Young Poets and Anarchists
We watched it burn until the pages disintegrated and the hardcover was scorched black. The paper coiled like in a gruesome dance; the pagan ballet of an animal deranged by death, made restless with terror for experiencing its own fatality. Then the paper turned from orange to black to nothing, and the final tongues danced on the book's grave, and the smoke plumed over it like the show's curtain dropping.
"All lies," mumbled Finn.
I looked at him, voiceless, and then back to the smoldering textbook in front of us. The flame had taken a greedy bite from the spine through to the other side. What was left was dark and ruined. The edges sprinkled off hard char and ash where there were once glossy pictures of American presidents and space shuttles and miniature battlescapes from the Civil War.
I cocked my head to see where half of Richard Nixon's face, dirty and nibbled, took a paralyzed butterfly spin to the gravel.
"I saw Annie Cobb at the diner yesterday," said Finn.
"Yeah," I responded half-heartedly.
Finn nodded, thinking of the girl.
"I want to fuck her so badly."
Neither of us had ever had sex.
"She's really hot," I agreed. It didn't sound convincing, even to myself.
We sat cross-legged on the curb in his cul-de-sac. The day was getting colder. So was the season. I felt the numbness through my gloves and my sneakers. The fire had risen and slept.
"You know what we used to do to Native Americans?" Finn asked.
"Killed them," I said in stride.
"Nah," he said. "You kill someone if you just want something they have. Or if you think they messed with you."
"We wanted their land."
"We got it," he said.
"By killing them."
"We would burn them alive and drown them. Rape them. We would keep them alive long enough to see how much pain they could take. If they were lucky, we'd shoot them before they went insane from the damage to their bodies."
I was quiet.
"During World War II, the Japanese soldiers would force Chinese families to have sex with each other. Force fathers to rape their daughters. Brothers and sisters. They'd rape children. They'd throw babies in the air and catch them on their bayonets."
He looked over at me. Ruffled by my interruption.
"I was trying to make a point."
"I don't think you have a point."
"I did, if you would have let me finish."
"Then I'm sorry."
He shook his head with frustration. I felt my stomach pretzeling. Finn was muttering something to himself.
"How are you going to study?" I asked.
"Study?" said Finn.
He stuck his leg out and used his shoe to rifle through the cratered meat of the destroyed book. He played with the carcass. Crumpled half-pages fell freely from where their tight bind had been severed. A few living embers sparked up angrily and caused Finn to recoil, and then they turned back and died, like bees having just attacked. He settled back into his spot and brushed streaks of gray from his his pant knees.
The smoke gasped its final breath. The smell lingered like a tortured ghost. I bit my lip and I welcomed in that heavy smell.
"They aren't all lies," I said.
"They are," confirmed Finn.
"Then what's the truth?"
"I dunno," he said. He thought about it for a second. "Not sure there is one."
Finn looked up at the plain gray sky. Thick soup and chalky. He sniffed at the scent as it was taken by the breeze and the chill. The ghost moved on. Nothing for him here. Not sympathy or love or even hate.
Finn got up to leave, too.
"See ya," he said.
I put a hand in the air. He put his hands in his pockets and walked towards his house on the other side of the cul-de-sac.
I sat there for a while, thinking up reasons not to go home. None pulled me. So I got up, too, and I went home.