I don’t smile much anymore.
The acrid smoke was what awoke me from my dreamless slumber. I stirred, hacking. I was drowning in a pool of thick gray, the familiarity of my room swallowed in hazy clouds. The fire alarm plastered to the ceiling outside of my room-battery long before drained-kept silent, witnessing the smoke and flames devour the house in apathy.
I live with my grandpa and grandma. Dad sleeps on the plastic-wrapped couch. We don’t speak much. Now that she’s gone, I wonder if I still love him the same.
Glass cracked, portraits melted, and furniture grilled. Black soot spanned over the off-white walls, an imperialist staking claim over the weak and unprepared. Lusty flames licked sentimental items: the family Bible, my baby book, and photo albums, all baked and curled in its scorching heat. The fire roared at me, daring me to test it, jumping at the chance to broil me, to blister my flesh.
Every night, at precisely 1:27 A.M., my bed at my grandparents’ vibrates, mailing tingles from my toes, sending them straight to the highest hair on my head.
Out in the hall, through the fog, I discerned my father, static and fearful. We both choked on the toxic, suffocating smoke cocktail hanging around us.
A week ago, the vibrating graduated to a rumbling, an isolated earthquake only affecting my bed.
Our oppressor, the smoke, kidnapped the oxygen and pumped our lungs full of carbon monoxide and dioxide. My father intertwined his fingers in mine. Together, we waved white flags of defeat at our captor, the inferno, our only goal now to escape. The heat emanating from the tall, savage flames singed my hair as we squinted and prayed to make it to the front door. The heat gnawed at us, begging for a taste of our slick flesh.
Every night, at precisely 1:27 A.M., I flip on the lamp on the nightstand, flip over on my stomach, lower my head to the hardwood floor, and peer at the dusty ground underneath the bed while my lower half bucks as if I’m riding a mechanical bull.
The intensity of the fire was hottest in the living room. It crackled and popped and hissed as it charred our family space. The skin exposed on me was seared by it. It ruthlessly taunted as its ravenous flames surrounded us, inviting us to keep it company at its barbecue.
Mom and Dad hated one another. Dad’s a firefighter. He spends a lot of his time with his fire-fighting companions, even now. Mom found comfort in Andrew’s bed, fucking and pretending we didn’t exist, while Dad and I lay awake, wondering how late she’d be out this time.
‘Wait! Don’t go yet!’ the flames pleaded as they lashed out, whipping my father’s calves.
I saw him once. I recognized his face from Mom’s Facebook page. He was feeling up avocados, applying pressure to them. When he noticed me, he folded into himself and rushed to another aisle. I tickled the avocados, my fingertips dancing over the brown-green skins. His hands had been here, seconds ago.
My father crumpled to the carpet. My head was a balloon, desiring to float up to the ceiling and there it would stay, until the greedy fire busted it with its rampaging heat.
“Get rid of it!” Dad said.
“You don’t control me, not anymore,” was Mom’s reply.
Her breasts already seemed fuller, filled with more volume than her B cups.
“You’re killing me,” Dad whimpered.
I thought him pathetic, my back pressed against the wall of the hallway, eavesdropping.
I danced frenetically with the flames. If they’d pledge eternity to me, I thought I’d gift them my body. ‘Whoa-need to break out of here.’ My father was a sack of deadweight. My incessant coughing was slowing my progression.
Every. Night. 1:27 A.M. Upside down, I see nothing. Monsters don’t lurk under beds and in closets. They roost in minds and hearts.
I exploded out of the war zone into a cloudless night. The sky was heavy with twinkling diamonds. The air was mercy on my burning lungs.
He struck her once, across the face. In her shock, she laughed. Dad wept and apologized to her-and to me. Stonily, her answer to his regret was, “I’m moving out. And I’m filing for divorce.”
She appeared blank, but I saw her lips unintentionally curl at the ends when she’d uttered “divorce.”
My father was unconscious, but breathing. I drank voraciously of the untainted air. Eyes closed, I could’ve been at a bonfire instead of outside my burning home. We’d survived.
The fire investigators informed us that she was consumed in the fire. Dad and I didn’t realize that she’d returned home to scoop up some belongings as we slept. She was still smoking, even at ten weeks pregnant. She nodded off with a lit cigarette in the recliner and ignited our lives and the memories of us.
1:27 A.M., last night. Upside down, like a scared child, I noticed organized piles of dust on the floor under the bed. I pushed the bed against a wall.
Written with tiny hills of soot:
“Your dad burned me alive”