SHORTY’S ON FIRE!

Varya Vinogradova



              We are walking down the street and it is two in the morning. The wee hours, the hours when people die.
             We are walking, the leaves rustling invitingly under our feet and we are talking…
            “Hey…” she says. “You know, there’s a party somewhere on tenth. We could go, supposedly there’s going to be lots of people that we know there.” She looks at the street sign, face wrinkling in concentration. “Ok, if we go, we gotta turn left on the next road. It’s two blocks away after that.”
                I drag my feet through the leaves.
               “Nah.” I tell her. “ I don’t really want to go.”
               “Why?”
               “We don’t have costumes. It’s all gonna be one big costume party, and by this time everyone’s going to be either stoned out of their minds or drunk.” I tell her.
                We stop at an intersection. If we go, this is where we turn. The trees are shivering in the cool October wind as if the ghosts are coming out, although it’s only middle of the month. But everyone’s having parties already, an excuse to get high.
       “So are we going?” She asks. And I realise that I am curious, and maybe I won’t mind a beer or something a little extra with that too. So I make a show of deliberation but in the end… I shrug…
          “Yeah, lets go…” I say, and we turn down the middle of the street kicking up leaves and dust. The movement is perfect, our movement is perfect deliberated by unwritten law.
           Into the beerbelly, we go.
           What a beerbelly. The house is full of musicians, and people of all origin and race. I see Peter Pan, I see Little Mermaid but alas, it is the Disney version. I observe about ten Vlad Draculas, about as many Cowboys, five punks (those real), thirteen Queen Mabs, one Jack and one Harlequin and many more. But there are only two Darth Vaders. I suppose the hippie scene isn’t big on Star Wars. I’m not either, for all it matters. Oh, but I am swamped with fairies and elves…
            All are abreast of someone else, it makes me feel like a sardine, and the kitchen is completely vegetarian, although outside within the jungle of the back yard I hear -- “Hotdogs! Anyone Hotdogs! Steak!”-- and then -- “marshmallow, roast your mallows people…” and the smell of beer. Oh, the smell of tallow and beer and the very illegal joints upstairs.
            My friend has disappeared somewhere, it’s not surprising. She’s attacking her romance interest of the past week in the living room. He’s cute, sort of…if you like gangly boyish types. But I go upstairs. That’s where some of the music is coming from, and after tripping my way through two very drunk fairies on the landing I am there. The sweet smoke is thick, a veritable cloud through which I make out shapes and reverberating laugher.
There are a few rooms. The first one that I stumble into contains a couple of couples, a whole lot of scented candles, a mandolin and a enormous bed. This seeming all the more enormous with all the pillows and clothes strewn about it.
               “Hey…join in the fun pretty dahlin’…” someone’s voice drawls at me.
                I rapidly stumble out.
                Eventually I arrive at a balcony, rickety though it is there are a few guitarists up there. Strumming along, with a pack of beer keeping their time. I help myself and look down on the yard. There are more people there, three fires determine the dominant cliques...not surprisingly they hardly circulate through each other. Although, if they did, the interaction would be more entertaining if less peaceful, but they don’t.
                  I feel very alone.
                 That’s not surprising, I look for my friend but she is nowhere to be seen at first. Then I see her standing in a circle of beatnik wannabes. I feel totally out of it all, and when someone offers me a joint I take it and finish it off like a ciggie without even thinking, wishing all the while I could talk to someone. When I notice what I’d done, I am startled.
                 “Sorry…” I tell Peter Pan who’s standing by me, staring at me sadly.
                 “Nah, just gimme a fiver.” He tells me. His hand is waiting palm up.
                 “That’s generous of you. Thanks!” I tell him. I have a fiver and I give it to him. He disappears, but not before he tells me his name is Dave, not Peter Pan. I look at my pocket watch and it’s two thirty.
                   The moon is shining onto the trees, their canopies above the streetlight, and the fires and the people--above the fires, below the sky. I make my way through the treacherous upstairs haze, all the more confusing because of my little smoke and the fact that there are more people pouring into the rooms all of a sudden. All’s floating, in soft sounds and spirals, up-down, up-down while the soft column of hot air within me expands seemingly forever.
                  Down the stairs and through the all-vegetarian kitchen, and then with a spinach roll into the yard through the crowds beneath the tree. Away from the dancing couples, but close to that heavenly jukebox playing Steely Dan. I ponder whose idea it was to put on the music. Probably one of the truly world weary.
                  All the while, there’s little motes of unease even more than usual hovering about in the atmosphere. This party is like a woolly ball of tension. All parties are, but this one is somehow zanier than before. Soon, it’ll all go snip-snap, I am sure…and oh... look… there’s a commotion on the rickety balcony and it’s not in my head. I shake my little bit of fuzzy euphoria off, and focus. It’s Thom up there, and his face is painted silver. The spider tattoo on his forehead is visible though and he has dyed his mohawk blue.
                “Yahhhh! Watch me! Watch me! I’m gonna  fly! Whooooooo! Watch Shorty fly!!!” He is yelling, but it’s sort of muddled. He’s stoned, high, drunk and trying to lean the railing off into the air. “Aieeeeee! Aww, bastard…” some guy is dragging him off the edge and carrying him into the smoky rooms. There is a sound of tambourines filtering through the windows, up towards the moon.
                   I stay where I am, and wait… and then I push into the kitchen, invisible, and take another spinach roll. And go back to wait…and wait… and then there’s another commotion.
Thom, little Thom, is on the balcony again and he’s on fire. His mohawk is flaming. He’s yelling like a madman…
                  “Shorty’s on fire! Watch me, I’m on fire! Hot fucking mama!”
                 The flames are surrounding his face. “Aren’t you all just the most miserable swine!” He yells. He’s setting the railing on fire. Someone’s taking off their cloak behind him, getting ready to swaddle the flames away.
                  “I HATE YOU ALL! Get off me you idiot.” He laughs and leans into the railing and then tumbles down. No one goes after him now.
                  “Watch me fly!” he yells on the way.
                  The white railing looks like wings and I think for a moment that perhaps they will lift him up and he won’t fall into the fire pit in the middle of the yard. That maybe, just maybe, he will fly up into the sky  and away from us all. But he doesn’t, he falls like a stone in the middle of the largest, crated fire pit.
                   The screaming is earsplitting, as all the cliques mix in, climbing all over each-other and unready for the  situation. Common sense is absent here, truly absent. The drugged harmony is ideal, as everyone tries to get out, somewhere. Into their cars, into the front doors for their coats.Some are just putting on discarded clothes. Far away I hear sirens. I see my friend abandoning the scene with her love interest. They’re going for his truck, no doubt…The smell of cookng meat is strong.
                  I look up into the trees and at the moon. Bob Dylan wails something, somewhere in the house. Steely Dan have ended their song. And I must go, now. The police sirens are getting closer, there’s no one in the yard. Thom’s roasting in the coals twitching slightly, at peace. He broke his neck it seems and now he’s only burning, only burning. I slip out the back gate, through the ivy into the alleyway. People are milling around there too.

