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Baptism of Fire

My brother is a submarine. Ten seconds, thirty, sixty. He erupts from the water, laughing beneath a meringue-peak hat.

I trace my thumb over the coiled helix etched into the lighter’s smooth surface, flick open the lid, and strike the spark wheel. The sulphurous scent of butane spreads mottled wings through the air and flutters against my eyelashes.

Soap bubbles soar like spaceships around me and burst with lemon-sugar sweetness on my tongue. Your turn, he says, and pushes me under.

I have only ever known the edges of things. When I look at our house I see a child’s drawing. A tilted roof and angled walls, four square windows and a rectangular door. Crazy lines sketched in wild red crayon.

I kick and splash and pry his fingers from my neck, but he is too strong. Water creeps down my throat and fills my lungs as the world shrinks to a pinprick. I lay still, listening to his chant echo through the narrow tunnel of my consciousness—fifty-eight—

The doctor says that light is a magnet. She says this explains why fluorescent bulbs attract insects and why sea turtles die in city storm drains. She says this is why I see beauty in fire, but she is wrong.

Fire is beautiful because it has no edge.

—fifty-nine—

Cortical blindness is a neurological visual impairment caused by damage to the brain’s occipital cortex. Most cases are congenital. Others, like mine, are acquired.

—sixty.

At night, I lay beneath his bunk and count his breaths. I strike a match and pinch it out with every exhalation.

—fifty-eight—

I sit astride the front gate and watch the house from the corner of my eye. Colour blooms across my retina, a mitosis of kaleidoscopic blots that divide and grow into a seething, swollen mass.

—fifty-nine—

A silhouette appears in the bedroom window and screams.

—sixty.

My brother is a submarine. I see him sink into the torrid crimson nebula as sirens flash and flare around me.

I imagine whorls of smoke filling his lungs. I hold my palm over the lighter, clench my hand into a fist, and extinguish the flame.

Your turn.


Flash Fiction by Christopher M Drew
Picture: zippo by frankieleon under CC BY 2.0

Published in Summer 2017

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