by Meg Pokrass
Inspired by Is That All There Is? by Peggy Lee
When I was three, my screaming father swept me up in his arms and ran out of our burning house. When our house burnt down with Mom inside it, I grew up learning to trust ruin. To trust the world’s fires because this is how we find out how much we are loved. A life of memories I had of Mom heated me up and then cooled me down.
As a grownup, I clung to the idea of love in relation to fire. How only a ruined man could love me because so many moments were already ash. I stood outside in my pajamas swooning over the idea of being rescued by a man who was already gone.
Is That All there Is to a Circus?
Dad took me to the circus for my sixteenth birthday. We watched Barney The Giant transport five tiny men in his arms. I imagined a giant carrying Dad and me around, folding us into his tent of safety. The circus clowns reminded me of the dumb, happy masks people wear before they know who they are loved by.
This is the best present ever, Daddy, I said, but he didn’t smile. He was still so sad about everything he’d lost. I told myself that every housefire is a circus. A spectacle, flames flying all over heads. Dad sat there looking annoyed, as if the most special act were always missing.
Is that All There Is to Love?
When I was in my thirties I fell in love with a drifter who was hard to pin down. I could at least be his clown, I thought. His eyes had a glow about them and they warmed my spine. We gazed at each other and it felt like gazing into the sweetest burning house. When he disappeared there it was again: the perfect burn.
What was left was a baby growing in my belly, a heater in the basement. When she was born she glowed inside the crook of my arm. Is that all there is to getting born? she asked me.
Is that all there is to Air?
When the fireman arrived, I was standing on the edge of my roof. I was old and there were no more embers smouldering in my dumb heart. My spark went out when my daughter ran away and the cold air insulted my brain. Since then I’d been breaking open the booze, having a ball with the decades of circus clowns who enjoyed sad company.
I’m completely ready to go, I told the rescuer.
The firemen looked familiar. He had a pretty face, a warm, burning stare. “Is that all there is?” his expression seemed to say. Jumping into the cold air was like taking a first breath. Watching this final man watch me do it felt like making it out alive.
Meg Pokrass is the author of six flash fiction collections, an award-winning collection of prose poetry, two novellas-in-flash and a forthcoming collection of microfiction, Spinning to Mars recipient of the Blue Light Book Award in 2020. Her work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Electric Literature, Washington Square Review, Waxwing, Smokelong Quarterly, McSweeney’s has been anthologized in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) and The Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019. She serves as Founding Co-Editor, along with Gary Fincke, of Best Microfiction. Find out more at megpokrass.com.