Days before the flames, I flailed and freaked
in your arms at the front door
of our friends’ home.
I was one, my sister, seven.
No one knew I was having a premonition.

You didn’t make me go inside,
you almost dropped me,
something about fire. (You said)

So why now, why this house, why

Her, a stranger, sitting inside a stain,
seated against red velvet and fog of nicotine,
jabbing at amber ashtrays? Why

me, studying toppling bodies,
a graveyard of butts
overflowing onto the carpeted floor,
magnetic to my fingertips—
I tried one like Her and got slapped.

She would not have told you.
No one died. You said you tried
to keep me home. But post-partum
made me flail and freak
under your emotionless gaze
until you were gone from my reach.

So why now, why this house, why

did you make me go into the house
with the vivid devil? After I flailed and freaked?
You almost dropped me.
Something about you getting fired? (You said.)

Frayed wires overheating, overeating
to feel better about you leaving, breathing
thick air, the longest day,

and I only remember Jeopardy. Smoke.
A toy that spoke too much
and interrupted Her game show—so

then there was silence except for Her.

Hacking and spitting into Her bony rag hand.
Hair standing, wispy and rhythmic
when she grunted words at Her tv screen
to a host, unreassuring to me.

Nausea unnamed and not having my blankie.
Her covering me and I couldn’t smell
anything familiar, just ash and anxiety.
Unable to swallow, I wondered

can I die from this?

Thinking you should know,
come through Her door,
find me so still, looking up at the scars
of the dining room table’s underbelly.

Her saying, the girl wanted to nap that way,
not—she wanted to play, but it was too loud.
She was curious, probably hungry
and ate a cigarette but didn’t cry.

I didn’t die. You paid Her in cash.
I flailed and freaked when we got home.
I was one, my sister, seven.

No one knew why I was so full of fire. 

Image credit:geralt

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She was a 2023 winner for Button Poetry's short form contest, and her short story Eugene was nominated for a pushcart prize in 2022 by Dead Skunk Mag. Her most recent poetry has appeared in 3Elements Review, River Teeth Journal, Blood Tree Literature, and elsewhere. Her poetry books, "Strange Beauty" and "Summer Storms" are available on Amazon, and her most recent chapbook, "Smile, Child" is available from Bottlecap Press.