52|250's Third Quarter Review

Week # 33 – Spontaneous combustion

Beveridge Reef, 20º00S 167º47′W by Michelle Elvy
Written in Fire by Len Kuntz 

We watched the monks burn, one after another.

Awash in fire, they sat so still that I thought they were fake. Flames rippled off their heads like molten hair. Each explosion caught me unaware, and I’d jerk my beer can. The grainy, black-and-white crowds on screen didn’t seem scared or surprised one bit.

“Why would anybody do something like that?”

My roommate laughed. He’d found the clips online while researching for a term paper.

“They were protesting the Vietnamese regime back in the ‘60’s.”

When I stood, the room swiveled.

“Don’t go. The best one’s coming up.”

I barely made it. I retched hard. When I was done, I started packing.

***

After that, my paintings were all infernos or burnt-out pits of ash.

My fiancé got nervous and ended us.

I lost friends.

My father came to see me. He said, “It’s obvious you have issues. I mean, all these strange paintings. And look at you. You’re about to explode.”

That was the point, of course.

I’d led a privileged life, with slick cars and cashmere socks.

I’d had so much, but nothing I cared about.

That night I took a gas can with me. I sat in the middle of the outdoor mall, ready to make myself explode. But first I tried to tell them.

I’d made a sign denouncing war. I gripped the wood handle and squeezed till my eyes bled.

People passed by. Some giggled, some tossed coins.

It took flames to get their attention.

Bitch at Heart by Susan Tepper 

Their kid was ugly. The mother was ugly and the father was ugly. What chance did the little kid have? People said what people always say: What a cute kid— stuff like that. The parents beamed. I could never bring myself to say it. My husband told me they would hold it against me. I’ll take my chances I said.

On Tuesday we went to dinner at their place. What a mess. Newspapers from a hundred years stacked next to the cold fireplace. Junk strewn everywhere. The wife stirred things in a pot then stuck in her bare hand to fiddle with some string holding the meat together. Not even out of the pot and already I’d lost my appetite.

My husband made a big show out of smacking his lips and making hunger noises. It got unbearable. I pushed the meat around my plate eating a few carrots. When we got home he told me off for not eating the meat and that started a big screaming match.

The next day the husband phoned to say it was obvious I did not enjoy myself at their place. My own husband protested saying I had a wonderful time but was just a bitch at heart. And that they musn’t take me seriously

Twinkle, twinkle, little planet by Bernard Heise 

When the first incidents occurred in Cairo, Berlin, Toronto and Wichita, people mistook them for acts of terrorism. But the reality was worse. Eyewitness reports indicated that the individuals involved were not setting off suicide bombs but rather were the victims of some sort of fire that spontaneously flamed from within before making them explode. Certainly, the explosions weren’t nearly as powerful as a typical suicide bomb, but they could easily kill or maim anyone nearby, obliterate a taxicab or disable a bus. And, apart from a large sect of evangelical Christians who were convinced, despite biblical inconsistencies, that they were witnessing the rapture and eagerly anticipated their own combustion, most people found them much more frightening, for they were completely unpredictable and unexplained. As the frequency of such incidents grew, so did the probability that within any group an individual would ignite. Like the Black Death, the threat was indiscriminate, failing to honor the privileges of socio-political distinction. Explosions were taking place in homeless shelters, corporate boardrooms, at cabinet meetings, and family dinner tables. As they looked into each other’s eyes, friends, comrades, and lovers not only recognized their mutual affection but now also understood that they were the likely agents of their own mutual destruction. And so it was that people stopped working and playing. Instead, they slipped their bonds of sociability and fled the burning cities, seeking solitude in the forests and the hills, where they forgot their language and waited in silence for the fire within.

Reiki Master by Linda Simoni-Wastila 

The morning Merilee disappeared, my lover died in a fire that started and ended in her queen-sized bed. The fire department declared arson, perhaps self-immolation, although they never found traces of accelerant. But I’d discovered Twenty-One Love Poems spread open on the rug, and remembered the heat from her hands stilled inches above my mons.

Testimony by John Riley 

The next winter the house burned down. The summer before Bobby lived with us. He was short with a thick mustache and big muscles and didn’t like wearing a shirt in the heat. He showed me how to make a belt snap by looping the end to the buckle and jerking it from both sides. It’s trickier than it sounds when you’re a kid. You’d catch a finger if you weren’t careful and have to worry about crying. I walked around snapping his belt until she yelled at me to please for God’s sake stop. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said. He did card tricks too but wouldn’t show me how they worked. I could figure them out when I grew up. Now I think about it maybe his name wasn’t Bobby. The first day he wasn’t there I kept my mouth shut. The next day I asked where he’d gone. “Back to where he came from,” she said.

Back to Wk #32 – Silence
Forward to Wk #34 – Floating away

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