16B - The MichiganIDaily litera7 Mazine - Thursday, Warch' 18,'1997
Continued from Page 513
stick hang there above the blue sun: the
devil painting, the Morning Star smok-
ing, the blue sun, his bottle rocket penis
wrapped in the blackness of night, the
stone hands, the leather, the white deck
shoes though it is well into October.
Where is Rebecca? you suddenly
wonder. You hear the shower still run-
ning. Doesn't she know that Paul is here?
Should you tell her? Do you want to?
"So, are you a good writer?" He
cocks his head, the long star of his cig-
arette hanging out over the carpet, wait-
ing to fall.
"1 write nothing but observations."
"Observations, huh? Are they any
"I live with my sister. She pays for
my food and for my paper. What do you
"Yeah man, that's a bad trip. You
should join the circus. Circus'll set you
You smile at him for the first time that
evening. He smiles a return smile unlike
all of his grins and smirks up to that
point. It's a thrilling smile, like death.
"The circus is about illusions. I tell
the truth. People hate the truth." You
say, hanging your head.
"Bullshit, people masturbate to the
truth. They get off on it. They eat it up.
What do you think I do, man? Fire IS
truth. Where the hell do you think the
burning bush came from? God didn't just
eat fire or breath fire, man, he WAS fire."
"I'd miss my sister."
"Shit, yes, so will I. Circus is every-
where, but it's no where, right?
I've got to go somewhere else and
meet your sister all over again. But that's
just reincarnation sped up, so it's all
good. You could have as many sisters as
you want, man. Sisters with beards, with
dicks, with hair in their ears, with scales,
with fur, with muscles like bags of
stones, with faces like the moon, with
eyes like rubies and lions for children"
His words trail off and he draws deep
on the smoke, letting it fill his eyeballs.
Then, suddenly, "Let's hear an observa-
"I don't know?"
"Shit you don't." He barks. He lets
out a quick laugh, then snaps his fin-
gers. "C'mon, an observation. Tell me
something I don't know."
You smile finally and get up, unlock
the secretary which is filled with neat
stacks of paper. You shuffle through
them, some of them type written, most
printed from a computer, a handful
scrawled in inks of different colors. You
glance some titles: The Horn of Africa,
Inside the Strongest Man on Earth,
Sports Cars and Bullets. Wrecking Ball,
Electricity, Penknife, Tom Cruise's
The fire eater is glancing around,
cracking his knuckles, breathing.
Madness. fear, fire, you hand a sheet to
him at random. He snatches it out of the
air and flips it over, then turns it around.
squints at it, turns it back the other way.
"'Electricity."' he sounds out the
words, enunciating them clearly. hold-
ing each long e sound a breath longer
than the other syllables, enjoying the
word. "'An observation."'
You place your
hand on the back
of the chair and His lips q
stare at him. His h e d
lips quivernashe he reads
reads, and he lick
licks them and 5 e
they are pink for a they are
brief moment. I
new. then dried brief mor
again, then drie
kills us a little bit bleeding
moment of every --
day,"' he barks out. eyes fixed to the
page. You rock back and forth on your
heals, walk behind the chair and lean on
the back, stand up, walk back around
and sit down, start to stand. sit.
"We are automatons?"' He looks up
at you for a second.
"Yes, robots, integrated circuits." You
tap your forehead and he nods, back to
'A cloud of sound swirling around
our heads, fighting for entrance' I like
that. Sound like flies, it's good." He
nods to himself. He reads. You sweat.
"Ah! This? this is good shit!" He
leaps from the couch like a comet, the
page crinkles in his huge fingers. He
begins to bellow out your words, right
back at you, feedback. "'Bathing in the
light of the television, beneath the
power lines, our cellular phones, our
microwave ovens, our stereos and com-
pact discs, all accomplices in our sui-
cide of the soul. But not just the soul,
the very nature of our us-ness. The elec-
tric batters down our finely woven skin
of thought and memory, weaving its
own ionized shroud. And me, writing
this on a computer, telling my woes to
the barrel of the gun."'
