remember when I set your hair on fire? {work in progress}


I have absolutely no idea where this is going to go, but I thought I’d share something raw, in progress. Although the finished product won’t likely resemble this original, I’m excited for the fact that I’ve been dry for years, and finally, finally, I’ve started to produce.

This story is taking me to new terrain. Although I’m able to navigate loss incredibly well, love and the things that transpire between sheets, have been a territory best left unexplored. A mother adored is a new place. Using body parts to reveal narrative is interesting to me, although I’m still debating whether or not this is a prop I’m comfortable using. There are parts of the story that are fantastical, unbelievable, but I think I need to write it all out and come back and make sense of it later. Part of me feels like I’m throwing the kitchen sink at this one, but I’ll figure that in due time.

For now, this story feels dangerous to me. I guess this is what happens when you’re in front of an ocean that isn’t monitored by lifeguards.

You’ll notice I stopped mid-section because I started to re-read from the top, and that’s the one thing I can’t do right now. I’ll start editing the fuck out of this, and stripping everything that appeals to me, as I’m wont to do. So I’m going to let this cool and return to it later.


There is a woman on a hotel bed and her hair is burning, Kate shouts into a payphone. The operator asks Kate whether she saw actual flames, or perhaps she made a mistake. Maybe she saw a woman smoking a cigarette, because this is Nevada, and this is what people are prone to do. No, you don’t understand, I’m talking fire here. I’m talking about a smell.

Come to think of it, the woman is smoking, or rather, swallowing a lit cigarette burning down her throat. Kate knows this because she put the smoke in her mouth, struck a match, and said: all you have to do now is breathe in. I’ll take care of the rest. The woman’s wrists and ankles were bound by rope, a balled-up sock lodged in her mouth. Kate dialed up the thermostat and drew the curtains. The woman writhed and thrashed; her face was a river – a flood of tears and black kohl.

Kate comes for the hair. The hair that is a constellation of stars, a map of white blond curls tumbling down her back. The hair she saw him run his fingers through. The hair he tucked behind a pierced ear. The hair he took in his mouth and let it rest there.

Tell me your name, Kate asked. Actually, forget it. I don’t want to know.

The operator makes inquiries about location and coordinates, room numbers and facial descriptions. To be honest, the operator confesses, I’m finding this hard to believe. Who just goes and sets their hair on fire?

From the payphone Kate has a terrific view of the room she booked and paid for with a credit card that was her father’s. Kate watches how the flames gobble up the curtains while she palms a lock of hair, a souvenir.

The hotel manager drives up in a pick-up, surveys the fire, shakes her head and calls the police. Murray, you’re never going to believe this, but my goddamn place is on fire. Again.

Kate imagines this is what her mother must have felt after they closed the curtains and slid her body, laying supine in a black box, in.

This is not Nevada.

Quit it with the story no one wants to hear, says everyone, always. Wife becomes a somnambulant. Husband lifts the sheets and checks for signs of life. Wife kicks the bears off the bed. Husband raises the sheet over her head as if she’s already one of the departed. Husband drives down the beach to collect his head and finds a girl listening to Tosca.

A month later, the husband will wrap a scarf around the girl’s neck and jerk her back, hard. You’ve got an equine scent to you, he says. She almost blacks out. Coughing out sentences in starts and stops, she speaks in staccato. It gets to the point in the game where it becomes difficult to breathe. The husband makes out the word, love, and he pauses and says, Let’s get something straight. That’s not a hand I’m playing.

The girl says, okay, her mouth all dry and scabbing.

Later, Kate will watch her band aid the scab with coral gloss. On the floor of the room her father has rented, he and the girl eat ceviche with their hands and talk about the Cubans –cigars, not people. On the television, a man shifts uncomfortably in his seat as he regales a now-infamous story about a former employee who didn’t quite work out. A perfectly normal individual, he says. Two barrels of a shotgun, he says. Stacked neatly in one of the hotel rooms, he says. Kate will watch them nod, as if they understand.

Years ago, her mother confessed, I’ve never been fond of the mollusk.

Kate thinks of the old artist gone deaf, who painted savagery all over his walls. There was a need to correct the serene and sublime, and the artist was something of a fakir bringing out the barbaric. A still-beating heart held in one hand and a scissor in the other. The artist made a mural of the macabre, replete with Viejas conjuring, a macabre Sabbath, and a mad Greek devouring the limbs of his newborn. The child is rendered in a chilling white, but all Kate could remember is the cavern that was the father’s mouth.

Kate watches the girl eat fish. The chewing, the picking out of bones from one’s teeth, the swallowing – it makes Kate sick to her stomach, but she has to see. She has to gather the evidence, do the maths, and make the case. All of them will inevitably beg for a reason, and she will hand over the woman’s hair and say, do you understand?

Later, the girl will sit naked in a chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs. I want to revisit the conversation we had earlier, she says, the husband’s tie a tourniquet on her wrist. The girl’s lip barely move when she says, remember when I talked about love?

The body isn’t even cold, the husband says.
I thought the body was burned, the girl says.
Remember the time when I set your hair on fire, Kate says.

Kate reads a book where the author has replaced the word die with complete. As if to say, we’re done with that now, let’s move on to something else. Let’s change topics. Let’s move to the next item on the agenda. Let’s muffle the tears of the grieving with a word that is at turns vacant and elegant. Why don’t we all gather over here and whisper?

There is no nobility in a body shuddering its last breath out, of a heart slouching forth to its final beat, of a hand that has grown cold and soft, like unworn cashmere. There is only a bottle that was full, and a bottle now empty. There are only the sentences: my mother is alive and my mother is dead.

Excuse us. Complete.

6 thoughts on “remember when I set your hair on fire? {work in progress}

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