out the truck tires and put them on the car, but there’s no time. It’s like we’re under hypnosis. Don’t panic, we told each other so many times, whenever one of us hurried, or suggested we leave everything and just go, voices raised like the beginning of hysteria. The refrain became a mantra and now we are incapable of action, let alone panic.
The warmth on my face is from the grill, I tell myself, not the burning city. I turn my head, I can’t look at it anymore, but it’s embossed on my memory, pounding back from my eyes into my brain and raising a pattern there, a pattern that should ignite a survival instinct but instead sees me propping up a broken lawn chair against the garage door, popping a can of cold PBR, and waiting.
Epiphany Ferrell lives perilously close to the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in Best Microfiction 2020, New Flash Fiction Review, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Dream Noir, Ghost Parachute, and other places. She is a two-time Pushcart nominee.