It's like he's singing, roaring, singing.
You sit on the edge of the seat, slide
back, the painting of the devil smiling.
"'Telephones are an extension of the
ear but conversation has died. In a world
of telephones it is startling to realize that
no one is talking!' Fuck yeah!"
H He keeps his nose right to the paper,
his fingers tearing it slightly as they
He reads. The cigarette hangs out
from his fist smoking.
He paces around the room, he smirks
and laughs and nods and pauses for a
second to take a drag on his cigarette.
Then he strides back to the couch, sits
down, holds the page back up, looks at
it again, sighs.
"Electricity," he says again, nodding.
He sets it down on the coffee table
and sits back on the couch, twirling his
hair around his index finger.
"Shit, you already are in the circus,
you just need to admit it."
You grin. "Your turn, show me
He smiles back at you. He smacks
your leg in a conspiratorial way and it is
a sharp. sweet sting that runs up your
thigh. Then he takes the cigarette out of
his mouth. He turns it around and press-
es the cherry deep into his mouth on the
back of his tongue and you hear him
gag and the sound of flesh hissing and
then the smell fills the room and smoke
pours out of his mouth. You bite your lip
but his face is calm. He extracts the
extinguished cigarette. He lights the
remainder and smokes it quickly in two
long drags. then.
pink for a
with it still lit and
tosses it back into
his maw and
swallows it. Your
thigh still tingles.
He sits back in
the chair. blank
"You want that
drink now?" You
At that moment
The circus is in town for the week.
Your sister meets the fire eater. Dinner
is mentioned, a date is set. Things hap-
pen, the date comes, it's tonight. Your
sister. The fire eater.
You are waiting in the living room
with the fire eater who has come early.
Your sister is still showering. The fire
eater is wearing a pair of leather pants
and white boat shoes. He has no shirt.
He has a tattoo of a sun across his chest,
except that the tattoo is blue like a
butane flame. He frightens you.
"So. uh you want something to
drink. Paul?" You look at him intently
as you say this, your arm reached back
over your shoulder as if to indicate that
the refrigerator and all of its contents
are right there within reach.
"No thanks." He smiles, yellowed
teeth, cracked lips.
"So. where are you and Rebecca
"Oh. how?" your eves distant.
"Yeah. fun." You nod heavy, hard.
your chin hitting your shoulder as you
turn to call. "Rebecca?"
Head craned over your shoulder, not
wanting to return without a response.
persistent, straining. Silence. You look
at the dining room table. the clock on
the wall but not the time, the collection
of oil lamps that your sister has
amassed like a city.
The sound of water running like the
rain in the sky, or the rushing roar of a
video recording of a flamethrower
being played in reverse.
"She must be still in the shower." you
Paul, the Fire Eater, sits up straight
on the couch, his tough gasoline-soaked
hands clawed around his bulging black
knees. He smiles tight lipped. nods,
bobs his head staring out across the car-
pet at the world.
"So, do you like the circus?" It's an
obligatory question and your face hates
your lips for saying it.
He looks at you as though you are
someone else and you have asked if he
likes his hands or his feet and then he
focuses on your face and he sees your
eyebrows maybe, or the way that your
jaw is set on edge, and those details tell
him who you are. That you are Tom,
Rebecca's brother. And then everything
is clear to him and he smiles, "Oh, sure,
the circus, great, couldn't be better, it's
the best life really. Love it."
"Really?" You look at your hands, the
soft nails and the clean well-managed
"Oh, by far, definitely." He seems
disinterested as he looks around the
room, over your shoulder, up at the ceil-
There is a moment like a year. Power
lines hum in the air. Sweat on your
brow like a wash of battery acid. The
sun sets. Green to gray, gray to black,
white to a limp blue.
