Henry, First Burn

Mom and Dad got into the car, through the window glass, and the car pulled backwards from the driveway, leaving Henry home alone for the very first time. He didn’t understand it, couldn’t recognize the feeling, but there was something in his stomach going strong. He liked it, wanting to be here, almost as badly as he wanted to be with Mom and Dad, and he took a moment to wander the house, seeing things different, even though everything was where it had always been. But now the place was empty, and now the house was his own. He found himself at the stove top, turning the ring of the burner to ten. Ten was the highest. As far as it goes.

Mom and Dad were going where? To Aunt Mary’s? They never left in the middle of the day like this, and their clothes and their apostrophes said something else was wrong: Mom in makeup and a scarf, Dad in rusty overcoat. Henry was old enough to sense the lie... too young to untangle it. He watched the coils on the burner waking up, quiet rising black to bright red. Mom and Dad had warned him on the stove when they weren’t home: it was Rule Number One, the Rule of the House. The coils now, glowing wide and making hot, that Henry could feel it from here.

He reached out and placed his palm on the burner, fingers cooking quickly, roasting, going black and charred, hand meat fusing to the tenacious spiral, while the smell of his own barbecued beef made him hungry for spareribs. Henry’s eyelids fluttered, comic, and by the time he yanked his hand away most of the skin had been torn off, blood pumping to skeletal finger bone, mortified at being seen naked. A Jolly Roger. Back on the stovetop Henry's handmeal smoked to ash as it smoldered lazy.

The next thing Henry remembered was seeing Mom and Dad above him, yelling furious, reciting gospel, chanting chapter, and he closed his eyes with a smile because… just because… They could be so silly sometimes.

And then he went to sleep, saying a silent prayer that his eyes would open up again.

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