Wave to Burning Homes, Stop and Stare by Eric Fershtman

The old man, John, all gone dead and buried, and here me shouting the unanswered into mirrors, windows, sunglasses, puddles of fetid water. It’s not polite to leave a person like that, I shout. Not cool or forgivable. Still too much cartilaginous and fibrous selves to explain. Nothing left to me, all I do is shout.

I say Tell me a parable! Make it entertaining! But plaster and myselves don’t speak back.

In the house I sit, among the man, John’s, things. I smoke his cigarettes. I wear his clothes. I do man’s business on his bed. I heave my skin to and fro and wish the fire that transformed me would come back and do some other painful things. Rip the air from my throat, carry it on blue flames, watch me gasp, shove it into somebody else.

The man John sleeping, left tethered diamondly up the rope to the God of his momma. Then came the people to collect him and not look at me, telling me to Get out. But you dig up the documents you'll find my name on them. The man John made sure.

I’d a got out if it meant I could take some of the man with me. I’d a slept on benches, in shelters, standing up on my own two feet with fluttering eyelids if I could carry the absence of the great dead soul on me and speak to it like before.

You’re a man. This is what he used to say to me. You’re ugly as dirty butt, son, but your member’s still in working order and for that you give thanks. And you use it. The earth’s a big place on our perspective and there’s lots in it. Your heart’ll beat again.

My central organ already went beating though. I didn’t understand him. A lot to the man I couldn’t get. Once he was an old soldier tramping through jungle where people shot at him and he shot back. After that, a preacher with a daughter, a little girl whose face was stamped in his brain even without photographs. No tragedy. The daughter grew up and the man John’s beliefs clouded over until he gave them up for their weight and went straight into physical abstract kindness. We were both in the building during the fire but he got out. I lost consciousness and got carried away by somebody wearing a helmet smelling of smoke.

The flesh is it, he used to say. The mystery rope ends there, believe it or not. So cherish it.

Which every day I try to do: I take a chair and sit it in it naked before the mirror’s unjudgement. Laugh, cough, speak. Examine my encasement from all the angles in all the lights. Truth hides in plain sight, the man John told me. I lift the intact arm. Revel hard in the flesh and wish for a woman to take pity. I’d gone untouched even in my prior life. I was distorted innocence, scorched in heat of my own making.


Waffling hospital days. Pain so black and lonely it might as well’ve been an old collapsing tunnel I was walking through over and over. One morning the fireman who carried me gasping through fog thick as skin showed up in the cold room where they laid me up.

Poured into my blood on the hour were painkillers so nourishing tall green trees seemed to sprout upon my arms and give off a sweet fragrance that made me sick; the fireman came into the room and watched me for a while. I was mummified. Then he closed the door.

Said he: I should’ve left you there you faggot coward. Where you collapsed. I should’ve let you burn all the way up into the atmosphere. I can’t forgive myself for picking you up. An ethical lapse. Won’t happen again. People like you—here he stepped forward, took hold of the cooked arm and seemed to squeeze it hard as he could—which I could not feel, but could see his own forearm flex and quaver—deserve multiple hells.

When he left I slept, but did not dream.


There’s a young weighty woman makes her way up the block peddling something I cannot see. I watch her through slats caked in dust and warm from window’s swallowing temperature. The Florida sun dapples her red hair, ignites it; she swings from house to house, bouncing. Her ass is too much, a crushing force. My desire spills over and I unclothe myself.

The man John, I think, would have encouraged the thing. Tell me, I shout, what next to do! Silence stuffed into an envelope. The man John took me into his home and nursed me. Fed me on spoons I could taste the bitterness of. Rolled the pills down the humps of my smoked tongue. Changed me. Bandages meticulously spooled and unspooled, to prevent grafting. He told dirty jokes. He read to me. I don’t know, still, why he did this or anything. For nearly a year he was with me and now I fear for myself without him. Of myself. Too lonely—I know it, I am!—to be sane.

