The Lighter (Story by R.C. Peris)

I’m a 48-year-old divorced woman with one dead child and another one with major psychological issues about to set a man on fire. He had doused himself in petrol and was talking to God. No one was around. It was 1 AM in the morning and I was at a gas station intending to put air into my tire that had a nail stuck in it. The man talking to God was blocking my access to the air hose. The gas station attendant was staring at the TV. Oblivious. My life wasn’t going well. My husband had left me, I lost my daughter to drugs, and I was losing another to Bipolar and an eating disorder. I was a patrol officer. I failed my detective’s exam twice. My husband had left me for an older woman. A former neighbor who had babysat our kids. And now I was off duty, my eyes hurt from tiredness, and my back hurt from getting old and a crazy man was threatening to set himself on fire. I figured he was schizophrenic. He talked about Tibet, Trump, the New Jim Crow, drug laws. He was white and his hair was longish and ratty. Did I mention he was blocking my access to the air pump? I took out my lighter. It would be so easy to set him on fire. He could be an offering to a God I had long since believed in. He could die for my sins and for the sins made against me. He could die for my failure. The hardness and sadness of my life. I fell, or more accurately, folded onto to the ground in tears. I was so tired and so sick of things. The man looked at me and grew quiet.

“Can I have your lighter?” he asked.

I handed it to him with shaky hands. He held it in his palm and then quieted. He looked around as if realizing he was on Earth. And then he walked off. Behind the gas station. I stood and put air in my tire. I was trembling. I went to bed with my clothes on.

When I went to the police station the next morning my partner asked me if I had heard.

“Heard what?” I asked impatiently.

“Some nutter set fire to himself on Hollywood Boulevard. He died at the hospital. Do you know who he was?”

“A homeless man I would assume.”

“Nope. He was a movie exec at Fox who got sacked two weeks ago for sexual harassment. Rape actually. Not as many as Bill Cosby but he still raped.”

I set down heavily at my desk. The man in flames made heart heavier, not lighter. There are no offerings or sacrifices in this world. There is no wrong that can make a right. There is no absolution and we each must carry our own burdens until the grave.

I got a call from my daughter’s school. She was standing on the roof threatening to jump.


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