Snow and Fire
John made snow on his black construction paper with dandruff shook from his head. He leaned forward into it and drew thick lines with his stubby finger in the dust. He tasted it. He noticed that it was very honest and his reflection in the windows reminded him that his face was honest and his eyes slightly asymmetric.
He wondered how far his eyes would fall to the sides of his face when he was eighty. He knew they would always be off. The air conditioner whirred in the background and the other fifth graders made lumpy valentine hearts out of paste and pink paper. Susan sat by John and gagged when she saw him eating the snow. He came back to reality and realized it was not right and was immediately sorry. He tore up the picture and when the teacher asked him why he did it he said, “I like to tear things up and start over again.” He took a toy dinosaur out of his backpack and started chewing on the horns because he thought they were too sharp. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt playing with them. Susan was drawn to the brownish brontosaurus and reached for it for just a moment before remembering it belonged to John and was probably therefore covered in saliva. John heard a kid behind him whisper hatefully, “You’re going to hell,” and he didn’t know who he should worry most for, himself, or the speaker who had committed the cursing sin.
Susan told the other kids about the snow and she told Mrs. Hayworth, the recess teacher, and John was asked to see the principle. John sat on the vinyl orange chairs and thought about his responsibilities for other souls and this made him ache. He chewed the ends of his fingers. He saw a woman down the hall opening doors and turning on lights to another wing of the building. She looked alone and thin. He wondered how she learned that empty places were really empty. Where did her villains go?
After school, John had karate. He flailed his arms in the air and he was a ninja. His yellow belt was an amulet. He was powerful. He looked at himself in the mirror and made huge, lunging moves. When the instructor was turned, he got excited and kicked his classmate James, hard, in the back. James, being much bigger, took John down and sat on him. John did not understand. His nose bled into the foam mat.
On the drive home, John saw a Domino’s pizza deliverer pass, with the sign of the endeavor stuck on top of his car. A wooden crucifix swayed from their own review mirror. The rain and the darkness held John and his mind went to the idea of the painful way that some people are waiting. Hiding in their houses. The smell of worms wafted from the open car windows and was overly familiar to him, like his own personal scent. John and his mom drove by the houses with the waiting people, in their humble vehicle. John’s brain was functioning at the top of capacity. A place of dizziness and tingling, as he understood.
In the morning John told himself, “What are you going to do today? What will you do to make it better? You’ve been given a whole day and I think you should be careful.” He had no answers for himself. In music class, John was still a soprano and everyone knew. Susan sat three seats down from him and he liked how her hair bounced when she sang. He knew the songs, all the songs, and his voice was louder than everyone’s. Mrs. Brown, the music teacher pounded a middle C on the beige piano, out of frustration, and asked everyone to match it. John’s voice wavered, but held confidence, with no sign of self-doubt. John smelled the wood of the piano and the bleach of the floor and it took him to the place of dizziness and tingling because he understood. The tag of his tee shirt sat squarely below his chin. It had not occurred to him to check if it was inside out or not when he put it on. Mrs. Brown sighed deeply and passed out hand bells to muffle the voices. John’s feet bounced under him. He started to ache when they sang about “she’ll be coming ‘round the mountain” and the driving of six white horses.
John got his Bible from his locker at recess and went to find Susan. He was worried about her soul. He thought of the way she’d be left behind in the rapture, the way that her parents would probably be gone, while driving, and she’d just be a little girl, sitting alone in the backseat of a moving car. She was sitting on a swing, talking with two of her friends when he found her. John looked at the forgiving sand under the swings that was meant to hold wayward players.
He stuttered but didn’t notice. He told her she needed to accept the Lord. He told her of damnation and the rapture and the way the flames will eat your skin. Susan’s face shook a little and she had tiny tears in her eyes. John was like an explosion and his urgency scared him. He shook and tears fell from his own eyes. He could not stop talking, telling her. She told him he was a very mean boy. John spoke of the thrones of judgment and told her he didn’t want a mark on her forehead. He told her it would burn her. John’s hands fell by his sides as he continued to tremble, turning into a vision.
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Portland Fiction Project
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