LIT BY FIRE

a short story

by David Antrobus


“If you must die, sweetheart, die knowing your life was my life’s best part.” — Keaton Henson

They said it was Banksy. The last painting. The howling boy on the wall of the capitol. We’ll probably never know, but I saw it, and it sure looked like a Banksy. 

You can’t really miss a black bear. The dripping, flexing arms of the forest murmur their shades of green, some a pale jade whisper, some an emerald shout, some so abysmal they’re nearly black, and within those dark branches lie shadows, blacker still. Yet a black bear, once it crosses your visual field in front of or within those varied shades of green, is a piece cut out of the world, a stark absence, a patch of lonely void in the shape of a bear. At which point, is it even a bear?

We sit in a quiet corner, you with your floppy hat and me with my eighties obsession that I can barely articulate.

“Try my hat on,” you say.

“I’d prefer not to.” I realize this is a hat store, and I balk. 

“Ha ha, that’s why I love you! You let me down gently, like an escalator.”

“No idea what you’re talking about, but you’re my friend, and I love you too, of course. Why are we even saying any of this? It’s a given.”

“Nothing’s a given. We’re renewing our friendship vows.”

“Um, you can stop now. Stop talking, that is. For fuck’s sakes. My toes are cramping.”

“Which only makes me love you more.”

“Shut up. Uh. Please, shut up.”

“Let’s go see some sights.”

“Yes, the new Banksy. The one we literally dropped everything to come and see.”

She had a way about her, a mood, something impossible to say no to.

But yes, back to art and stuff. Life. Banksy or not. 

What matters? Stale toast and the late, lazy flap of corvids against a peach sunset. An avocado pit sending tendrils. A butter churn. Scaffolding arched above a sidewalk, mauve and crimson night leaking into the tubular screens of its graceless folded geometry. Umbilicals. A honeybee nudging petals, reticent as a new lover. “I can’t breathe.” Do unto others. Me too. Make me an instrument of thy peace. Do what thou wilt, though it harm none. Keep on truckin’. Just do it. The great oil canvas of Serengeti brushstroked by wildebeest. Boreal trails of the caribou. Helpless, tenacious Marlowe balanced on the unlikely ridge spanning love and cynicism. The shock of a black locust on the whitewashed farmhouse wall, droning stark on stucco. Slanted dusty rays of old gold across grocery scales. The micro worlds of toys, all those chimes and astonished faces. And she has gone to Carterhaugh. How long, baby, how long? Stripe of the Bengal tiger, the lion’s nasal folds, the cougar’s stern and diffident brow. Howling alien nowheres blazoning the arrant vacancy of forsaken love. Pissing your name in a snowbank, or better yet an obscenity. Reeking fresh leaves of basil torn and open as the Sacré-Coeur. Bats exploding from a granite mouth, hurtling like scorched sparks in the quiet fire of twilight. Reciprocity: mouthing a woman to orgasm and being sucked. Croissants warm in the slatemine morning beside the drifting river. Dreamed unearthly cathedrals. Black lives never not mattering. The hart of the wood, the heart of the would, a-bloom with grief and guilt. Kiln-baked pizzas assailed by artichokes. Rooks prattling in a copse, jackdaws likewise on ramparts. Blastocysts zapped by lasers. Terror cells cleansed by drones. Eyelashes shipped free by Amazon. Thirst, in all its forms. 

Smiles like an ocean horizon, faint, blue, where the sky is stitched. 

A baby crying on the floor, abandoned. Cold concrete and a massive ceiling. A bear seeking entry, quivering snout attuned. Junior’s alone and loud, his laments a looping echo of their own discordant song.

“Come back now. Did you hear me? Where did you go?”

My ears half-closed, my heart is like a cannonball, shock aroused by alcohol, patterns like a dream tattoo. 

Open my secular breast. These dripping fragrant delicacies I’ve saved for you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

David Antrobus is a freelance writer and editor whose origins lie in northern England and who currently lives in the Vancouver area. As if in tribute to the abused and neglected children he spent two decades working with, his writing in all its forms bristles with outrage, sorrow, dark humour, and resilience.

As a writer, David is far from prolific, which he justifies by assuring anyone who cares to listen that he much prefers quality over quantity. The fact that he has one perfect daughter lends support to this approach. However, his steady intake of wine, caffeine, and deeply questionable movies just as easily undermines it.

As an editor, he created Be Write There in 2009, a one-stop service that provides proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, and manuscript evaluation.

He has published two books, both nonfiction, and has written numerous dark yet lyrical tales scattered among various anthologies and websites.

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