When There’s Nothing Left to Burn

by | Aug 6, 2019 | Fiction, Issue Ten

When I am thirty-two, I fall in love with a man who thinks I am his.

Our house is made of wood—the walls, the stairs, the Christmas tree. Everything is on fire; pine-scented, staggering orange flames. We escape unscathed from our bedroom where a candle caught the curtains while we slept. The man stands by the fence in his pajama bottoms. I am in a t-shirt, one of his; it’s so worn there are small holes around its neck. It is snowing and the flakes melt when they hit my face.


When my grandfather lies dying in a hospital room, my grandmother goes to him. She unhooks his IV, his observation machines, his catheter. She places him in a wheelchair and brings him home to die.

I wonder what that would feel like, to return home with someone only to let them go.

I wonder if courage died with her generation.


My boyfriend and I sit along the edge of a river and slice our hands open with my pocket knife. We smear our bloody palms together, make promises we think we’ll be able to keep, kiss and kiss and kiss until our lips become numb. Then we plunge our fists into the freezing water, see who can hold theirs under the longest.

I win, I say with a grin, but do I?


The night our father leaves, my sister and I build a blanket fort in front of the living room fireplace. Buried underneath layers of wool and fleece, I tell her love is for losers.

I will never love anyone, I declare as she braids the tassels along the edge of her blanket.


My husband and I venture into the city. He goes to the liquor store to order a keg. I go to the party store to order balloons. There is no occasion; it is a random celebration. In hindsight, I will wonder if our need for this type of nothing is a sign.

We walk along meticulous streets, always parallel to each other, never crossing paths.

I call him from the payphone. Where are you? I ask.

I’m right here, he replies. Can’t you see me?


I stand next to the firepit in our backyard, a marshmallow stuck to the end of my stick. I scorch its outside until it’s black, gently peel the burnt layer back, listen for the crackle of hot carbon hitting my tongue, the quick dash of pain from its heat. I do this over and over until there is only a tiny nub left, barely enough to bake, before asking for another.


When I am thirty-four, I fall in love with a man I can’t have.

I meet him in the grocery store and go to his apartment. There is a single futon on his floor. There is cold ramen on his stove; noodles and pork and egg in a salty broth. The man kisses me—my face, my chest, my hip bones.

What if it were this simple, I think. What if it were this simple.


When I am thirteen, my sister and I sneak down to the beach in the middle of the night. We wrap blades of grass around the butts of our cigarettes, lie where the water meets the sand and stare up at the sky. Her skirt is ripped and there is blood on her lip. I tell her she can trust me with the truth. I tell her not all guys are assholes. But she talks about the glare of the moon instead.

Look how much light it gives off, she says. Can you imagine glowing that brightly?


While cooking supper, I cut my finger on the lid of a tuna fish tin. I drive myself to the hospital because it won’t stop bleeding. The doctor gives me a shot, tells me I need a tetanus booster every ten years, and I use my knuckles to count that out: thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. It feels like an eternity.

That night, I inspect the cut, pry it open to see how far down it goes. See if I can catch the whiteness of bone. I am taken with the fineness of the layers of my skin, how fragile each one is on its own.


I start a bonfire in our backyard. It is raging. My husband and I throw in green matter—leaves, branches, memories—all of it flammable. We sit too close, both of us burning but refusing to back up. It is a game of bonfire chicken, neither one of us wanting to flinch first, both of us knowing one of us eventually will.

Read more Fiction | Issue Ten

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