by Kevin Richard White
My dad used to store his spices on the shelf above the oven. That’s how the kitchen went up in flames. They fell into the burner, the caps busting open, and that was it. But I wasn’t there to see it; I was behind the bushes next door making out with the neighbor.
Being ten years old is a strange time. You see so much and take no note of it, only the destructive things, the subliminal things.
Of course, it was going very poorly—such fast movements between a young boy and a young girl can only lead to fumbling and bumbling, and there was a lot of stopping to ask if we were alright.
I looked down, midway through, and saw her cherry popsicle resting in the grass—an army of ants munching and scurrying all around, lapping up as much sugar and fake additives as possible. A moment that comes rarely, much like this very own.
She did stop at one point to ask why smoke was coming out of my kitchen window. I took a moment to consider it, but I answered with what was honest truth: Dad was a shit cook and he was probably trying to fry fish again.
But as prepubescent kissing often goes, we grew tired of it, even ashamed. We both went home, promising to talk about it later, and of course not to tell our parents. She left her popsicle on the ground and I watched the ants for a while, thought about their strong bodies. They moved so fast.
I went back home just as the fire was under control. Black ash burned onto the crusty and floral baby blue wallpaper, the oven scarred and streaked from damage, dinner thrown onto the floor like feed for animals. Dad was fanning the smoke with Mom’s favorite tea towel. He screamed at me, wanted to know where I was. I didn’t have an answer. I just wanted to know when dinner would be ready. He just stood there, crying as he fanned the flames. I’ll never forget that sight. I was a bastard for asking such a dumb question, but I remember thinking he should be stronger than that.
Later that night, I stood outside her window, watching her do homework. I wanted to try kissing again. I tapped the glass, but she didn’t answer. Instead, she smiled. I didn’t care about any fire. I only cared about her fire. But I went home. Tomorrow was another day.
On my front porch were the remains of dinner that Dad had decided to toss there. As expected, the ants were there. I sat next to them, put the food on my hand, and watched them climb on, becoming a second skin.
KEVIN RICHARD WHITE’s fiction appears in Hobart, Rejection Letters, Soft Cartel, Hypertext, Back Patio Press and X-R-A-Y among many others. He is responsible for No Edit Podcast, a literary podcast where people drink and talk short stories. He lives in Philadelphia.