Burnt

*


Lucille sat smoking on the step in the sun. She took a drag and continued to dream through the fresh blue smoke. The sun burning brightly in the summer sky. The blue back porch peeling in the heat – the timber creaking under her young dreams and aspirations. Flipping the cap on her steel lighter, tapping her feet on the top step to a silent beat. The sun good and warm on her young thin skin – white t-shirt loose flapping languidly in the warm afternoon breeze – bare feet breathing, feeling the worn grain of the wooden step – blue jeans beat and holy with worn wounds torn in knees and backside. The flame, as if from her fingers, dancing in the whispering air – white spots pop around the flame.

Lucille tired of her imagination, yawned and tugged her sneakers on. The sun now dying in the distance, floundering behind the dusky silhouette of the suburban horizon. Her black parka and red baseball cap – protection against the coming night. Dogs began to bark in hungry expectation – their master’s cars creeping home up the street. A bus half-lit against the twilight – faces forward, vacant eyes – floating along like leaves on a breeze until home, then caged again. Lucille’s old man wouldn’t be home again – lost somewhere in the desert between then & now. A gecko slithered across the porch and into the black shadows under the chair. Her mother might be home tonight, if she didn’t score – her mother that is. At least she didn’t bring them back anymore – she figured the old bitch had probably realised it was easier to let them do her in the alley behind the bar – less of a walk to get the next drink from a trick.

Lucille lit another smoke, the light from the flame orange white glowing in her stony gaze. She spat in prophesy into the dead flowers beside the porch – the screen door snapping at her young heels as she went inside, switching on the yellow hall light. The house stank of meat and grease – flies broke away from the walls and dirty dishes in the sink as she entered the small kitchenette. She opened the fridge – last beer left. A white spark then dark, the bulb blew – she fumbled in the empty rank fridge for the beer and left the house, slamming the chain-link gate behind her. She sucked on her beer and headed on into the musky night.

A greasy burger on Main Street, moths beating themselves to death on the popping fluorescent light under the street cover. The burger tasted good, her thin stomach moaning with gratitude, licking fingers. Another smoke. Walking again. Damn, she needed some cash. She’d just spent her last loose change. A plane rumbled overhead – ominous, its undercarriage low and visible, wings blinking red and green, then gone. She lit another smoke with the butt of the last – sixteen years old and full of dreams and the warm city night waiting to swallow her up.

She kept walking, images flashing faster in her brain – her mother, her crabbed face white and wrinkled blood-red lips charcoal dead eyes bleached blond dry hair – soulless posture. A photo of her father, remembered, black and white – long beard shaved head jailhouse tattoos straddled on a clapped out chrome horse. Fire, always fire licking the edges of everything – the houses the moon cars windows trees fences people . . .

People moved inside the white house. A family scene – steaming dinner on the table. All smiles and throwback head laughter. Man cuts the meat. Mother hairbuns blue apron, dishing out the sliced pink roast. Plump blond children squeal, banging table with fisted knives and forks . . .

Lucille stood hypnotized, rooted to the spot. Her face dissected in the reflection of the quarter windowpane. She didn’t know how long she stood there, watching, trembling – mind blank. Hairbuns blue apron appeared in the window, a laugh on her red lips, head turned over shoulder as she drew the curtains across her pert apron encased cashmere breasts. Lucille snapped out of her trance. It was like she woke up, but was outside of herself. Everything – like one of those old black and white James Cagney movies her Ma used to watch on the TV late at night. She watched herself walk around the corner of the west wall and stand before the half open bedroom window, the linen curtain slowly flapping in the breeze against the white window sill. She closed her eyes and dreamed a dream.

Lucille kicked open the gate and walked up the old wooden steps to the dark porch. She wasn’t home. She sat on the top step and looked out across the suburban landscape silhouettes lit with faint ghostly lights. Haunted figures across the way, shambling in and out of sight like voodoo zombies framed in the windows. A cat moaned for sex next door. A car slid its hissing way up the empty street. In the distance, a siren started to peel itself out of the black night. Lucille lit a smoke and took a drag, holding the cigarette up and watching the red ember glow as it took to the thin cigarette paper – her other hand absently brushing up against the growing urge in her torn jeans.

An orange glow had broken out in the distance, about a kilometre south, above the black silhouettes of the houses on the horizon. White smoke flowered from the horizontal half moon of the fire, tapering up, drifting slowly into the black still night. Lucille’s eyes glazed as she flicked the smouldering cigarette butt into the dead flowers next to the porch. Her breath quickening as her hand worked against herself – the siren now multiplied, screaming. Tumbling red lights dancing flippantly towards the fire, now blazing cinders spread like small red stars high into the warm night sky. The smoke now yellow, billowing into the blackness hanging heavy over the suburbs. The scene like a consummated painting framed between the porch banisters. All Lucille heard was her heart beating, blood pumping like a drum in her head. The worn wood grain of the porch, cool through her t-shirt against the bones of her young back. The night now closing in.
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