Brianna R Duffin
Flames fall from the sky. They bounce off my skin, hard and fast. The colors are just like a sunrise- melted gold, sensualized red, burnt orange, flowery yellow, touches of white, tinges of blue- as they explode across the barren soil. Rain leaps from one place to another, swirling through the air and closing off all of the universe outside the hurricane from all of me, trapped under its rage. The flames are pouring from the sky, shooting stars so angered by the nature of the wishes they’re burdened with that they just had to shoot down to earth and burst those bubbles fast. But I digress.
We aren’t talking about stars here. We’re talking flames, by nature not so different but mentally held as not so similar. And these flames are not twinkling stars, tucked safely up, up, and away thousands of miles in the untouchable sky. Sexual sparks aren’t flying; we’re talking the flames that rise from a quiet, docile woman scorned a thousand times over when she releases her energy even through eyes blinded by tears. Small, powerful, dangerous, consuming. Firey.
I stand on cracked pavement with a fuzzy hood cloaking my head, so large it shields everything but a few unfortunate but unimportant wisps of hair from the chaos of everything outside the hood. As untimely as you may find it, I’m daydreaming. I think about my mom, delicate hand forever resting on her baby bump. She always has that bump, center of her existence. Her hair is a textured mess of curls, just like mine. Her skin is smooth and glowing, unlike mine, but classic chocolate and almonds. And that rich color was inevitably passed on, irrevocably mine.
As always, my mother has her head down to admire her bump. I’ve never seen her eyes, not once in my life. She is blind. I always find it funny. My daddy’s heart quit when he found out everything that he’d lost- which amounted to nearly everything that mattered to him-, but I paint his picture with a full, rich, and beautiful heart thumping away. But my mother. I never saw her eyes, so she didn’t have them. I guess that makes sense in a way. I had learned enough of Marshall and seen enough photos to know the man I’d never met. But no one has ever told me a thing about Katherine. Only two photos of her belong to me in the way of a real mom, both lousy and incomplete. A wedding portrait taken to display her hair on her crown and the train of her gown. A polaroid of my trademark pout, telling me I could’ve had a beautiful smile, one way I don’t take after her in exchange for the one way I do.
But this isn’t about smiles. This image is the retreat I use when I don’t want to think about reality, so it’s about coping. And when flames leap from the sky with a -excuse the pun, I’m terribly sorry- burning fury, my image is coaxed from its protective cave in my mind.
Sparks fly into my face; I run for the nearest building. And keep running. And keep running.
The freezer case is empty. I turned the switch off, so it’s actually a nice temperature. The building is a giant maze with one recognizable room: the freezer case, the kind you’d find in a restaurant or something. What is the place?
While I’m thinking about it, it changes. I barely notice until icicles decorate the shelves and a feeble sheet of glass over them becomes apparent under the fluorescent light. My environment never stays habitable for long. So I re-enter the maze.
We- me, myself, and I- walk the isolated corridors for another hour at least. The other rooms I find resemble barns or at least stalls. The walls emanate strange noises like they house animals I don’t want to meet. Seriously, what is this place?
It gets later and the day slips away. A sliver of moon peeks out. It was supposed to be near full tonight a burning star has eaten all but one insignificant, dreary, tired, and timid wisp of glowy gray. Like my life, this moon is a shadow of what it was supposed to be.
The funny thing is, I decided before I went to work today: I love my life. The life I have sucks day in and day out, but it fits me like a little black dress straight off the hanger that first time. And I find a sense of joy in this little life. But my life is over, it’s done, it’s gone. Everything is gone, to be real, ground into the dirt, one big flaming mound of it. Except, as far as the news stations are aware, two buildings abandoned years ago and two people feeling alone. But now the world is trying to save them.
I finally find a room that’s habitable, plop myself down on the floor, click open the news with what remains of my battery. The helicopters were supposed to come by now; actually, this whole ordeal was supposed to have obviated by an evacuation last week. But that was canceled because God forbid something go as planned. Now it isn’t safe to be in the air. But, let me tell you, it ain’t a cop a cup of tea or cold coffee to be on the ground either. But then again, miles away from the problem, where the solution is, there isn’t much danger to sitting on your hands. But only when the stars aren’t burning and dropping. For me, no safety.
