Burn

© Chuck Anderson
© Chuck Anderson

         Flick. Flick-flick. Flick. The top of the silver lighter opens and shuts, snapping turtle style. There’s no fluid in the reservoir but she flips it anyway. The snick of the metal clamping shut is comforting, like the sound of a deadbolt shooting home. Flick. Flick. The bell above the door clanks, sounds more like a can kicked across a parking lot. She looks up. A woman with the yellowed skin and puckered, wrinkle lined mouth of a smoker and flat eyes that have seen too many things, can’t hide behind a haze of smoke forever. The pavement is hot under her shoes, she feels the rubber soles getting sticky, thinks if she stands still long enough she’ll dissolve right into the asphalt. A grandmotherly type glares at the lighter in her hand and she stares back, waiting for MeMaw to pull her purse tighter to her purple sweatsuit and sidle by. She smells like baby powder and rotting flowers. Flick. The first time she saw Jazz smoking, he tried a French exhale and she thought he was going to cough up a lung right there on the toes of his high tops. She laughed so hard her face still hurt hours later as she licked dripping ice cream off the bottom of her cone, watching him watch her. Their first kiss tasted like mint chocolate chip and nicotine.
         An El Camino roars into the gas station lot with the rumble of an aftermarket spoiler and she repeats the rhyme to herself. El Camino, el el camino. The front is like a car, the back is like a truck. The front is where you sit, the back is where you fuck. Jazz didn’t have a volume control. His whisper was a normal person’s shout and the moms at the park didn’t appreciate his little ditty. This park is for kids. Shouldn’t you be in school? He got his GED when he was fifteen, he told her, lying side by side on top of the merry go round. Their pinkies were barely touching, she only knew for sure when she looked. She touches the side of her finger with the lighter, where his hand had rested.
         They used to meet at this gas station. Jazz would buy a pack of cigarettes, always American Spirit cased in butter-yellow and an extra large Slurpee and a King Size Kit-Kat that he always threatened not to share. Sometimes, they’d persuade someone–college kids were the best bet–to buy them a few forties or a six pack and they’d take off as soon as the cash changed hands, always timing it just before the rent-a-cop came on duty on Friday nights.
         “What’s the point of doing anything if there’s no risk involved?” He asked, grinning around the cigarette and clinking his bottle against hers.
         She shuts her eyes and leans back against the ice machine, feeling the thrum rattle through her. She pictures a humvee bouncing over unpaved roads, looking like the Mars rover in a place where the sand and sky both blended to gold. Flick. Flick. The lighter is hot in her fingers, stealing the heat from her skin. There’s a sudden stillness in the parking lot–the chatter by the gas pumps stops and she opens her eyes to see a small boy tugging at his mother’s hand, straining towards the ice cream cooler inside the store. His mother hushes him, staring down the street. The cop cars never drive this slowly, she thinks as the red and blue lights flash in slow motion. Flick. The trickle of icy air from the fridge at her back is making her shiver, but she doesn’t step away. The hearse is the only thing in the procession not draped in red, white, and blue bunting.
         I’d think it was the Fourth of July with all the fuckin’ fireworks except there’s no goddamn watermelon.
         The crackle of the satellite phone that made it sound like he was calling from outer space. She didn’t worry about him when he talked like that–even though she knew the fireworks were flares and gunshots. She wonders if he knew when they hit the land mine–if there was a crackle, a moment of awareness before everything went to oblivion. The pad of her thumb rests on the wheel of the lighter. All it takes it a little pressure, like pushing a button, and something ignites. She pulls her thumb away and shuts the lid again, pressing the warm metal to her lips, tasting sunshine

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