Pretty Victim of House Fire


She screamed for me to come down the stairs. I was sitting in a chair. My hands were squeezing at the roots of my hair, and I was whimpering like a creature that had its wings cut off. In front of me there was a mirror. Behind me was the ghost of my little sister. Her girlish laughter seemed to spin around me like a noisy swarm of wrens. And there was my mother again, roaring for me to come out of my despair.

I took the comb lying on the makeup table, and, pulling my hair over my shoulder, I combed it into my face. I could see the glint of my plum eyes through the blackness of my hair as I looked toward the mirror. I felt nauseous with longing, and even more, I felt nauseous from my own ugliness. My little sister grabbed my hand and started tugging at me. She was whining, “Get out of the chair! Walk through your misery! Walk with it!” I lifted her in my arms and embraced her like she was a corpse again, furiously and without mercy. “The fire killed me, not you,” she whispered in my ear. “I live through you. Do not die from your grief. You are not a beast. You are a pretty victim of house fire.”

I recoiled immediately at her words. I did not mean to drop her from my arms. And when she looked up at me and frowned, I slammed my face into my hands and wept. “I wish she’d stop hollering for me!” I grunted. “Why does she want to see wreckage of my face?”

“Because you are her son, and she wants to feel your pain as if you were giving her labor again.”

When I tried to catch my sister and hold her again, she evaporated like smoke caught by a sigh.

My hand was on the rail. I was shaking like a tree branch with too much snow on it, and my pulse was making me dizzy as it pounded. Her shadow was standing on the stairs, and she was standing in the sunlight. Her long white hair was flowing down her spine, and the sun made it sparkle. I wondered what would happen when I stood beside her in the sunlight. I wondered what monster I would be called.

I stroked my fingers across my mother’s neck to let her know I was there. I did not have time to face her, for she turned immediately at my touch and grabbed my face. “Do not hide it!” she whispered as she wiped my hair from my face. I closed my eyes when she covered her mouth at the sight of my disfigurement. “Sweet heart, darling, my baby.” My mother was crying. “How the wounds bring out your devilish eyes, how the wounds make them even more hateful.” We made brief eye contact in our astonishment. There was romance in my mother’s eyes. Mine were dead with shame. But I needed her, needed her to tell me I was beautiful and that my ugliness was not ugliness, but it was imagination and grief, and I really had the face of a newborn angel.

“Tell me.” I moaned, my body still shivering. My shadow was of a freezing man. “Tell me the anguish makes me hallucinate, and that I have not been ruined like a tree struck by lightning.” Silence. I pulled my hair back into my face and turned to run up the stairs. My mother simply stood there, fascinated with my ugliness and with my malicious eyes. And when I was in my room again, my little sister appeared and said the next time lightning strikes, it will kill the tree.  

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