UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION

F. MICHAEL LAROSA

Fire

         She did the first one while he lay sprawled across the ratty old sofa in the den.

         He had, typically, topped off an evening of violence by washing a fistful of Valiums down with

Max Beckmann, Still Life With Three Skulls
a quart of cheap whiskey and passing out.

         She pulled herself off the dirty linoleum, dizzy, her body aching, her lips swollen and still bleeding from his fist, staggered in from the kitchen and saw him there, suddenly vulnerable.

         Her reaction was spontaneous, as though she had done the drill a thousand times.

         She went to her purse for a cigarette, but slid two from the pack, lit them both, walked to the sofa and pushed one between his fingers.

         Then she sat and smoked and watched the cigarette burn down until the little glowing tip reached the cushion of the sofa, saw the fibers glow and burn and quickly die, and wondered if it was going to catch.

         There was a shot of whiskey in the bottom of the bottle. She sprinkled it across his pants leg and shirt, and in two minutes he was burning like a torch.

         He tried to wake up, obviously in pain, but the chemicals in his body held him down, in semiconsciousness, writhing around in what he must have thought was Hell.

         The place was full of smoke and stink when she decided to call 911. She pretended as though she had just wakened, found the apartment on fire and her boyfriend frying like bacon on a grill, and panicked, helpless and silly.

         "Just like a woman," she said to herself cynically. "Just like a goddamed silly bitch."

         "My boyfriend--he's passed out--he's burning! Oh, God! I don't know what to do!"

         And they banged though the door ten minutes later with hoses and a stretcher. They put the blackened corpse out with a heavy blanket and hosed the smoldering sofa down while she feigned hysteria.

         And that was Johnny.

         Dead.

         Burned.

         Busted.

         That simple.

         The second, Jerry, had not beat her like John. She killed him for general principles.

         He was, first of all, a liar prone to making promises he couldn't keep.

         And he was a junky. A junky and a leech who wouldn't hold down a job. He deserved it, really. Any woman who had to put up with his lying, whiny, lazy shit for a month would have agreed.

         She did the same number on Jerry as John--let the little asshole ingest enough chemicals to put an elephant in a coma, doused him with alcohol, slid a lit fag between his fingers and watched the fire eat him up.

         He had wakened, but the flames were already wrapped around his body, had already begun to devour his skin and hair, and so it was for just a few seconds that they locked eyes--Jerry's terrified, pleading from a face that was melting like wax and KaSandra's smug and cold as ice.

         Victorious.

         The fire gobbled up the curtains and began to eat the walls, and in a few seconds the mobile home they had rented was a narrow tunnel of heat and smoke. She scurried along the floor like a cockroach, feeling her way frantically down the darkened hall to the back door. The knob felt white hot in her hand, and though it turned freely, the aluminum door was jammed--already sealed, she thought, by the intense heat. Her throat and eyes burned ferociously, and for an instant she visualized herself dying with the piece of shit she had left to squirm and scream on the bedroom floor. But when she rammed her shoulder against the door it swung open and she stumbled out under the canopy of stars where neighbors waited to comfort and assist and sirens wailed in the distance.

         She left Charlotte after that and moved to Columbia. She told herself she would not burn any more men--that she would simply not put herself in situations that forced her to burn them.

         She met a woman in a bar called Sisters and they moved in together, living like husband and wife. KaSandra worked second shift in a plant that printed bank checks and later as a telephone solicitor, and sometimes when the boss rode her ass she would think, "I will burn you, motherfucker. I will fry your fat, turkey ass. " She thought that when she felt the mechanic had cheated her, and when a man had cut her off and made a left turn, causing her to slam on her brakes and spill her Pepsi.

         She thought sometimes she would like to burn up all the men in the world--stack them up, douse them with gasoline and set a match to everything born with a penis.

         She imagined burning the very powerful men she saw in the news--visualized tying them to big leather chairs in sound proof suites, dousing them with charcoal lighter and setting them on fire.

         "Burn, motherfucker," she'd say. "Feed those flames."

         But the third was only Stacy Gilbert's man Harry, who beat his wife mercilessly.

         Big, arrogant, lazy cow beating on a woman who weighed less than a hundred pounds.

         Broke her arm.

         Broke her jaw.

         "I will," KaSandra thought when they met at the hospital, "burn your fat ass."

         And so while Stacy lay in a hospital bed with her jowls wired shut and glucose flowing into her veins, KaSandra carried a couple of six packs and a pocket full of Valiums to Stacy's apartment, where she let herself in and cooked a big, greasy mess of fried chicken and rice with cream gravy and corn on the cob.

         And when Harry got home he thought he was going to get him a little dark meat--thought he was going to fill his fat belly with fried chicken and then get naked and rub it all over KaSandra. But KaSandra put the Valiums in his beer, and in a few minutes had to practically carry him into the bedroom.

         Men were so stupid!

         She did everything the same.

         Alcohol. Cigarette.

         Phoom!

         The flames leaped into action. Licking. Caressing. Only Harry woke up and, with a clear head, wrapped himself in the blanket and put the fire out.

         And then he looked right in KaSandra's face--a hard look that KaSandra had seen on her daddy's face years ago when he worked Mr. Snelgrove's farm in Georgia, and she knew what was coming, and she knew she couldn't stop it, and as much as she wanted to run, she couldn't make her feet move.

         She saw the anger and arrogance and hatred in Harry's face, saw his big fist descending like a meteor from the cracked, rust-stained ceiling that was the sky.

         And as the sparks flew inside her brain she thought, "I will fry your ass, motherfucker. I will burn you up. I will make you pay!"

F. Michael LaRosa is an artist and writer who has been published in a number of magazines over the years, including Evergreen Chronicles, Old Red Kimono, Underground Voices, Yellow Mamma, and others. His sculpture can be seen at www.larosart.com







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