“Charles Garjian, Pa. German Toy Bird, c. 1939, watercolor, graphite, and gouache on paperboard

My Mother Caught on Fire

by Marston Hefner

The fire extinguisher was locked behind a glass case outside our apartment’s door and I hit the case as hard as I could with my thick coat. Still, the glass pierced and was accompanied by a searing pain in my left elbow where the shard protruded. Having no time to think about my now molested fur coat, I screamed and I ran, which was synchronized to my mother’s screaming and running (you know how mothers and daughters are) as my father shouted something from my neighbor’s room, the neighbor being his new lover and confidante.

            I must have sat down because I found myself on my ass, sobbing uncontrollably at the foot of the door, when the door to our apartment shot open and my mother rushed out, saw me crying, and ran over me, kneeing me in the face before hopping down the stairs, hoping to extinguish the flames that engulfed her. By now the apartment was also on fire as I wailed, and by this time, I must be honest, at what I wailed at I was not completely certain, it just seemed like it had been such a bad week. What with my father moving in with our effeminate neighbor and then my adopting of said neighbor’s cat, which turned out to not be a cat at all.

            That was when, as I lay on the ground losing blood, the once thought to be cat but now understood to be dangerous and timid child rushed in, from God knows where to steal whatever was within reach: towels, Tupperware, clean bed sheets, anything your standard vagabond would want from a family who had trusted and attempted to nurse back to health. And there is me utterly crushed, fetal positioned, crying now, not just because of my garish elbow and the loss of my cat but also because of the boy’s stealing my favorite parakeet plushy. The one that my father had bought when I was six. The one that I gave up two other toys for in order to have that one because that one was so expensive. And when I saw the boy run off with that I fell very hard inside. It felt like my stomach was bottomless, because right then I knew that no matter how much one could love, cat or human or whatever it may be, no matter how nice the groomer was or how expensive the treats were, that that being could and ultimately would turn on you.

            I more slid than crawled down the stairs and into the alley, and I laid on our couch which had been left by the boy who could only carry so much.

            It was then that my father came out of our neighbor’s back porch with one arm around the waist of said neighbor. What the hell is going on here? he exclaimed. And I called him over with one curled and bloodied finger and I told him the truth, that that which was the cause of all of this, this misfortune and tragedy that had befallen us was due to him and his neglect. To which my father replied, how could I forget? He said that a tragedy such as this was random, how could he have caused his sole daughter, the love of his life, this misfortune? Then I remember our neighbor getting upset, saying something like, what’s that you just said pussy cat? About love and life? And I remember my father turning to my neighbor, consoling him, letting him know he loved him, kissing him, and me, me a mere husk. My neighbor said something like, choose, choose, choose, as my mind grew foggier and foggier due to the blood running off and into the alley’s rivulet. My father pet my neighbor and said it wasn’t something he needed to worry about. And that’s when I knew, I knew that that boy from before would be back, he would be back for my couch, he would be back for my body, and no one, not even own my father, would stop him.

Marston Hefner is a writer from Los Angeles.

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