Festival of Lights by Glenn Shaheen

A house on Oak Street burned down. We took many photos of it going up in flames at lunchtime, and it was only later, after posting the photos online for comments from friends and strangers that we found out it was a murder-suicide. We thought it was just that the houses in our neighborhood are old, have bad wiring, careless landlords. We thought it was college kids leaving the burner on. But a guy came home and stabbed his girlfriend nineteen times, then burned the place down to kill himself. He was taken out alive—we got a picture of the stretcher and firemen—but he died due to smoke inhalation that night. We were sad, but we didn’t know them, they lived a couple blocks away. A house on Merrill burned down next. The family was away, and the police said it was definitely not electrical. Maybe it was insurance fraud, or maybe it was lightning. Our neighborhood gets the most lightning strikes in the whole county. A house on Davis burned down the very next day, and the police were quiet about the cause. The reporters asked questions, and the police said in front of cameras “No questions.” Then, breaking news that a house on Vine was aflame amidst the holiday lights festival. We don’t fear fire, though we do not like to be burned. At night we hear the house shifting, the noise of drunken neighbors stumbling from the car, and if fear spreads its palms at the inside of our stomach it’s only for the idea of break-ins, ghosts, or that a friend has stumbled to our porch in direst need. We hope our home does not burn down next, today or tomorrow, but we are not scared. Houses keep burning down. We know they are unrelated, but we also know that there is potential for all the houses to burn down at once, unrelatedly. At night when our neighbors aren’t at home, didn’t leave on their porch lights, we imagine we live on an island, isolated, we are the only light or heat for a thousand miles. If we step outside we drown. We die like powder in flame.

Glenn Shaheen is the author of the poetry collections Predatory and Energy Corridor, and the flash fiction chapbook Unchecked Savagery.

Flash fiction from Portland Review‘s Spring 2016 issue.