Untitled (Red)

Inspired by photos by Chloe Ramos.

It was hot outside. We’d been asking for summer but if we’d known it’d be so hot we probably wouldn’t have asked so loud. The air outside felt like fifteen pounds, and it wasn’t any better indoors. We decided to hold our breaths and let ourselves sweat because we’d do anything not to be alone. It was summer, and no matter how miserable you were, you were supposed to be having fun.

We abandoned as much of who we usually were (who we used to be) in the interest of eliminating layers, not to feel so fucking hot all the fucking time. Our sweaters were the first to go, then our shoes, sense of urgency, and soon any semblance of personal hygiene disappeared as we sweat through shirt after shirt and wandered barefoot with nowhere to go and nobody who cared where we were.

“Hey. Pass the lighter.” Noah’s voice was a scratchy (this was the first time anyone had spoken in a while).

Charlie and I stared at each other for a minute before it was silently decided that he was closer. He moved slowly, bent from his position on the floor (heat rises), picked up the little red lighter, and slowly reached his arm behind him to pass it to Noah. He took it and as he struck it we all winced, fearing that the tiny flame would somehow make the room hotter than it already was.

Charlie’s living room was silent with the exception of his broken old record player skipping quietly in the background. In a way it was comforting, hearing the same line over and over again with no intention of moving forward. UB40 sang:

“Red, red, wine. Red, red, wine. Red, red, wine.”

We were glad there was music to fill the room. It was only July, but we had already run out of things to talk about. Charlie, Noah, and I. We spent most of our time now sitting in relative silence, sometimes listening to records, always smoking

“Should we watch a movie?” Charlie asked.
“Sure.” I responded. Noah nodded.

Nobody moved. The effort required seemed to outweigh the payoff.

Somehow our time felt better spent sitting in Charlie’s living room and doing nothing than not getting paid to make coffee for adult idiots at an internship. We all had stupid part-time gigs, but we were mostly in it for the free AC. Charlie worked at the discount theater, Noah at an ice cream shop, and I worked at the community center pool. We never talked about our jobs because nothing ever happened worth talking about. I mean, nothing ever happened at all. Everyone was really just trying to get by. It was that kind of summer.

We were bored, but we were so bored all the time it felt more like a state of being than a temporary feeling. It was hard to imagine a time when boredom didn’t leak into every part of ourselves, when our minds didn’t feel like mush and our skin was dry. We were so bored it felt like we lost full range of our brains because it had settled so deeply into hours of nothing day after day.

“Red, red, wine. Red red wine.”

I fumbled around from my spot on the couch for the lighter. Charlie observed and pre-emptively handed it to me. I struck it and a spark fired up, but no flame. I tried again. Fuck.

“This fucking thing.” I grumbled.
“Never works.”
“Red, red, wine.”

I tossed it to Charlie, who shook it a little and tossed it back. I tried again and finally a little flame appeared at the edge of the plastic red case. I guided it down to the edge of the bowl, where it lit more fire and red and smoke.

The lighter stayed lit. I let go of the button, but the fire never went out. I stared at it, then at Charlie and Noah to see if they were seeing it too. Their eyes were wide, the beads of sweat on their foreheads reflecting the little flame that seemed to grow bigger as the seconds ticked by.

“Red, red, wine.”

I shook the lighter, the flame grew. I tried to turn it upside down, but it grew. I tried to pinch it out with my fingers (the air was so hot in the room I couldn’t feel the difference between what was on fire and what was not) but it only grew. The little fire dipped and dodged my efforts, and soon the flame lifted itself out of the plastic case and floated above us.

“What. The fuck.” Noah’s eyebrows furrowed together in confusion, but it quickly changed to fear. “What do we do?”
“It’s like it as has a mind of its own.” I stared up at it as it burned above us, its cracking and popping feeling like a taunting laughter.
“I didn’t even take a hit yet.” Charlie pouted up at it

“Red, red, wine. Red, red, wine. Red, red, wine.”

I stood up and tried to snatch it out of the sky but it moved, seemingly fueled by our efforts. Still growing, still taunting. We could feel the flames on our foreheads now, sizzling our eyebrows and the tops of our heads. It stretched across Charlie’s living room now, licking at the edges of the carpet and the walls, threatening destruction. The fire swallowed one of Charlie’s paintings sitting on the far end of the room. We could see flecks of paint fly up out of the fire like crumbs.

“Fuck. FUCK.” Charlie yelled. “What the fuck do we do?”
“Red, red, wine,”
“Move your shit away from it.” Noah screamed over the mounting noise of the fire in the living room. “Move it!”

We moved faster than we had all summer, pushing furniture and flammable things away from where the fire had set itself. We felt the tips of our clothes singe as we inched closer to it but still the temperature in the room remained the same (hot). As I pushed the coffee table away from its path the glasses full of lemonade spilled, and the fire recoiled away from the liquid.

I got it.

I broke into a sprint, flinging the sliding door open with a dramatic crash and ran outside. I heard Charlie or Noah yelling behind me, “Don’t let it get out, we’ll start a wildfire” but I ignored them because knew my idea would work. I unhooked the hose from its place in Charlie’s garden and adjusted the screw until I could feel the cold water flowing through the plastic in my arms.

Every second felt like an hour, it was impossible to tell how long it took me to get from the garden back inside. I ran into the house and pressed the trigger on the hose. The fire sizzled angrily as the flames shrunk under the water.

“Yes! You’re killing it!”
“Red, red, wine.”

I closed my eyes and sprayed the cool water as around the room for what felt like forever. When I finally opened my eyes the living room was soaked, as were Noah, Charlie, and I. The fire too had expired under the hose’s blast.

Charlie, Noah, and I were panting now (we weren’t used to so much excitement). The couch squelched with water as we collapsed on top of it. With a quick study around the room, it was unclear whether or not the fire had existed at all. The room looked unchanged with the exception of the layer of water.

“Wait.” Noah started.
We all looked at him with worry in our eyes. Was the fire still there?
“That hose felt really fucking good. Can you spray me with that again?” I lifted myself with considerable effort and pointed the hose to the couch where Noah and Charlie sat. The relief was clear on their faces as the water soaked them. I pointed the hose to myself. It felt ice cold.

UB40 crooned. “Red, red, wine. Red, red, wine.”

Crossing my legs, I fell to a seat in the cool pool of water on Charlie’s hard wood floors.

“Red, red, wine.”

I glanced over to the far end of the room where Charlie’s painting had sat. I was surprised to see it still there, staring back at me. Completely unchanged with the exception of a small burn at the right corner of the canvas.

I sighed and fell back onto the floor with a splash. It was that kind of summer.