Flash Fiction: Ashes by Madeline Anthes

On weekends we drove to our town’s hidden creases: the parking lot behind the middle school to smoke pot, a house party for a college we didn’t attend.

The college boys loved Anne Marie. They draped their arms around her shoulders, crooning into her ear. She giggled and sipped from their plastic cups.

They didn’t care for me, but I didn’t mind.  I liked them farm-born and earth-ragged. I liked Tommy’s ropy arms and Billy’s rust-speckled jeans.

Tommy’s car had cracked leather seats and smelled like cigar smoke and lemon cleaner. It died near the Neumaker’s farm stand, out by the Kroger and liquor outlet. Tommy coasted it into the grass near a cow fence.

Billy thought Tommy should sell it for parts. Anne Marie said her daddy knew a guy who would probably take it. We all looked to Tommy. He chewed his lip. I wondered if he would cry.

We met at 3 a.m. Frost was glittering on the windows when Tommy poured lighter fluid inside the engine and over the seats.  I gripped my arms and shivered.

It was slow at first, the fire dancing in a line along the lighter fluid streaks. Then small bursts of sparks shot out of the hood and trunk until the whole thing was glowing with flames. There was no dramatic explosion. Just a slow, elegant escalation.

Anne Marie got bored and wanted to go home so Billy walked her back to town. Tommy and I stood transfixed, watching the paint peel away and the plastic molding curl. We inhaled the fumes and let the smoke burn our cheeks and pull tears from our eyes, only turning away when we heard the sirens.

I took Tommy’s hand as we walked back town, where the dark stillness of the narrow streets swallowed us whole.

Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary. Her writing can be found in journals like WhiskeyPaper, Lost Balloon, Cease, Cows, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.


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