Brock Adams


There’s a woman on fire in the middle of the street. Other than that, it’s a perfect Saturday morning in October—the earth-colored leaves hang loose on the branches, razor sharp against the dizzy blue sky. No one else is awake yet and the world looks cold and electric. The woman walks in a slow circle, barefoot on the dark asphalt, her fists clenched and her face down. The flames go into the air behind and above her, great red and orange tongues that make her larger than life, like a fire elemental born in the middle of the earth and stranded in the suburbs.

I watch her through the picture window in the living room. My coffee smells like the hills in Columbia, just like it’s supposed to. The carpet soft beneath my feet.

My daughter walks in sleepy-eyed and stands beside me. “No, Sweets,” I say, putting my hand over her eyes. “You need to go back to your room. You need to go.”

She peels my hand away like she’s shucking an oyster. “What’s she doing?” she asks.

“You need to go back to your room,” I say, but I can’t do anything else now, because we, my daughter and I, have to stand there and watch the burning woman. She has fallen face down onto the street, one hand up, the other at her side, as though she’s waiting for the chalk outline. Her clothes and hair burned away, the flames have died down. A pleasant glow surrounds her and the flames move over her back like creatures in water.

Smoke comes off of her, black and dense. “She’s going into the air,” my daughter says.

She does go into the air, bits of her burned up and lifted into the sky while the husk that held her withers away on the pavement. No one else is awake, so no one puts her out, and it feels as though it’s not our place to do so, anyway. She looked deliberate, the way she paced the street aflame; she looked ready to burn away into the world. Like the life inside her was gone, and she was making room for the new.

So she’s out there in the air, and I’ll probably breathe her in later today when I tend to the lawn. She’ll get in my daughter’s lungs while she chases the dog across the yellowing grass. I wonder if the woman will be a part of us then, a part of us and a part of everything else, and if that’s what she was meant for all along.


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