Fire at Dawn



My fingertips are the first to wake up. Then, strangely, my tongue, which distastefully notes the staleless of my mouth. Even though my eyes were still half glued with sleep, I am aware, in the neon darkness of the predawn, of Stephen’s shadowy form moving around the room. At the window, he becomes a man again, his silhouette tall next to that of the cactus on the windowsill.

“I smell smoke,” he says again. My sleep-heavy body lets in a new layer of sensation: sirens, many of them, drifting towards us from all directions. Their scream sounds like a red light, flashing and turning, fading and then becoming loud. Stephen comes back to bed, sniffing at the air but reassured that the smoke is not our problem. All I can smell, with my groggy nose, is the bitter perfume of wet cigarette butts. A light flashes by our window, briefly illuminating the cactus’s shadow in red and orange, and Stephen begins to snore. I lay awake with the scent of bitter cigarette corpses, amazed by the confidence sleep requires. It comes back to me eventually, that senseless confidence, and I dream of incessant floods.

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