A dream lingers. Death marches. The world sleeps. Except middle-aged men with enlarged prostates. He turns the knob on the stovetop. The starter clicks—once, twice—and the flame bursts, like lungs pushing air through closed lips. When he was young, a freshman, there was a fire in his dorm. He woke to smoke and alarms. He lived on the sixth floor. He ran up and down the hall and banged on doors and tried the doorknobs. Some turned and some didn’t. He flicked on lights and shouted. Smoke clung to the ceiling. Then he left by the center stairwell. Years later, he read about a fire in a nightclub. The doors that led to the alley were chained so kids couldn’t beat the cover. Bodies lay stacked like wood in the hallway by the exits. The club’s owner, his skin blistered and puckered, dove into a snow bank in front. Then he went to jail. Two kids didn’t get out of the dorm, either. Pierre and Andrew. He banged on their door. He rattled the knob. It was locked, he thinks, as he pees. His family sleeps. The tea kettle hisses in the kitchen. He stands at the toilet and sniffs the air.
Dana Cann is the author of the novel Ghosts of Bergen County (Tin House). His short stories have been published inThe Sun, The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Florida Review, among other journals, while his personal essays appear online in Literary Hub, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. He’s received fellowships from the Sewanee Writers Conference, Maryland State Arts Council, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. You can find Dana online at danacann.com and follow him on Twitter at @dana_cann.