Love Aflame

Their first date they played Jenga with lit matches and pick-up sticks with unthreaded needles. The corner of his napkin caught fire and he whipped it dead. A hole opened in his palm, outlined with black powder. They smiled at each other and kissed, passing a lemon wedge between their teeth. Straightening their suits they left the restaurant, paying the bill with diamonds.

Later that night they visited a series of apartment complexes, throwing popcorn and Christmas ornaments at the windows. By the time the residents within thrusted their heads outside, they were always long gone, having left naught but a trail of giggles behind them. Eventually they settled down at a pier by the lake. They had brought hot chocolate, spiked with bourbon, and they sipped through metal straws, watching the moths swarm around nearby lanterns.

They danced at the edge of rooftops in pointed stilettos. Walked through forests wearing masks made of chia and honey. Shaved one another with butcher’s cleavers, spreading a white foam bath across each other’s chins and chopping the fear away. On airplanes they combined their mixed nuts and Chinese spicy crackers into a single bag. They closed their eyes, EpiPens at the ready, and ate the morsels one by one, hoping their throats would not close upon swallowing. At the end of each flight their snack bags would be empty, save for a jumble of peanuts that had collected at the bottom. They were the only people who wouldn’t put each other to sleep.

Soon, though, they grew bored with the impulses they flung at the world. Roulette, they agreed, was no fun if victory was inevitable. Their rice tasted unseasoned, their songs were homophonic, their trips to kingdoms unexplored became cluttered with hotel bookings and peach iced tea. They would sit together on mountaintops, lobbing baseballs in the air, praying for a gust of wind to knock them into a final avalanche.

One night they lay in his attic, watching static chew through an old square television. They searched through the broken boxes along the walls and found trinkets stashed within. A backgammon set with peppermints instead of pieces. An antelope’s skull, polished with wax and fitted with a set of ivory teeth. A family of dolls, stuffed with straw and duck feathers, dressed in overalls and burnt-leaf dresses. They came across an old brass lighter beneath the floorboards and smiled at each other, thumbs cuddling atop the lever. 

The cartons of nail polish were first to fall, followed by a stack of dictionaries in the corner. Ropes of red and orange slithered across the floor, wrapping around their ankles and binding them together like two prisoners. They watched as the flames grew angry with their insolence, how they just sat there, unbothered, their shadows refusing to participate in the fiery puppet show. The tendrils of smoke tried to rip them apart, tried to break their blazing chains, but it was too late. Their fingers had been seared together, blackened into an eternal grasp. The fire accepted defeat, swallowing them whole, and they relaxed, etched forever into the inferno’s icy heart. Their world had always been burning, and now it always would be. 

Originally Published in Angles

Matt Hsu is a student from San Francisco, California. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and he’s published or forthcoming in Roanoke Review, (mac)ro(mic), Longleaf Review, and The Lumiere Review. Currently he’s querying his first novel: a twisty, thriller-mystery about a crafty assassin. You can find him on Twitter at @MattHsu19 or at his personal website