The Gift of Fire

Fiction by Denzel Xavier Scott

Cw: child abuse

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When I was a little boy in Savannah, GA, I burned ants on the sidewalk. They curled as the fire took them. Other children gave me the method of making soft sunshine into a fiery, merciless beam. Playing God had its allure.

Ants are loveless creatures that make up such humble armies, yet they did not wither like cherub-faced soldiers do blessed with bullet holes, but burned away like they weren’t even flesh, but insectoid-shaped, miniature origami. They were too small to consider as I snuffed out their lives. Not like lizards, frogs, cats and dogs, as you break their legs and last their necks.

I burned down an old lady’s house in my neighborhood once while playing with the matches from my mama’s purse. She hated me for taking her matches. She didn’t trust in the unreliable cheap lighters. Smoking was her happiness, not her children, nor her marriage to my old man, the fat bastard, and anything that stood in the way got her wrath.

All day she waited for her twenty-minute lunch break so she could drink some tea, light hand rolled cigarettes and eat leftovers that she brought to her job.

I was nine when I burned down that old bitch’s house. I have never outgrown the pleasure of holding a hand out over an open flame, nor watching fire change the world. I couldn’t resist its call. It danced as if it had life and I wanted to love it as if it could be more than what it was.

The old lady was home. Her dog led her old ass out of the smoke and flames. Through the doggy door it went before she ran out as quick as she could, right into the waiting neighbors’ arms.

As I watched what I had done from the street corner, I ran away from the gathering crowd, wondering if the dog couldn’t bark louder because of the smoke. I scratched the American flag stitched into the left back pocket of my jeans. Thoughts filled my head like a beehive. The flag has too many stars considering how few Americans can even name all the fucking states. Do any other countries have that many stars on their flag? Do they have anything at all on their flags that make you count as high? If we lose a state would the flag lose a star? Why does the American flag need so much effort? My ass itched as I mused and so I scratched at the flag on my butt like Auguste Rodin’s Thinker rubbed his chin.

The flames began with a disgusting white rose. I lit it on fire with a humble match that lived out its one time purpose. The petals danced as if taking joy in the flame, and then crumbled like a child beaten down by its father’s fists. The repulsive perfume that spoils a rose’s pristine beauty vanished.

Flames spread to the rest of the bush so fast. White. Behind the bush was an open window. The curtains happened to blow out just a bit as the fire burned higher and higher. The curtains blew out enough to catch the open flames and so they too became consumed. The fire chewed its way viciously through the curtain before I stepped away slowly. I couldn’t stop it and I wasn’t even sure I really cared to try. My mother found me on the corner, terrified as she saw her matches in my hand and looked at the swirling flames.

She snatched her matches from my hand and slapped me in the face. She packed her things that night and ran away from my daddy and me. He beat me with sorrow on his hands mixed with the usual fury.


Denzel Xavier Scott earned his BA in English from The University of Chicago and received his Writing MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in his hometown of Savannah, GA. His works appear in Rattle, Empty Mirror, Louisville Review, Spillway, decomP, Euphony Journal and Blacklight Magazine of the University of Chicago, and others. He is a past recipient of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Summer Arts Council Fellowship Grant. In September 2018, he became one of the winners of Writer Relief’s Peter K Hixson Memorial Prize.

Photo by 2 Bro’s Media 

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