You stare at Paul, the Fire Eater. You
don't even realize that you are doing it,
The Michigan Daily Literary Magazi]
The Fire Eater
By Fritz Swanson
counting the bleeding cracks in his lip,
imagining what his rough stone hands
would be like against your sister's
breasts, scraping her skin, the bulge in
his leather pants like a bottle rocket, the
chipped and gaudy teeth in his head like'
rotten eggs, the finely chiseled nose and
smooth jaw beneath, a sheen of
kerosene sweat. He's as sexy as a car
crash: no shirt, just broken glass and a
"Uh? yeah, Tom." he stammers
again, feeling your stare on his chest, "it
is really the greatest place in the world.
Its every place in the world."
He smiles, laughs, smiles, eases back
into the art of talking, rotten eggs for
teeth. "For example, I'm bi-sexual"
your heart skips a beat and sweat forms
on your brow "so being seduced by the
bearded lady is like meeting God. right?
Rough hands. a
tough kiss. stub-
ble, but all Paul, the
know what I Sits up st
He laughs the couch,
and leans for-u
ward. You can ough gas
smell him. s a e
And you find soaked ha
yourself nod- clawed ar
"But that's bulging bi
not really the
best of it." He knees
smiles again. _ _
warming to you,
leaning forward again, swinging his
stone hands around, the oily sweat
building up on his brow. "The circus is
like a church without religion. It's a
temple to man where men make mira-
cles: we absolve your sins of lust and
desire, we buy your faith with fear, we
take your money and you let us blind
you. It's where your faith in the myster-
ies is re-forged." He looks at you,
cracks his neck. a string of fire crack-
ers. "What about you? What do you
You flinch, the sudden shift of focus
like a short circuit in the air.
You look at your hands again, small,
"Oh, then you must know what I
mean." He sits back, stretches a feline
arm down the length of the couch. A
painting of the devil, painted by your
great great grandmother, hangs over
him. It is all done in fiery red pastel
chalk, so that it is both tender and angry
like shards of glass frosted pink.
You find that you are on the edge of
the seat. You scoot back. You slump
down, fall into the plush recliner, look
at the ceiling, look at the floor, crack
your neck. the popping of flash bulbs.
"Not really, actually. Why do you say
that?" You find your voice sounding
assured calm. strange to your ears.
know, God was a
ire Eater, writer. Gods
Bignt on Circuses are mir-
his Gods, writers are
.a Gods without
ine- miracles. 'Let
there be light'
rids youknow? 'In
lund his the beginning
fund " is there was the
ick 'Word and the
Word was God.'
You get it?
Creation is the
Word. Words are
real. Not miracles. Miracles are like
love. God loves man, but men suck
dick. That's a miracle. Creation is real."
He hits the arm of the couch with the
palm of his hand to indicate its realness.
He smiles at you and pulls a cigarette
from behind his ear, where it was hid-
den by long black hair. "Words are
solid. Miracles are like smoke." He
lights the cigarette and you don't even
think to stop him or say anything. You
just watch the little star at the end of the
See FIRE, Page 168
you hear your sister's breathing behind
you, you feel the electric pulse of her
breasts and her lungs and her eyes, pal-
pable in the air. Paul stands up. puts his
hands deep in his pocket. his bottle
rocket penis flattening out to a heavy
but subdued bump.
"Hi." She says and it makes you sick,
the syrup in her voice. You never have
known your sister to be such a slut. You
stand up then, too, but you continue to
face Paul as he looks at your sister. His
nipples are at the points of two blue sun
rays. the left one with a silver hoop
strung through it. erect. His flat belly
stretches far down into his leather pants.
the waistline pulled down and tight by
his hands in his pockets. The clean line
of his hips peeks over the edge.
Paul walks past you and takes your
sister's arm and they walk to the door,
sweeping by you in their rush. Your sis-
ter cranes her head over her shoulder.,
He never looks back, but he belches
briefly, like a hiccup, and you look for a
thin trail of smoke snaking between his
cracked and bleeding lips back into the
room as the smell lingers in the air like
oil or sex.
Fritz Swanson is sophomore in cre-
ative writing hailing from Parma, Mich.
He has won the Hopwood
Underclassmen A ward for fiction,
among other prizes.
ing the '60s
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