There's a boy on fire on your front lawn.
You watch him burn from the open window of your second story apartment. He’s been there two nights now; there’s a little charred spot in the grass where he stands. You wonder if you should call the cops, the fire department, someone?
“Andy?” he calls.
Who’s Andy anyway? You try to remember if there’s even an Andy in this building. Wait, there was an Andy—a girl. But she moved, didn’t she? Or did she? You’re busy—you don’t keep up with your neighbors. The only person you talk to is that nutty old lady downstairs, always moping about in her bathrobe. You talk to her because she talks to you.
You try to make out how old he is through the flames. Twenty-four? Twenty-six? Older? Maybe thirty. You make out dark hair, pale skin. His eyes, set just a little too close together, are trained on the window of the apartment across the hall from yours.
It’s a slow burn—the candlewick effect. Is that what it’s called? Maybe you’re making that up, maybe you saw it on Discover. You sip gin and tonic from a plastic tumbler—the ones they sell in the picnic section of Target—and peer again at him through your gauzy curtains. He seems to have a halo, light shooting out from all directions like the image of something sacred—he’s like a baby Jesus.
Except he doesn’t smell right. A boy on fire never does.
* * *
He turns to look at you, imploring. You step back.
“Oh, no, mister!” You shake your head. “Sorry! Not your girl.”
You remember the last one you let in. It was years ago, but you still haven’t finished paying for that one—the furniture, the melted TV set, the ceiling damage.
No way, pal.
The medical bills. Oh, the skin grafts.
Really, aren’t you a little old for this?
You show the boy on the lawn an exaggerated shrug, mouth the word again: Sorry!
You wonder if you couldn’t just douse him from the second story with a pitcher of water.
Probably wouldn’t even make a dent. Baking soda?
“Andy?” he calls again, his gaze turned back to the apartment across the hall. You move away from the window. Should you find this Andy girl? Look in the mail slot for her name? Leave a note under her door? Warn her?
It’s no use. She won’t listen. No one does their first time.
Maybe you could…there’s a hose downstairs, but—no. You can’t go out there. It’s too dangerous. What you know, and what this Andy will soon learn, is that a boy on fire on your lawn, even if he is calling a particular name, is really looking for anyone. Anybody will do.
All rights reserved to Jacquie Fuller.