The woman is at the house next door. I can hear her hard, lovely voice gathering donations for a charity walk. At driveway’s edge, she hesitates; peers at the house, which without the man John has begun to dishevel, especially the grass, choked down by weeds grown nearly a foot in height now, rangy and thick like shrubs. My heart won’t steady, she comes rumbling up the driveway. With hands back she wipes her forehead free of sweat. Her parts, you can tell, aren’t in great working order. Something basic lacking in her; a grace. But who am I. Her cacophony attracts me. The gears of her large body jerk and halt. A knock on the door.

To the mirror I go; not much concealing can be done at this late stage. Half the face smeared off, reconstructed the best little money and pity could provide. My appearance fascinates. Monstrous what I think. Grotesque, the man’s word. I stare, curious. I think, at my best: destruction is ennobling. All of us are grooved into by the earth’s rhythm. Elsetimes, like today, you lower the anchor of defeat. You hope whatever’s not the worst.

The young woman knocks again. I go to the door, unlock it, all the bolts; the old unpleasant squeak which used to tell of the man John’s leaving and entering. I open the door two inches. Yes, I say.

My man! she says. Her breath has not caught with her. She tries to look around the door. I don’t bite, she says. Just a good Christian woman wanting badly to speak to you about a good cause.

You like a drink or something? I have water.

Thank you, but no. Your neighbor just made me some truly beautiful lemonade. My thirst might be forever quenched; it was heavenly.

Well, I say.

We’re walking for breast cancer, my man. But we’re doing it different. Raising money for survivors who had the breast corresponding to the dominant hand of their partner lopped off. It’s a niche charity. We’re trying to lift it off the ground, here. Anything’ll help. Your neighbor just—well I can’t reveal it entirely—but she just made a very generous contribution. Worthy of notice.

I don’t have much money, I say. I want to open the door, but remembrances of appearance hold it steady.

My husband, she says, has to go groping for my right breast with his right hand now. He reaches all the way across his body. It’s awkward. The nipple pinch is too hard. Just think about that, now. Can you imagine? It’s a good cause, believe me. I’ve had people sign up for pennies, nickels. We’re not picky. It’s more about moral support than anything else. We want signatures on paper. We want people knowing we’re out there, and we’re suffering.

I’ve no words, I look with eyes behind which a brain illuminates, sunk in its bog. I quiver, my cock hidden hard behind the door; my heart inflames. I want my flesh peeled by this woman. I want to be pan-fried. Chew me, I think. Contain me all within your throat’s glandular warmth! Swallow me, baby!

Oblige me, she says. My poor husband. It could be you. The man’s listless, going to my right nipple with his tongue. His heart’s not in it anymore.

Give me a day. Let me think on it. Can you come back tomorrow?

Tomorrow, she says. I suppose, since it’s for a good cause. I’ll try to swing by on my lunch break.

Much for me to consider: new bills arrive every day; water, electric, insurance. Hospital. Mortgage. Letters from lawyers, both mine and the man John’s, the family of the man’s. The phone rang till I ripped it free; food is dwindling, all but extinct. I eat and live on stale crackers, chips, ketchup, water. Ointment, medicine gone. Pain degrees go ratcheting as my blood purifies, and someday the daughter might appear and shatter things. What can I say to somebody like her? How do you begin?

I tidy up the house. The vacuum reels along the carpet. Furniture, counters—dusted, polished, polished again. The grime off the bathroom’s caulking, the sink’s edge; dishes, washed, dried, set in place. Clothes laundered, folded and put away. These things take time with just one good arm, but the house does gleam. I sleep thinking of the woman, her nervous thighs, ass that carried religion for all; the single, sensitive breast.

The day following I sit as before and await her arrival; fuss and twitch in the mirror and squelch with my brow my eyes until things blur and I appear in the reflection as the man I was before, which suddenly doesn’t look so bad. The fire struck down all former notions of me: my face wasn’t pretty but surely it wasn’t this.

