December 7, 2023
The Trouble with Lava
I can’t sleep because my pajamas might catch fire.
The television programs get scarier late at night. We watch the News about a girl named Susan who wakes to a smoke fog. She drags her brother to safety, pushes her sister out of a window, before shaking her parents awake.
She screams silently as flames lick her face.
Her family is alive because of Susan, who was chosen for the Suffering. Driven by adrenaline or non-flammable Christmas pajamas and asphalt night boots, she walked the split level without a stumble.
The next scene features Susan in a pale pink dress with bright pink skin and mummy bandages. She gives speeches at dog parks and office building ribbon cutting ceremonies. The program cuts away to penguin birds that escaped from an imaginary zoo and then, a homemade ice cream competition.
When we’re at school, they’ll play the newsreel on a DVD loop too.
SHE IS AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL SHE IS AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL SHE IS AN EXAMPLE
The words scroll across the screen followed by an ad with girls painting each other’s nails while sipping lemonade full of Natural sugar.
My sister and I squeal. She’s not old enough, but she’s happy I turned thirteen in time for the Season. I’ve prepared for months, putting my hand on glowing stove top circles. On. Off. On. Off.
I pack my provided gear: a swimming suit and gas mask that still smell of rocket fuel and asteroid dust, rainbow stripes twirling on long sleeves and legs. It’s a bathing costume per the As-Best-Os Company of O-Hi-O paper label. It’s vintage; no one has lived in Ohio for years.
I smear vaseline on my exposed skin.
My sister waves good-bye.
I instantly feel searing heat.
“Hey,” my best friend Anna screams.
She’s already on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Her bathing costume has tiny bunnies on it and her nose glistens with Nozcema.
Anna is brave like Susan with a confidence I envy. I’m a toe dipper.
I ring the gate bell. She opens it leaving red marks on her palms.
I go in and show my Card to the attendant.
“Congratulations,” he says, pointing me to the complementary gray blankets and floral deck chairs.
Anna and I paint our toe and fingernails with non-flammable nail polish. We sing to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire playing at full volume from 90s loudspeakers perched on the volcano’s edge.
“Do it,” Anna taunts.
I see her take off from the cement platform.
I sniff sulfur and try to imagine it’s chlorine. I watch a smiling Anna until her arms and face are red and blistered.
“In a minute,” I say, sticking my big toe into the shallow end.
“You have been chosen. Honor your families.” A stern woman’s voice announces.
“I don’t want to do this.” I scream.
When I turn around, I can’t see Anna anymore.
She has slipped below the surface.
AMY CIPOLLA BARNES is the author of three collections: Mother Figures (ELJ Editions, 2021), Ambrotypes (Word West LLC, 2022), and Child Craft, Belle Point Press. She has words at The Citron Review, Spartan Lit, JMWW Journal, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, Gone Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, Southern Living, Cease, Cows and many other sites. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for the Wigleaf Top50 in 2021, 2022, and 2023, and included in The Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor, and reads for The MacGuffin, The Best Small Fictions, CRAFT, and Narratively.