by Jeannette Garrett
“Wanna set him on fire?” The two teenagers had almost stumbled over the man while taking a shortcut through the park. It was so dark they could barely see a foot or two in front of them, and they had been using their phones to pick out a path where there was none. When they realized it was a person on the ground, not a pile of trash, the older of the two girls had whispered her question with a sudden urgency, energized now at one o’clock in the morning.
Neither of them could have known that the man was dreaming. In need of escape even in sleep, he was summoning memories not possible in the harsh daylight. It was cool, but not cold, excellent sleeping weather. He had made a bed out of pine needles and fallen leaves and covered himself with newspapers, tucking the edges between his legs so they wouldn’t fly off. He had fallen asleep thinking, for some reason, of his father. Maybe because one of the headlines in the newspaper urged sons and daughters, “Don’t Forget Dad Tomorrow.”
The girl pulled a lighter out of her pocket and in one angry tug of her thumb, rolled back the steel wheel and pressed the red button, creating a steady flame. Looking at the motionless figure at her feet, she said, “Come on. It’d be fun.” In her agitation, she began clicking the lighter over and over, the sound of impatient finger-snapping, all the while giggling like a child anticipating a new toy. “I’ve always wanted to,” she said, mainly to herself. In her excitement, her left hand got too close to the lighter and the fire singed the underside of her wrist. “Motherfuck,” she hissed, bending over in pain.
The younger one, who knew what her friend was like when she got mad, said, “Leave him be. Ain’t worth it,” and turned and walked away.
In his sleep, the man dreamed of a camping trip he had taken with his father when he was a teenager, just the two of them in Yosemite. They had slept out in the open, on their backs, after picking out Aquarius, which his father had told him was associated with eternal youth, and the Big Dipper, which was much easier to find. He saw the flames of the campfire now, smelled the smoke
from roasted hot dogs, and wondered in his fevered dream where his children were.
Jeannette Garrett is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in English and Journalism. She has participated in numerous writing workshops at Inprint and Writespace in Houston, Texas, where she resides. Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine among other publications.