All This and a Box of Matches

Submitted into Contest #78 in response to: Set your story at a convention for a hobby most people have never heard of.... view prompt

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Drama Fiction Contemporary

I skipped the seminar on plastic.

I don’t like the way it smells when it goes up.

Tight. Taut smell.

The smoke billows in a way I can’t appreciate.

They forgot to book one of the outdoor spaces, so they wouldn’t even be able to let the smoke go up too much before they’d have to put it out, or they’d tip off the hotel that we’re not actually a stamp-collecting convention.

A thousand people and not one stamp in sight. You’d think somebody would be tipped off, but people avoid the boring the way they used to avoid lepers, and as soon as you pretend to show an interest in philately, they start backing away from you, and you’re good to go.

I skipped the plastics seminar and went right to his room.

He had smuggled in the long matches from Sydney. They’re the kind you can’t find in the States anymore, and even London’s banned them, because of how quick they catch.

We’d been corresponding for the last several weeks before the convention, and to his credit, things had only turned sexual once or twice.

One night after I’d finished ripping apart a man’s childhood teddy bear in front of him, I hopped on my phone and there was a message from my Australian friend letting me know that he could get me double the boxes I had asked for provided I sent him a video of me sending up a few locks of my hair.

That night, my neighbors had their windows open, and one of them complained to her husband about the smell--something she couldn’t place.

Fire is a language, and it conjugates as it incinerates.

If you’ve never smelled something as it’s burning, then there’s a part of its spirit you don’t understand.

Burning hair.

Burning plastic.

Burning hotel bed sheets.

When I walked into his room, he had the sheets in a steel box he’d designed that purified smoke as quickly as the fire was supplying it. I had no idea how it worked, but he told me it would revolutize and legitimize our passion.

And he wasn’t talking about how we raked each other over as the sheets went up next to us.

Post-coital, he let me know that he could activate a setting on the box that would make the steam smell like either violet petals or curry.

I snuck the long matches out of that room as though I was looting a sacred object from a lost temple. Have you ever felt the weight of something detrimental on your person as being heavier than it really is?

Those matches were near weightless, but my feet left imprints on the hallway carpet, begging the curious to follow me to my room and see me use the first of them in my bathtub.

I told myself I could wait until I got home, but I knew it was a lie as soon as I was alone with them. I had only ever seen videos of the long matches and how they ignited. What seems like enough when viewed on a screen is proven insufficient when the chance for a tangible experience comes along.

Here was a match.

How could I postpone?

In the tub, I had laid out a crisp, white shirt.

The match burned it the way it would anything, but it was how it burned it that was miraculous to me as I sat on the toilet, nursing a rum and coke, over on the rum.

All results in the world are the same, and so, those who chase the endings find themselves dissatisfied once they’re at the wall that has no door.

Aficionados of anything understand that you’re supposed to hold the middle for as long as you can. I would imagine even a stamp collector does the same.

It’s the process of collecting the stamps.

Trading the stamps.

Negotiating the trade.

Once you have the stamp, do you even look at it?

Why bother?

You’ve climaxed.

Time to light up.

I didn’t have the Australian’s magical, smoke-dismissal machine, so I could only let a bit of smoke get out before I turned on the shower and doused the whole thing.

An hour later, I was still turning the long match over and over again in my palm. The polished edges of the handle. The bulbous head singed black. The phallic shape.

I was not the first woman to compare a match to manhood, but I’m convinced the long matches were created with that in mind.

Once my contraband was tucked safely under the mattress, I made my way downstairs. The plastics seminar had just gotten out, and now we were invited to a mixer.

The dress code was ‘Controlled Burn’ and I wore the tattered, Thunderdome homage one of my clients purchased for me as a gift after I locked him in one of my cupboards for two days. He’s a little man with a big bank account, and the dress definitely put a dent in it.

Compliment after compliment arrived, and as the event extinguished, two by two--and some by three or four--made their way up to their rooms and suites and, in some cases, the pool.

For people who dabble in arson, we sure do love a good swim.

The man I had my eye on all night was in blackened green with a gritty five o’clock shadow making its way down his throat.

I wanted to promise threats into his mouth instead of kisses, but by the time he made his way over to me, all I had on my mind was demonstration.

Elongated on my bed, I took out the matches.

One had been a trial, and two would be practice.

The rest I’d light when I got home.

Q-Tips then tissue then toilet paper then cardboard then cloth then fabric then a blanket then a chair then a bed then a rug then a carpet then a room then two rooms then a house.

A house I had always wanted to lose.

One I bought with my own money made up of money that was never mine.

In a part of town where things go up every night and nobody cares until morning, when they search through the ash piles to see if anything that survived was burnished or just burned.

The man on the bed was stripped but for his glasses.

I told him to keep them on.

On his stomach, I placed a circle of flammable liquid. The smell was bark. It was canopy. It sang of underbrush.

He told me not to five times before he told me that the refusal didn’t matter.

He had to refuse.

We were part of a pageant now.

Downstairs, a cleaning crew was emptying the wastebaskets in the conference room where the plastics seminar had been, and one of the janitors wondered why the place reeked of an odor he hadn’t come into contact with since childhood when his little brother put a sippy cup in the microwave and hit the pizza button.

The man on the bed asked me what I was waiting for, and I struck the match.

And all throughout the hotel, the batteries in the smoke alarms were dead.

Nobody would ever replace them.

January 25, 2021 04:37

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2 comments

Kyle Johnson
18:25 Jan 31, 2021

Inventive, conversational. Nice writing.

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I really enjoyed the format of this story Kevin! Great job!!

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