He never knew what set her off, that temper of hers, flammable they said. She was known for it, letting loose on a guy without warning, then leaning into him and kissing him as though nothing had happened, changing his life with that kiss, with whatever came after, with that body that seemed boyish at times but wasn’t at all, with talents that were legendary among the guys and whispered about among the girls.
There was something about her. Defiance, maybe. Even thirty years later he wondered, always on this day, reliving the sensation when she turned her eyes on him – those light-filled, bottomless, icy blue eyes. So blue you almost had to look away. But you couldn’t.
He was the quiet one who just moved to town, the one who kept his head down and never got into any trouble, the one whose name no one could remember. At least, not yet. He was the kid with the story from up North, still reeling from the smell of burning and his mother’s screaming and the wail of sirens, from the silence in their partially charred apartment as he and his mother packed what they could and left in a hurry.
It was the steamiest summer he could remember, but then he was used to Queens and this was the Carolinas, a different world, a place where everyone knew your business, where families went to church and secrets were swept under the rug. Then again, maybe it was like this everywhere. After all, the blaze had been contained quickly but how it happened was hushed up. He and his mother got out unhurt, but his father was scarred on one hand, his forearm, and along the right cheek.
The old man was never the same after that. Strange. Silent or enraged. Maybe he was strange before, silent before, enraged before. Or maybe it was his mother, the combustibility of the two of them.
But he was here, now, with her and in a way on his own. They ran to a woman she said was her cousin, though he never made the connection and didn’t ask. All he knew was there were twenty-four months before he’d be free. Eighteen and free.
The heat was unbearable and he lay out by the marsh on the dock despite the mosquitoes, swatting at the insects, listening to the caw of an occasional gull overhead or maybe a sea hawk, dozing off and on, sweating in his cut-offs, wishing he dared to skinny dip in this water.
And then she was there out of nowhere, standing over him in her tight jeans and a red t-shirt. He smelled her before he opened his eyes in her shadow.
It had been two months since that morning she held his gaze.
“Wanna have some fun?” she asked.
He wasn’t sure how to respond, what she was doing here, if he was dreaming.
“Let’s go,” she said, and started to walk away.
He scrambled to get up and followed her off the dock and through the brush as she led him to a small clearing bordered by grasses. There was something dangling from her back pocket. Firecrackers.
She stopped suddenly, and turned to face him.
“It’s the fourth,” she said. “Let’s make some noise.”
She paused for a moment, fanning her face with one hand.
“I’m hot,” she said, suddenly pulling the t-shirt up over her head and then off entirely. She tossed it to the ground.
She glanced at his shorts, noting his arousal. She grinned.
“Like to play with fire?” she asked. She was smiling broadly and looking at him with those impossibly alien eyes. “Sure you do.”
She reached around to her back pocket and pulled out a long strip of firecrackers, tiny tubes filled with black powder, and he felt his mouth go dry and he wasn’t sure what he was doing here, why she wanted these pyrotechnics, why him, why now. He didn’t know if it took more balls to run or to stay. But he stayed. Whatever she had in mind, maybe it was a small price for this. Being so close to her. The sight of her round, white breasts.
“Got a lighter?” she asked.
He shook his head.
She dug her fingers into another pocket and withdrew a matchbook with a blue cover, wheeling around and planting a kiss on his lips, pushing her tongue into his mouth.
He was hard. Running was out of the question.
“Hold these,” she said, and before he could protest she handed him the firecrackers and lit one end as it began to smoke almost immediately and he felt the fear – fear of fire, fear of being burned like his father, fear of a wild girl and her wild laugh as he dropped the red strip and ran after all from its popping sounds like gunfire, its small explosions that could rip off a finger, running from her laughter, running from the burst of low flames and flying bits of paper, running from the oceanic eyes, from the girl who would never own him but would always own this day in his memory, even from the safety of a thousand miles and what seemed at times like as many years.
Flash fiction is a very short story of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words. This is a quick writing exercise from a photograph, and using the colors red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. Pop by here for more flash fiction exercises. Try one – they’re fun!