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No Two People Are Not on Fire
“When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” —Henry B. Eyring
Take Lotta, for example. Her shirt is dotted with soot where her hair has burned, and even though it hasn’t been an impossible problem (only a few strands are ever burning at a time) she is getting tired of sewing up the small holes and always having to bleach her shirts.
And she’s one of the lucky ones. Talbot can hardly keep himself in shoes. A foot-fire is certainly a bigger problem than most hair fires, but Talbot is grateful that the fire hasn’t ever migrated up his leg to his calves because even though the burned-rubber smell of his shoe soles is maddening for most people, at least he only needs new shoes once a week instead of new pants every day. In his line of work, shorts aren’t really an option, so a leg fire would cost him a fortune in suit pants.
Once, I thought I had finally found someone who wasn’t on fire at all. Like me, Margaret didn’t look like she was burning. There was no smoke rising from her elbows or ashy stain on her breast. She didn’t even have any of the smells that I have come to associate with burning. (You know the ones, sometimes an early barbeque smell, sometimes the acrid presence of a bug-zapper.) Then I noticed the empty bottles of aloe juice in her garbage, the ice machine on her kitchen counter.
“I don’t want to give you too much information,” she said quietly, “but let’s just say I have a bit of a bowel fire.” My heart went out to her, and a lot of her uncommon facial expressions started to make sense. “It isn’t as awesome as it sounds,” she continued. “My friends are always going on about how lucky I am, and how skinny I am, and how much they wish they could eat whatever they wanted, but they never stop to think about the pain.”
That’s what everybody says: the pain, the pain.
Kennedy and Carlton are siblings. I dated Carlton for a while in college. His eyes: I have never seen fire so blue. Kennedy’s eye-fires were orange, but Carlton had a little pilot light in the back of each eye. You could see them if you looked straight into them from close up, which I tried to do whenever possible. I think I might have loved those eyes more than I loved him, which explains why we didn’t date for long. They were my favorite thing about him, but he hated them.
For one, he said, “I know it isn’t, but it really looks like the whole world is burning all the time.” Another was exactly what I expected: the pain, the pain, the pain.
And I’m afraid there’s no polite way to say this, but another one of my exes, Jake, had a fire in his loins. Which caused some, you know, compatibility issues in our relationship. At least, that’s what I tell people. Confidentially, I was probably a bigger problem than he was. I’m still working on my issues. But, rumor has it that if two people with loin fires find each other, those issues don’t really come up. I don’t know if that’s true. I mean, the pain is still real, but I have always hoped he would find someone more compatible than I was.
I’ve met people with burning in their brains (it’s easy to spot the smoke exiting the ears), burning at the tips of their fingers (they usually can’t hold down desk jobs), burning on their tongues (they’re not as persuasive as you’d think). They all say the same thing: the pain, the pain, the pain.
But they don’t know how hot the fire can be. How I long for a little burning at the back of the knee or behind the eyes. When the fire comes from deep inside the chest, when every beat of the heart serves as a bellows to fan the flames, that’s what real burning is like. I see them, I catalog them, but they don’t see me. They don’t see how the fire is pumped to every extremity, how I lie alone in the dark watching the glow through my skin as the arteries carry the fire to each vein, through the capillaries until every cell is reached. They don’t see how we share fires, how I carry their fire with me, I carry it in my heart: the pain, the pain, the pain.
Chanel Earl is a writer—mostly of fiction—who currently teaches writing at Brigham Young University.
Art by Keri Dockter