The house screamed, “Fire!”
from every orifice. Difé!
Melting windowpanes rolled down the aluminum siding, dripping polyurethane tears. Orange, blue, and yellow flames hollered their frustration into the icicles along the struggling gutters. The two-story (three, if you counted the basement), one-family (two, again, if the basement was included) House had had enough. Fed up with the burden of Its owner’s absurd hoarding, inexcusable slovenliness, and abuse of power, It spontaneously combusted everywhere a power source sprouted unkempt. The matted nest that passed for a fuse box in the basement; the half- assed hose that connected the gas stove to the wall in the upstairs kitchen; the shaved pipes that pulled natural gas from its source to the boiler and radiators throughout the House; the power strip in the upstairs bedroom that powered a tenant’s hot plate, microwave, refrigerator, stereo, television, DVD player, cable box, computer, and electric shaver and toothbrush; the tangle of Christmas lights left plugged in and blinking as a deterrent to robbers over the holidays. The House blew it all up and burst into tears It had been holding back for decades.
It cried and laughed at the same time, watching the owner scurry out of the basement. When the tenant jumped out the upstairs window, the House doubled over and shook in amusement. It nearly keeled over from being tickled by the rodents and roaches racing one another into and out of their hiding places, confused which would be best—crackle in the fire or crack in the icy January air outside while trying to make it to the safety of a neighbor’s house.
The House listened for the loud cries.
” the owner hollered as he ran Its circumference.
It tracked the movements of the owner, who ran around like a man trying to keep his pants up after having missed a belt loop while getting dressed. It watched as Its pajama-clad owner rushed from the backyard up the skinny driveway to the front stoop, then through the frozen garden in the empty parcel where another house could have been built, then around to the backyard again. The House didn’t see where the tenant vanished to, but he was gone before the ambulance arrived. It had a hard time emoting and keeping eyes on the owner simultaneously, but the House continued to cry and laugh convulsively.
” the owner shrieked as he waited for help to arrive, help the House did not want.
It tried to figure out how to drown out his cries. It screamed in different ways for different reasons until sirens overwhelmed them both. The fire trucks pulled up out front and, mercifully, the drivers silenced the blaring. But the night was far from still. The House blinked rapidly as the engines’ discordant lights made a visible noise of their own. It closed Its eyes to shut out the annoying but necessary red and yellow spinning that cracked the dark freezing night. Desperate for attention, It pumped out flames with renewed vigor like a toddler in a tantrum forcing herself to cry harder.
It wished It had been built with the ability to speak, since people-talk always trumped Its performances. It huffed as the owner continued screaming in his native language: “Pitit mwen yo!
” It wanted to shut him up. But a firefighter came across the half-frozen man while inspecting the perimeter of the House for points of entry. The House rolled Its eyes as the owner spoke English to ensure the firefighter understood.
My sheeldren!” His accent protruded like a boil through taut skin.
It looked down at the two men and easily deduced that the heavily masked rescuer was white by his blue eyes reflecting the frosty glint of aluminum siding in the January night. The firefighter chased the owner back through the rock-hard soil of the hibernating snow-covered garden and out to the front of the House. The man finally stood still, watching powerlessly as his house blazed before him. Difé!
The House ignored the outside entertainment and, refusing to be defeated, It tried to turn Its efforts inward. It spread flames through every corner of Itself to produce Its cry of fire for on- lookers to see. It kept an eye on the owner standing outside in the subzero air bawling and mumbling to himself. It drooped to see the hydrants give more easily than expected. It recoiled as the hoses gushed against Its battalion of flames fighting for their right to be and be seen. It had earned this catharsis. It had endured and witnessed, had stood silent and been complicit. It deserved to explode publicly, to commit suicide grandly. It harnessed and funneled the flames to fight off the water like hell itself.
It followed the firefighters as they focused on the left side of the House where most of the windows were. Their hoses lined the narrow driveway that separated the opportunistic flames from the closest neighbor’s house, a tacky yellow eyesore with brown trim. Ambushed on Its left, the House strained to push fire out of the singular window on Its right. Its flames stretched their fingers across the empty parcel, trying to reach the tips of the dormant leafless apple tree. That was Its only hope of spreading Its fury: extend Its fire to high-five the tree, set it ablaze, then jump to the next house just inches away. If Its flames could reach the branch tips, they could skip to the almost-elegant pale blue cookie-cutter structure and take out half the block toward the main boulevard at least. At least.
The House longed to level all Its neighbors that should have known about Its suffering. It knew that they’d also been in pain, but they’d done nothing to help themselves or It. It would be the brave one, the one to put an end to it all. It would euthanize them, take them out of their misery, in the only way It knew how. The people were a different matter. It wanted to tear them down for putting their houses through the same suffering It had endured; the same misery that had been replicated in the various shades of brown, languages, and accents of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. How could people
want to live through all of that? What was there to live for after all It had seen and been through? Why prolong the pain? What were they trying to prove? Perseverance? Resilience? To what end? Why stand outside in paper pajamas in the middle of a blocked-off street, in the mean January air, in the middle of the goddamned night, shouting, “There are people in there!”
The House changed tactics. It retracted the flames. It in- haled and held the smoke in Its chest, tricking the firefighters into believing that they were winning. For now, It would have to settle for self-consumption. Like an unseen hell, It would devour Itself without the fanfare of sparks. Lanfè
. It would revel in the blue and yellow hues of Its dark interior. Hellfire
. It would swallow molten glass and metal as salves to soothe Its regret at not having destroyed other houses whose inhabitants surely should have known the hurt being heaped upon It. It held Its breath and allowed the flames to do their worst inside to make Itself forever uninhabitable. It allowed them to eviscerate all of Its wood paneling, floors, and furniture. It took one hard gulp of fuel from the kerosene heater to burn through the floorboards in the cold upstairs bedrooms. No one would ever sleep there again. Difé!
One long lick with ten tongues through the shot-gun first floor, blackening the foyer, living room, dining room, and kitchen. No one would ever be welcomed, invited to sit, presented with a plate, and allowed to dip a tasting spoon there again. One jagged cough through the basement, a hiccup of final fumes, skipping over and in between defunct TVs, stereo turntables, eight-track tape decks, and heaping crates of un- sorted junk. No one would ever stoop through the tight tunnel to thrift shop among the owner’s dusty collection again.
The House floated in and out of consciousness, waiting to die. It would no longer have to stomach wickedness, deviance, and injustice. It looked forward to the demolition that would level and free It at long last. It sighed and quietly stuttered, “Di-di-di-di-difé
.” It closed Its eyes, ignoring the embers’ red glow. It didn’t feel the water pounding around Its gutted insides. Even if It had given credence to the owner’s incessant pleas, It wouldn’t have felt the tickle of a small child or the heft of a few adults crouching in one of Its corners.
Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Momplaisir. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.