The Fire Seller

outside Montréal Musée des Beaux Arts, summer 2015The fire seller is always there on Tuesdays. Only Tuesdays.

Even before I see her, I hear her calling out in that high-pitched, slightly raspy voice of hers: “Flames for sale. Pretty flames for sale. Seven-a-penny. Special price! Today only! Sweet, bright flames for sale.”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to buy any. I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I know it’s illegal.

But after work on Tuesdays, especially if I’m tired and feeling useless to the world, and if the sky is overcast and heavy, what’s the harm in spending a minute or two watching the flames leap in her hands?

I’m not the only one. Often there’s a little crowd of us. We look out for each other, pulling back anyone who gets too close, or who starts saying “Well, a penny’s not so very much, really it’s quite a bargain, you get seven flames after all.”

At first we used to scatter when the policeman’s cruiser drew up, and he got out, pulling handcuffs from his pocket.

“Ma’am,” he says in a firm voice. “I’ll have to take you to the station. I’ve given you enough warnings. You know selling fire is strictly prohibited.”

“Pretty flames for sale,” she calls (a little more softly, a little less raspily). “Seven-a-penny. Sweet, bright flames. Special price! Today only!”

The flames writhe and dart, sparks fly into the air.

The policeman keeps talking but his words become garbled and nonsensical and in a few moments we know his jaw will hang loose like ours, and his eyes will become vague and dreamy. He’ll be standing there with us well after night has fallen and the moon risen, ignoring the calls from his car radio. “Peter?” the radio voice crackles. “Don’t look at the flames. Peter? Are you there? You’re not looking at the flames, are you?”

Finally it’s time for her to return to the fire fields. She unzips her oversize tote bag to toss in her flames. A gigantic whoosh as the extra flames in her bag flare up.

She puts blackened fingers into her mouth and lets out a piercing whistle. Down the street come thundering her wild horses. She grabs the mane of one and, bag in hand, tongues of fire licking around her fingers and wrist, she vaults onto its back.

We watchers huddle close together, link arms and hands, and grip each other tightly.

When the last hoof beat has faded and we are alone in the dark, we let our arms fall limp by our sides. We shuffle our feet, avoid looking each other in the eye, trying both to blot out and keep the memory of that fierce urge to leap onto the horses and gallop off forever to the distant fire fields.

Just pretending, fooling around, we mutter. Only joking.

Then one by one, we slip away into the night. To wait for next Tuesday.

Montreal Botanical Gardens 2014


2016 is my Year of the Blurt: each week I’ll take advantage of an odd spare moment or two to write something very quickly. Probably the blurts will mostly be fiction, but who knows!

 This week’s blurt is inspired by Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind.

Please note: all material on this website, except for comments by others, is © Susi Lovell.


14 thoughts on “The Fire Seller

  1. Susi, thanks for commenting on my Mslexia post – I’ve just written a reply:

    I love the story, it’s magical. And the world you conjured intrigues me: why is the selling of flames forbidden, how is the Fire Seller enchanting them? I understand why they all wait for Tuesday to come around again – it seems to me there’s not much joy in their world otherwise. Great stuff!


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