[This is a revision of a previous story, “Fire.”]
My mother’s gone. My father’s a hollow shell, a fortress so impenetrable that I’ve given up all hopes of ever scaling its walls.
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 by hazy clouds. The fire alarm plastered to the ceiling outside of my room-battery long before drained-witnessed the smoke and flames devour the house in apathy. How many times had Mom insisted Dad change its batteries?
We live with my grandma and grandpa now. Dad sleeps on the plastic-wrapped couch. In the mornings, we stitch together half-hearted small talk over coffee at the kitchen table, but, for the most part, we don’t speak. After Mom was gone, I wondered if I still loved him the same. I still wonder.
Out in the hall, through the fog, I could make out the silhouette of my dad, doubled-over and blindly reaching out. I choked on the suffocating smoke suspended in the air all around us. He gripped my shoulder and applied pressure, gesturing for me to lower myself to the floor. He followed me down, and we began crawling.
Every night, at precisely 1:27 A.M., my bed springs to life with movement, mailing tingles from my toes, delivering them straight to the highest hair on my head. The first time it happened, I yelped and popped off the mattress like a jack-in-the-box, panting as my brain attempted to piece together a logical explanation for the trembling.
Our captor kidnapped the oxygen as we crawled, our only goal now to escape. The tall, savage flames singed my hair as I screwed up my eyes and silently prayed for us to make it to the front door. The heat gnawed at our bodies, begging for a taste of our slick flesh.
A week ago, the vibrating graduated to a violent quaking, an isolated earthquake felt only by my bed. This time, and all the times after, I didn’t bother evacuating; after checking for monsters under my bed, I dug in and rode out the storm.
Glass cracked, portraits melted, and furniture grilled. Black soot spanned over the off-white walls. Lust-filled 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 plow through it. It jumped at the chance to broil me, to blister my flesh.
Every night, at precisely 1:27 A.M., I turn on the lamp on my nightstand, flop onto my stomach, lower my head to the hardwood floor, and peer at the dusty floor beneath the bed while my lower half bucks as if I’m riding a mechanical bull.
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. Its ravenous flames encircled us, inviting us to keep it company at its barbecue, to become its meal.
The truth is that Mom hated Dad. Dad’s a firefighter. He spends a lot of his free time with his fire-fighting buddies, even now…especially now. Family has always been an afterthought to the man who fathered me. Mom found solace from her loneliness in Andrew’s bed, fucking and pretending we didn’t exist. I used to lay awake, wondering how late she’d stroll in this time, reeking of sex and his cologne.
I saw him at the grocery store once, Andrew. He was feeling up avocados, applying pressure to them. When he noticed me watching him, he folded into himself and skipped off to another aisle. I tickled the avocados, my fingertips dancing over their dark green skins. His hands had been here, seconds ago, the very tools used in exploration of my mom’s body. I imagined him cupping her breasts and stifled a sudden and severe sob.
Wait! Don’t go! the flames pleaded as they lashed out, whipping my father’s thighs. Dad crumpled to the floor, a rug of sweaty limbs. My head was a balloon, desiring to float up to the ceiling, and there it would stay, until the greedy fire popped it.
“Get rid of it!” Dad cried before Mom had finished speaking.
She’d gathered us together not long before the end, told us she had news. This was the death sentence, the revelation that ultimately severed our family unit with one clean swipe.
“You don’t control me. Not anymore,” was her cool reply.
“You’re killing me,” Dad whimpered.
I was sore with affection for him, but I needed him to fight. This whining man was pathetic and weak, in stark contrast with the father I knew.
I waltzed with my dance partner, the flames. If they’d pledge eternity to me, I thought I’d gift them my body. ‘Need to break out of here.’ I was presented with no other choice but to stand. My dad was a sack of deadweight. That coupled with my incessant coughing was slowing my progression.
He struck her later that day, the day we learned she was expecting. Slapped her across the face, imprinting an angry red mark onto her soft cheek. In her shock, she laughed. Dad wept, apologizing to both of us. His eyes were bright with tears, and strings of slobber dripped out of his twisted mouth. Mom, her face a blank canvas, answered his regret with, “I’m moving out. And I’m filing for divorce.”
Her lips unintentionally curled up when she uttered “divorce.” I sensed the pleasure of that moment seeping out of her. Her body practically hummed with the satisfaction of administering that last fatal blow to him.
I burst out of the war zone into a cloudless night, grasping my dad’s ankles in my aching hands. The sky was heavy with stars like twinkling diamonds. The air was mercy on my burning lungs.
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.
Somehow, I’d made it. Dad was unconscious, but breathing. I fed voraciously of the cool, untainted air. Eyes squeezed shut, I could’ve been at a bonfire instead of outside my burning home. We’d survived.
The investigators informed us that she was consumed in the fire. Dad and I were unaware that Mom had returned home to scoop up some belongings late that night. She was still smoking, even at ten weeks pregnant. She nodded off with a lit cigarette in the recliner and set fire to our lives-only, the fire was burning before it ever touched our home.
Andrew didn’t attend her memorial.
1:27 A.M., last night. Upside down, like a scared child, I noticed something under the bed. I caught a whiff of burning hair as I stood up. With a stomach like a pouch of bubbling acid, I pushed the bed against a wall and dropped to my knees. There were piles of soot before me, rolling hills that formed letters. My rapid breath scattered some of it across the floor. I could read the message clearly all the same:
they lied dad burned me alive