My Sister, the Arsonist

"Skin," a flash fiction by Meg Pokrass

house on fire

My Sister, the Arsonist

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After Nell set Johnny’s house on fire, I became a self-appointed only child. She’d be in prison for the rest of her life, but I’d cure cancer. People would soon forget that we were sisters.

I discontinued wearing her old shoes. Would change my last name as soon as I came of age.

Dad too had a thing for dangerous heat. Especially in Hawaii, where the sun plays an unsavoury character in every scene. Dad never wore sunscreen, and he died from a melanoma after a decade of construction gigs in Maui.

“You burn your skin to a crisp like your father did, baking like a cookie in the sun every day of your adult life, you get what’s coming,” Mom said. She wore Daddy’s slippers as if her feet missed his.

Daddy’s mole had resembled a little black dot one day. The next week it looked like a dog, with a long pokey nose. “Nell, Maria, take a look at this spec here,” Daddy said. We gathered around his forearm. “Which of our old dogs does this cool-looking mole resemble?” 

Back then, Nell and I laughed about the idea of a family like ours, caring about the wrong things, our father avoiding something as silly and simple as a medical appointment. Making a game of life’s weirdness. 

That was right about when Nell lost her virginity to Johnny. He had been her math tutor but she told me in private that he was teaching her some unusual calculations. I wished he was teaching me too. She was carrying his fractions, she said, but had lost her calculator.

After she burnt down his house wearing Daddy’s shoes, using his cigarette lighter, Mom started drinking. She’d come home from her second job, selling opera season tickets over the phone. “Ripping off nice old people,” she said. She would sometimes bring home a cancerous-looking man to sit in our living room and smile at us awkwardly. Each one looked too tan, more at-risk.

And now Mom was wearing Nell’s old shoes, the sexy ones with rhinestone straps that I used to borrow. Mom and I were the only ones left standing, but our feet were in confusion, our borders redefined. 

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