we’ll pause here…
“oh, susan,” her husband bill murmured.
“…yes,” susan replied.
we’ll resume here
“how do we burn?” he asked limpidly.
“what?” i replied uncertainly.
“it’s a simple enough question.” he turned languidly towards me. malleable bones? “how do we burn?”
“i don’t understand you,” i told him.
he turned somewhat away – slightly disappointed, perhaps, to be in such slow company? – and breathed a sigh towards the ceiling.
“we are all oxidizing,” he patiently explained. “our bodies, our words, our wills. combusting into the air around us.” an impatient circular hand gesture. “if we have a choice, it’s in deciding how we burn. are we slow and steady? volatile and violent? how do we burn?”
he turned back and faced me directly, eyes riveting mine.
“how do you burn?” he interrogated.
i wished then to not understand him.
we’ll reprise here
“oh, susan,” her husband bill demurred.
“yes,” susan insisted.
still not speaking
it took several weeks for dawson’s hands to heal. a kind cowgirl consort of paul’s would come by the house and tend to the lacerations, change the bandages, monitor the swelling and generally coo and fuss over dawson, who was at once deeply touched and wildly embarrassed. the housemates carefully pretended to notice neither fluorescent emotion. it was dawson.
one evening during his convalescence, we were sitting together at the kitchen table. dawson cocked his head appraisingly at me and uttered between sips of beer, “we do what we have to, brother.”
I looked at him, surprised and a bit nonplussed.
“we do what we have to,” he repeated to the kitchen table.
i – in retrospect, wisely – said nothing.
he was lying curled up, half against the dumpster and the wall. i know i’d broken his jaw. it looked like i might have busted his eye socket. if he hadn’t tried to fight back, you know
aw, hell: if he hadn’t tried to fight back, i still would have fucked him up.
i stomped on his leg – a postscript of sorts.
he moaned hoarsely, his voice smoke, gravel, blood.
“please, dude,” he rasped, drawing the words out, quavering hand levitating from the pavement. “please…”
i kicked him in the gut, hard. because the alley stank. my brain was on fire. i tasted like carbon and iron filings. i was sober and horny and trapped and livid and wanted to be any sunny fucking place but here.
“just keep your fuckin’ mouth shut,” i told him.
…he folded in on himself then, wrapped in obdurate darkness. he was losing himself to himself and we all knew it.
that was how he burned. a solitary greasy trash fire.
we’ll recap here
“oh, susan,” her husband bill relented.
“yes,” susan affirmed.
still, not speaking
blunt, blunted, bluntly: i’m sick of words corroding on my tongue. surely in a world aflame with imprecation, invective, obloquy, opprobrium, scolding and rebuke, i could find my own way to spit fire. some new, authentic means by which to say go fuck yourselves.
go: fuck yourselves.