There were no fires that year. It was hot, sure, but something in the city conspired to keep the combustion only in the heads of the citizens. Minds burned up and burned out; it was a season of high fever and hi jinx. People danced on the telegraph poles, ran into traffic just to play chicken with motor cars, jumped from windows.
They weren’t trying to kill themselves. They weren’t depressed, they were full of life. Window jumpers would stand on the ledge and call down to the street. Ahoy! After a few incidents, the crowd knew the routine. SUMMON THE FIRE BRIGADE! the cry would go up, carried lustily along the street to the nearest hook-and-ladder station, and the firemen – no women then – would arrive tout suite and unpack the trampoline.
It was lucky there were no fires, we all felt blessed. The window jumpers gave the fire brigade something to do, when they weren’t rescuing cats from trees. The cats could climb down on their own but everyone agreed that the spectacle was the thing and the cats didn’t seem to mind.
It was a hot summer, and we were all touched by madness in the sunshine. Our minds boiled until the steam bloomed from our ears and the flames glowed in our eyeballs. We bounced when we jumped, and we climbed where we didn’t need to climb. When autumn came we lit the bonfires and the smoke of a real fire finally cleared our heads.
“No one wakes up in the morning thinking ‘I shall be kind to my fellow man today’, do they?” He paced back and forth, boots pressing the grass so hard it did not spring back. “People are, and this is my point, inherently kind. Or, as the case may be, inherently unkind.” A beetle scampered out of the way of his tramping feet.
When I was young I was happy, not by accident but by design. I smiled, huge and broad, at anyone who passed me in my pram. I was wheeled around the streets by the youngest of the family, the pram old and battered and once their own. Once their parents lay stupefied in its embrace.
The soft vegetable stink of leaves reached him before his eyes opened. He was in a wood, the back of his head resting uncomfortably against the exposed root system of a fallen tree. Movement brought the unpleasant sensation of pins and needles in his head. That didn’t seem possible, but here he was.
His mind bled. He held up his hand; it shimmered, each hair picked out in fine spirals of oil-on-water rainbows. His body rippled between states. He was male and female. She could feel each change but couldn’t decide which was true, her own thought process an unreliable narrator.
John shivered in the damp. It was July, but had been raining so long that the heat of any Summer sun was long forgotten. Every tree in the grey mist of the morning looked like the looming head of some giant figure, hauling itself across the landscape on its belly. The birdsong cut sideways through the glum, a cheery reminder of a season that should be happening. Was maybe happening elsewhere.