We went to the woods to set fires. Clusters of neighborhood kids. We were small, and so were the fires, lit with matchbooks and lighters. Tiny piles of dry leaves. We stomped them out. It was like arm wrestling an uncle, testing the limits of what we could handle. Sometimes it got scary, stupid, but never too much for the soles of our shoes.
In my dream: the church attic is on fire. It’s around the ring of couches where I learn about enthusiastic consent, where I watch slides of different kinds of sex, because we are an aggressive form of progressive. Is the fire a cipher for that passion? I put the conflagration out. I’m a hero?
My brother sucked butane into his mouth, breathed out fire. He juggled hot coals. He showed me how to put my finger next to the flame and come away with fingertips coated in wax. We built stacks of useless warm wax balls.
Years later, I return to the dream where the church attic is burning. I know more about suppression now. I tilt the nozzle up, spray diffuse water droplets to combat the super-heated-gasses at the ceiling. I make sure to check for extension, overhaul when it’s damped down, finished.
A bang bang bang woke us, naked, and brought us, running through flames, freshly clothed, saying goodbye, at the curb, to his apartment as it turned to ash. Smoke pouring up to the stars, we wonder what to be sorry for.
For the third time, asleep, I return to the church attic. I arrive early this time. Point an extinguisher directly at the flames before they have a chance to burn right through this tinder box.
Our yard set alight, combusted. Sparks must have flickered out of our sap boiling operation– spread through dry leaves like the wave at a baseball game. Too much for the soles of our shoes, all three pairs. Even our buckets of sap were too wimpy. Firefighters brought their trucks, hoses, extinguishers. We gave them a jar of syrup.
Each time I have a flying dream I learn a new trick about staying aloft, or flips. When I return to a dream-house sometimes I explore new rooms, new yards. But this was different. This was my growth as a person in the real world; learning how fire moves, how it breathes, how to suffocate it. This gave me the power to change the past. To revisit it and finish it perfectly. Though it was never as sweet and simple as the first time.
Walking near my house, I see a tree at the edge of the road– split open like a shellfish with char inside. Have you seen the video of the tree after it was hit by lightning? The flashing thunder danced, bright and dazzling, filling the tree with hot white, red, orange. Roaring with life as it died.
There’s something about the intensity of memory, and nostalgia, past feelings welling up and hollowing you out. I’ve been a firefighter, and I’ve been the one lighting fires. I’ve watched from both sides. I think of each spark, large and small. Sometimes I feel like that burst open tree, a bivalve spent from the flames.
Melissa Saggerer has been a bellhop, a museum curator, and a library director. Her flash fiction is featured in Tiny Molecules, Milk Candy Review, and Leopardskin & Limes. Follow her on twitter @MelissaSaggerer.