We were thin bars of steel, my brother and I—untempered, untamed, unplanned. Our father was an acetylene torch. Tommy could tell when the shit was about to go down. He could hear the hiss and pop of Dad igniting outside our bedroom door. We had lied about our grades or stolen ten bucks from his wallet or some other petty offense. You better hide in the closet this time, Tommy said. He was too big to hide, so he just stood there, waiting, chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in. He knew the drill. Dad blew in dark and swift like a Missouri thunderstorm, hardfaced us in the harsh fluorescent light of adolescence, marched us down the grim hallway and out to the garage like two condemned men headed for the chair. We were barefoot on the cold concrete floor. Tommy stared straight ahead at the cinder block wall, and I looked for meaning among some tarnished bowling trophies gathering dust on a shelf alongside a shabby display of Dad’s military insignias and the meager few medals he’d been awarded. Gazing back at us were photos of naked calendar girls and inkjetted Army buddies deserting us in our hour of need. Dad snatched a cigarillo from a box of Swisher Sweets, started giving us the same tired speech about honor and discipline, like he was some kind of big shot, like he was George S. Patton, green tanks lurking behind him—except these tanks were tall, cold cylinders of acetylene and oxygen. Dad was unstable in his purest form. Colorless, tasteless. From the shadows, he was going to light us up, heat us into a puddle of molten metal, and mold us into men. He got right up in our faces. His breath smelled of Old Milwaukee and chronic failure. I looked him in the eye and sneered and he turned blue with anger, then burned bright orange as if a valve had opened, inflating his rage with pure oxygen. I gripped the back of a metal folding chair and waited for incoming. My eyes started to water, but I didn’t cry—Mom did enough crying for us all. And besides, I hadn’t wept since Tommy told me about the angel in every flame, and maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, but I never saw a single angel. What I did see though was the unexpected beauty in the geometry of it all, how the purplish-red flame at the tip of the torch looked to me like a rosebud, a perfect little rosebud.
Todd Clay Stuart is an emerging writer and poet from the Midwest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, FRiGG, Milk Candy Review, New World Writing, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife, daughter, and two loyal but increasingly untrustworthy pets. Find him on Twitter @toddclaystuart and at http://toddclaystuart.com.
image: Jade Hawk