                 Burning.

                   “Is he dead?” I ask someone unnecessarily. I see that it’s Peter Pan, who’s really Dave.
                  “Yeah.” He tells me.
                   “Sad.” I say. And then I shrug, turn my heel and go. Into the alley I stride, with the moon lighting up the garbage bins like a stage light.
                    Thom's walking by me. His mohawk is twinkling bluely in the light, the spider tattoo looking alive enough to run up into his hair. He was only five feet tall, had the physique of a twelve year old, but he was twenty two and schizophrenic…Thom, poor loser punk Thom—and he knew it, and he wanted to go he tells me as he walks by me.

                   You never really judged...never really cared and that was cool.

                     You think so? I ask him…. I never really thought it all important, all the shit like scenes and overwrought social rules and stuffy values that no one really believed in, they just said that they did to seem good people, but they are the worst of people.
                     Yeah.
                    We walk slowly away from everyone. Slowly fire starts to flicker in the blue of his hair and as it curls the mohawk shape wilts like a flower. A stranger moon flower never bloomed on this street, and the leaves they blow with my feet alone as that flaming railing carries him up into the mist that comes slithering from the ground. Up into the east.

                        I needed to show them all how to judge. You never judged.

                       But I did, Thom. I judged. It is in me, Thom. Just go. Leave.
                       I hear his screaming when he falls and somewhere in the branches of a tree, I see the shine that is not a street light…you got me good on the runround. Round town. Round town.
                     “Shorty’s burning! Watch me fly!” and then he’s gone into the dawning east.
                       The wind gusts about and around, lifting up dust and junk and rattling the chimes that are hanging from the next house’s patio. Tink-tinkerbell…Where are you Dave? Dave, who’s really Peter Pan, or is it the other way around?
                         I walk and think about elves, fairies, Dracula and fire. I look at my pocket watch and I see that somehow it is already half past five, the wee hours are done with and took their due. That also means that I should get home, change and go to work at the nearby grocery.
                         And I do.
 

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