On Fire by Riham Adly
On the day Samantha found out her cancer hadn’t metastasized and was still in remission, there was a fire in the house. Her kids were at school which was a relief, but she couldn’t get out of the burning house before grabbing her phone, her laptop, her jewelry, her favorite velvet skirt, her engagement ring, her only Gucci bag, her son’s ventilator, the car keys, her books and oh—her parent’s wedding photo. She dragged her heavy loot while crawling on all four till she made it out, still breathing, and still alive. The morning air though heavily tainted with smoke had never felt so good.
“Yes, yes, yes!” She said to survival, that skill she thought she wasn’t so good at, but the murky, leathery hollow inside her opened up and swallowed her victory when she realized she forgot to grab her sister, Martha.
“Oh My God, Oh My God!”
She panicked and screamed and cried for help, but Samantha was never going back to hell for anyone anymore.
In Martha’s dream, she could not die. Who wouldn’t want to live forever? Martha, though didn’t find this very practical: because of her hands. She had a face to kill for—kudos to plastic surgery—but definitely not the hands. Nail-polish never approved of her bitten nails. Arthritis knotted her bones into asymmetrical sculptures, a curse inherited from her mother and her mother before her. Mark and Anthony—one was her husband, the other her sister’s—loved her new breasts and her new voluptuous hips. But they never touched or kissed the hands, never swept them in loquacious adoration like they did with the rest of her body. A lifetime with those unfixable hands was not something she wanted.
Samantha had the prettiest hands, her mother used to say. Hands that made the best potato salad there is, hands that took care of things when their father went to jail for substance abuse, and when their mother left off with the first drifter who offered her a genuine smile.
Martha woke up in a haze of smoke. She knew the house was on fire, and she genuinely wanted to rescue anything, but then she knew those hands would get in the way, so in the little time that was left, she decided to sift through her muddled state of introspection. She thought of her husband Mark, who was in love with Susan. Susan was her best friend, and also Samantha’s husband Anthony’s secret mistress. She wondered why they hid the fact that they were brothers.
Mark and Anthony had the same dream: to live forever with Susan. Their pulse quickened and their bellies tightened when they talked about it to each other. A hum spread across their chests as they watched Susan enjoy the warm cup of tea they so lovingly prepared for her, while thinking—all three of them—about Samantha and Martha’s insurance money.
In 2018, I stumbled on a piece by Meg that turned on my curiosity. Flash was new to me and a delight when I first discovered it. Meg’s piece was titled “Egg Foot” from her collection “Alligators At Night.” As a reader I found out a lot about the characters in such a tiny story. I marveled at the use of subtle surrealism that made physical illness and deformation believably attractive. There was a strong emotional connection not just in words but in what wasn’t said as well. I decided to use surrealism in my own fiction to describe the insufferable truths I lived and experienced, but I needed to read more and understand better.
I later found out that Meg had created a series of free writing prompts for NanoWriMon, that’s when I hit the jackpot. Meg introduced themed prompts that tackled vulnerability, inevitability, beautiful deception, messy love, scars, strange conditions and much more. She provided examples from her own work, and with each story I got hooked further into the cleverness and beauty of flash fiction. The story above “On Fire” incorporates a lot Meg’s themes, but I’ll have to say her flash “Egg Foot” remains one of my favorites, because it introduces an idea that is so alien to my culture, yet all the same beautiful.
Riham Adly’s fiction has appeared in over fifty online journals such as Litro Magazine, Lost Balloon, The Flash Flood, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, and New Flash Fiction Review among others. Riham is a Best of the NET and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work is included in the Best Microfiction 2020 anthology. Riham lives with her family in Giza, Egypt.