The longest moments of my life pass by and I’m right back in detention, the preferred hangout spot for anyone who wanted to be someone in middle school. It was so easy to get there, but everyone wanted a story to tell. I nearly laugh thinking of all the crap we used to pull. Then, of course, I have to ruin it all with a spot of tears dotting the horizon of my eyes. I was once told they’re the color of “soothing wood” but I think when I cry they turn to splotches of mud. I’m out of crap to pull, out of time to pull it, out of space too, and most importantly I am entirely out of people to pull it with or even on. You know why this is the saddest of all? Because I made myself a promise: I will live to 25 years old and won’t die alone.
Crazy, right? I figured I’d live a full life and have it all as soon as I got my own place. And, thus, I’d be okay with my life coming to an end as long as I knew it had some meaning to someone. And now… at 24 years old I’m barely out of college and sort of getting by; in this moment, I am alone. Abandoned. If these are to be my final hours, I will live them as the member of a forgotten boyband who was largely ignored even at the band’s peak who thinks he can salvage declining attention and finances with a desperate solo project that falls flat. Then: over.
But wait! Help will soon be on the way, supposedly. And, I swear on my mom’s diamond ring, I will not give up hope until someone tells me there is just no way to help me. I hope. And, as I learn is actually possible, I hope with the kind of godawful internal aggression that can’t be released because the source has no target.
But here’s what I do have: myself, my phone, my life, and the cheapest sneakers Walmart has to offer. Highly useful, this aggregate. To prove it, I’ll even think of a use. I get a couple thoughts into this process. Then, my phone rings. It actually rings! An unknown number, starting with 202. The authorities in charge of saving me and that other poor soul finally have decided to make contact with those of us who have literal skin in the less literal game being played today. Needless to say, I can’t answer fast enough.
“Hello, miss. How are you holding up?”
“I’m alive, aren’t I?”
“It would appear that you are.”
“That’s good enough for now.”
The man in New York probably wearing his crisp tie too tight hesitates. He stays quiet another moment like he’s thinking hard about what I just said. But it’s a perfectly simple concept: I’m holding up just fine, purely because I am in fact holding up.
“Well, hang tight, okay? We’re making progress on our end to send in emergency helicopters to help you very soon.”
“Do you think it’ll be soon enough?”
“I do,” he assures me, sound tired but gently soothing like a parent putting his smallest child to bed. He tells me he believes help will come in time to save me and sounds like he believes his own words, for real. I decide I like the not-yet-jaded, underappreciated hero on the other end of the line. It seems he and I grip a common force: hope. I like him because I hear hope. That matters more than the diplomatic non-answers he may or may not spew when I ask an important question or the bureaucratic professionalism he employs to deal with me and my balls of fear. He’s probably scared too, but we have hope getting us through. Trust in that, I remind myself.
“What about the other person?”
He scrambles for an answer, juggling with words that keep getting caught and dropping, before finally releasing, “I don’t really know to be perfectly honest. My focus is on you and another agent is responsible for the other. Crisis teams, I’m afraid, often have to work on different problems to reach a common solution.” My brain is a question mark.
“One more thing.”
“How soon is soon?”
“ASAP. Being straight with you, as soon as we can get you out, you’ll be out; I promise.” I want to be comforted by that. But men have broken promises to me before.
“Actually, one more thing…”
“What?” he sounds almost exasperated, officially over my questions now.
“Do you know where I am right now?” Deep breathing.
“No. It’s not important either, so I don’t want you to worry about it. Just stay safe, alright?” He’s lying.
“Ironic wording, don’t you think? Considering there is no safe anymore?”
“I’m sorry, but I have to go. I’ll redial if and when there’s news.”
“Goodbye.” And with that word I’m set off. I’m thinking about all the people I’d really love to say goodbye to. Most of them I’ll never get to. It’s time to shut down, I tell myself. I ruminate on the thought. Time to shut down. It doesn’t sound as nice as it feels. I place my phone on the floor. I curl up into a ball, every movement slow and deliberate. Tears drip down my cheeks; I let them come, welcome. It’s time to shut down.
Just like the sparks turned to fireballs, the fireballs turn to explosives. Atom bombs are pouring down before I know it. The ceiling has holes. The walls have cracks. I have fear. A deadly flaw, another deadly flaw, a final deadly flaw. But there’s nothing really to fear, I tell myself. Very simple; it’s time to shut down. Time to shut down.