For a moment as I stare squinting the thought approaches that love can be for me. Boiled in it I am, salted and served crusted happy for the moment, if I can just have her understand, I think. My mind hasn’t turned this direction since I was a boy, searching the sky for unknown things. I thought then I could reach and knuckle the stars like so many twinkling periods. Even still I can’t shake the concept of eternity. Something, for all the man John’s rumblings about present flesh, I kept and hold. And anyway I remember a time he came home carrying a dark-skinned whore all made out like an Asian lady. She called him Charlie; he called her Ngu. Stupid. Pronounced it Goo. He set her down, slapped her ass, shoved her forward. I killed your daddy! he screamed. I burned down your house! And after he finished he sent her on her knees to me and I saw she’s just a tired spic that does what she has to, and lost all desire and besides didn’t know what to do.

Noon swings by, erasing then casting shadows. Out the window there’s nothing but a quiet picture of the street. I open the slats to better see, but the picture’s there until nearly one, when a car moves slowly left to right. I watch as it goes by. Then with binoculars got I look around until I’m bored. Around three I strip, and go look in the mirror until I’m hard on. The thing is taken care of but my clothes stay off. Something about it pleases me now; I’m sick on my own body. Four ticks on I take drink. The man John kept Beam in the pantry and I pour double and finish it with water. To the front window with it I go and peer out, wonder of those who may be looking back at me. Another glass, I think.


All the blinds lifted and the windows slid up or flung out, depending; the front door propped open with a piece of coral the man John had in a display case. Late afternoon light eddies, whirls warmly golden, the house torn apart by it. Everything is uncovered.

I slide open the screen door in the back, go stand out in the yard. Up to my knees in it. Questions press on me and again I think of the old man John, forever the prophet of bygone things. He brought me home; he sees me wincing and ashamed and says Don’t worry son. I can look at you cause I seen worse. In Son Tinh I saw old men cut in half and babies torn to pieces and raped women pleading for death and dogs set on fire running around like all hell. I can look at you. And besides, it don’t hurt to look. Looking don’t cost a thing.

Quietly he said, Let me tell you a parable. A lusty man goes to a foreign country and sees a woman and takes her by force. He has her till his heart about bursts from love, and she begins to want him too, but soon he’s called away to another region. He forgets about the woman, but she don’t forget him. She finds him months later and shows him just what of his she’s carrying and points to her downstairs until he comes to understand. But he don’t care and soon enough he leaves, back on home.

The human heart’s callous and flexible and mean, he said. We have this enormous capacity for awful stuff which once upon a time drove me up the wall to God. Years wasted on all that powerless stuff.

Later he said I’m the one for you believe it or not. I saw and knew.


I lay in the grass, looking up into the air, my glass on my chest, and after a while the man John himself appears, fleshless and glorious, flying right there over me. Hello! he says. His muscles rope and drop blood. I come by to check in on you!

Give me something to hold onto, I say. I’m not frightened because I’m sure he’s not real. Tell me something about where you come from...

He hovers. All this flying around has me hungry, he says.

...About the stars, I say. About the sky. Eternity. Death. What of it is true?

The stars aren’t so big as you think, says he. They’re hard as rock. Your burns aren’t healing too great.

Give me something! I say. Tell me what’s out there. What comes after all this.

Sworn to secrecy, he says. What I can tell you is there’s nothing to it. And I can’t keep visiting you like this.

I’m scared of everything, I say.

I miss my little girl, he says. A lot. I don’t know her name. Then he looks at me, or turns his head my direction, since his sockets are empty of eyeballs. You’re a coward, he says. I tried to talk you out of it but you never much listened.

And then he’s gone, and the sky, starless, while the southern city lights throw groping palls across the horizon.


It isn't so hard to light a fire. Even less hard to do it again. Let a match drop to the floor. A cigarette. Steam up an outlet in use. Loose the fire alarms. You turn your heart off most; set yourself in the midst and wait for th

And you don’t know, you don’t know.

And life doesn’t find the house. No, not this time.


Eric Fershtman’s fiction and essays have been published or are forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Construction Lit, and The Barnstormer.