“Remember that time our house burnt down?” I said.
The firemen were still at work and I was wondering if I was supposed to be at work yet, or if this was a good enough reason to throw a sickie. Not even thinking about using this real-life emergency situation that would actually give me a genuine reason to not be there today.
I must have inhaled enough fumes to muster up a little convincing cough. Then when I go back to work and someone says hey, didn’t your house burn down, I would have to look confused, did it? Who’s saying that?
I liked to get myself into weird situations like that rather than be honest because it kept my heart thumping just a little louder.
“You wore those awful flannel pyjamas,” he said in response to my house burning down joke that we were still in.
“I thought they looked cute,” I said, looking down at my hideous pyjamas. He had never told me he thought they were awful before. I always thought they were awful in a so-bad-they-were-good way but then what did I know, I made jokes about houses burning down and frequently lied to my boss about being sick and justified it because I knew I was a little sick, in the head anyway, if anyone was to check.
“I’m glad we don’t have a cat,” I said laughing.
“I was thinking baby,” he said.
We both laughed and I forgave him for the awful pyjamas comment and he forgave me for wearing the awful pyjamas in public. He didn’t know this wasn’t their first trip out but I wasn’t about to tell him about the days I was too lazy to get dressed so just put on his big winter coat and shuffled to the store like the loser I always knew I was meant to be if it wasn’t for him goading me to be a functioning human.
“Can you imagine?” I said, because I could, and that was why we didn’t have a cat or a baby.
“Yes,” he said, glad we didn’t have a cat or a baby and not for the usual reasons people don’t want those things but because no one wants to be the one that burnt either of those things to death.
“What? Us having them or burning them to death?” I asked, just to clarify where we stood, because we weren’t good at talking about the big stuff like joint ownership or death or when exactly it was that we disabled the smoke alarms because that beeping, god, that beeping.
Only he’d wandered off to ask if he could ride the fire truck.
I wished I found the fire truck as exciting but I didn’t even find firemen that exciting. Not even when I was allowed to touch the hose at a bachelorette party once. It just did nothing for me although I knew it was supposed to. It was supposed to, wasn’t it? Or did it have to be Channing Tatum? Who also did nothing for me. He was one of those men that looked like a giant baby. There was a whole dating site just for people that liked people in uniform. I just didn’t get it. And not just firemen or policemen but any men in any outfits, which made me think it was more the men I didn’t like because I was pretty sure I liked pets dressed in those same outfits.
He was back now and looked sad and I worried the full horror of what was happening had hit.
“They said I’m too tall,” he said, they meant old.
“It’s Six Flags all over again,” I said, just glad that horror hadn’t hit.
“They’d probably let you,” he said, kicking his shoe against the curb.
“Thanks,” I said because he was implying I was pretty enough to temporarily seduce a fireman long enough to have a ride on his truck, which was the closest I’d had to a compliment for some time, so I took it. It was also a good screw-you to my friends who thought I was dead inside for firemen.
“You got your book!” he said then noticing the book I had tucked under my arm, like it was our now feared dead cat.
“Oh yeah,” I said, patting my book, glad it was a book and not a cat.
“Is it the one I got you for your birthday?” he asked, looking happier.
“It’s just the one I’m reading,” I said.
“Why didn’t you get the one I got you?” he said, looking sad again and hurt now.
Because our house was burning down and I was reading this one, I wanted to say but didn’t. I couldn’t hold my book and my tongue and our imaginary cat all at the same time.
He took the book from me and gave it a once over.
It was the closest I’d seen him to a book possibly ever and I hoped it would enchant him in some way and he would have to have more, its feel, its smell, and those words, god those words, they went on for miles. Screw firemen. My fantasies were purely literary based.
“This is just some trashy novel you got at the grocery store,” he said, handing it back to me.
I was impressed by his literary knowledge. He could discern between a grocery store book and a real bookstore book.
“It’s the book I was reading,” I said again in my defense.
“Why didn’t you put on better pants?” I asked.
“I was wearing these,” he said, then realised I just won a game he wasn’t ready to play. Our house just burnt down. Neither of us had our game faces on. We had our ‘oh shit, we are not good adults’ faces on. Please don’t tell our parents. Our bosses. Our banks.
He was quiet then.
“I like the smell though,” I said.
“You always did.”
“I still do,” I said. Hello, I wanted to say. Remember me.
“Did you do this on purpose?” I asked.
“What? For the smell?” he said.
“Well, that and other reasons.”
He looked accusingly at me then because I was basically accusing him.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
“Well, I didn’t,” I said.
“I didn’t say you did!”
“It’s just I know how much you wanted to ride a fire truck,” I said, only half joking, wondering what sort of man I was no longer living with because our house just burnt down so our living situation was currently up in the air, literally.
“I rode one, remember?” he said then.
I was an awful person. I didn’t even remember milestones like his first fire truck ride.
“Yes, at that county fair, you were there,” he said.
“Was I?” I was only half joking again because I did not remember that and because I was too busy remembering that time our house burnt down.
“We had a good day,” he said sounding seriously bummed out.
“Did we have plans?”
I was lying. We were supposed to go to his folks for brunch.
“And definitely no cat or baby you’re not telling me about?”
“I think that’s a moot point.”
“You’re telling your mother,” I said then.
“Telling her what? About the fire or that she isn’t going to be a grandparent?”
“That we’re not coming over.”
“Oh, we’re still going over,” he said, punishing me. “I’ll tell her about the fire.”
I kicked the curb then but was only wearing slippers. I blamed his mother for the pain naturally, sparing myself for once.
“Do you think it’s trying to tell us something?” I asked.
“Like giant tea leaves you can read from a helicopter?” he said, which I hadn’t actually thought of but it sounded like it might be a thing.
“What would it say?” I asked.
We were both quiet then while we thought about what the embers would say, but neither of us knew yet. We had more to burn.
Art by Debora Cathry
Debora Cathry is a 17-year-old artist living in Switzerland. She hopes one day to make art as her living but until then, it stays a hobby for her. She’d love to inspire people with her artwork. Instagram: @debiidraws.
Lucie Britsch debuted in Barrelhouse with subsequent words in In Flight Magazine, Birdsthumb, Volume1Brooklyn, Catapult Story, The Millions, Split Lip and Tincture Journal. Tammy and Five2One. Two honourable mentions from Glimmer Train. Novels in progress.