This is a true story: I once rubbed my hands together and started a fire. I was around five and it was Jeffrey’s turn to take care of me and he insisted I wear a dress to the supermarket. Supermarkets are cold and I was angry. Rubbing my hands together didn’t really help: just part of an act of conspicuous misery. There were fits of shivering and chattering teeth; I gave myself goosebumps when I could manage it. Jeffrey understood and said nothing.
We were praying for soup from the Soup Saint of Aisle 13 when it happened: a few sparks, then real fire. I panicked a little before it went out and Jeffrey had his eyes closed and thought I was faking. I complained about my burned hands then but they seem worth it looking back. I haven’t done it again successfully, even though I’ve been asked every time I’ve told the story at parties. Today it’s going to be different.
I’ve brought Janet into the gym and I’m going to show her what I can do before the basketball team shows up or the world ends. The gym is made of wood around us: wooden floor and wooden bleachers and wooden basketball hoops with wooden nets and wooden children ready to get wound up and play if real kids don’t show up. They can’t see us but Janet still looks self-conscious. She asks why we couldn’t just go into the locker room and not have to worry about the basketball team. In my head I know this would be a better idea but I need to look like I know what I’m doing, so I tell Janet I know what I’m doing. I can’t look ridiculous.
I’ve never told Janet the story. She doesn’t know what I’m going to show her. She’ll be impressed. But right now I’m leaning against the bleachers rubbing my hands together and she’s standing in front of me looking at the doors. I’m thinking about the Soup Saint’s bronze body and Jeffrey’s voice as he says Suzanna, we get the soup faster if you don’t distract me, because maybe that’ll help.
Janet’s talking to me. I need to concentrate but I shouldn’t ignore her. Janet already has a girlfriend, but that’s not what I’m looking for, not when none of us are going to be alive for much longer. Now she’s saying something about a teacher she maybe hasn’t said goodbye to yet. Janet cares about her teachers.
She wants to leave and I don’t want her to but I can’t stop her. I tell her she still hasn’t seen why I brought her here. Now I’m thinking about the time Billy Lord set himself on fire in fifth grade. He was going as a fire for Halloween. His nerves still don’t work but now he’s a football star. Alex Casey didn’t notice him before he was on fire. They’re still together today. As a rule, people like fire.
I can hear the sound of basketball shoes now but I’m still in the same place, rubbing my hands together. Maybe Janet’s still right here with me or maybe she’s gone. I’ve closed my eyes like I’m praying to the Soup Saint. I’m thinking about Janet’s hair now, the time she cut it off in an impromptu reenactment of The Gift of the Magi, the way she smiles at anyone who looks sad.
The world’s ending in a day or a week or a month, so close that you can always hear the windows shattering or feel the meteor hitting somewhere in the back of your mind. The basketball team is probably gathering around me wondering what I’m doing in their gym. I’m painting Janet on the backs of my eyelids, some version of Janet still standing in front of me. I’m looking at my hands and she’s looking at my hands and they’re on fire and there’s a shocked look on her face when my palms start burning like maybe she understands.
Sean Noah Noah lives between states in the Northeast, where they perform stand-up comedy and sometimes teach writing workshops for teens. They are currently an undergraduate student at Hampshire College working toward a BA in creative writing and theatre. This is their first published work of fiction.