Home > My Favorites > Day Fifty-one: A Burning Sensation

Day Fifty-one: A Burning Sensation

“I’m sick!” Tim called from the living room sofa.

Simon kept cutting vegetables, trying very hard not to think about using the knife on him. “Yes, I know,” he said.

“I feel like hell,” Tim moaned.

“Yup,” Simon said, slicing a carrot neatly down the middle. “Soup will be done in an hour or so.”

A moment of silence, followed by a series of explosive sneezes and a loud groan. “Augh! Gods.” He blew his nose. “I feel like ten pounds of ass-”

“In a five pound bag,” Simon finished with him.

“If I die, you can have the XBox.”

“Very generous of you.” Simon chopped the onion with perhaps a little more force than necessary. Tim didn’t get sick very often, but when he did it was like taking care of a six year-old.

Another sneeze, followed by a round of coughing. “Hey, Simon?”

“Yes?” He got the chicken out of the refrigerator.

“Can I have some ginger ale?”

Simon stabbed the knife into the chicken and left it there. He took a moment to remind himself of all the good things in their relationship. The bright points. The moments of joy that came with sharing one’s life with another person, one who made you feel like you were the lucky one. He reminded himself that he wouldn’t give up any of that, not a moment of it, for anything in the world.

And otherwise he wouldn’t be able to pay the rent.

“No problem,” he said.

When he brought the drink to Tim, he had to stifle a laugh. For all the drama he made out of being sick, he also managed to look adorably pitiful. He was in his old college sweatshirt, and the blankets were pulled up under his arms. His hair was in disarray, his nose was red from blowing and wiping, and his eyes had a far away, glassy look that was either from the cold or from not wearing his glasses. “Here you are,” Simon said.

“Thank you,” Tim said as he took the drink, and it was almost sing-songy. Simon tousled his hair and went back into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, as he was sorting out the seasonings and setting the water to boil, another series of sneezes erupted from the living room. Then there was silence, until: “Hey, Simon?”


“I, um… I think my head’s on fire.”

“I’ll get you some ibuprofin in a minute.”

Another pause. “No, I mean it’s on fire. I think. I’m not sure.”

Simon started browning the chicken in the pan. “If your head was on fire, you’d be pretty sure. Why don’t you take a nap?”

He heard Tim groan as he got up and shuffled into the kitchen. “I’m pretty sure,” he said.

Simon turned around and dropped the wooden spoon he’d been stirring the chicken with. Tim’s head was, in fact, on fire. Flames wreathed it, blurring out his face and lending a soft glow to the kitchen. And he was just standing there. Like his head wasn’t on fire.

He reached behind him and turned off the stove. Then he walked up to Tim, looked at him for a moment and said, “Huh.”


He stared a little more. “How… um… How’re you feeling?”

Tim shrugged, and the flames jumped a little. “Still kinda stuffy, but maybe a little better.”

“Right, right.” Simon reached out and passed his hand through the flames. He didn’t feel any heat coming off them, which was the less weird part of the whole thing. “You know,” he said, “there’s usually a lot more running around and screaming when a person’s head is on fire.”

“Yeah, I thought that too.”

“Howls of agony, that kind of thing.”

“No kidding.”

“I mean, it’s not like I’ve seen it up close or anything, but I’d imagine.”

“Of course.” Tim shrugged. “Goes without saying.”

Simon looked up at the ceiling, which was not blackening and catching on fire. Neither were Tim’s clothes, or his hair. “You want to come over to the sink?”

“Yeah, that might be a good idea.” Tim walked over to the sink as Simon turned on the water. He used the sprayer to douse Tim’s head, but it had no effect on the flames. Just as they didn’t touch Tim’s clothes or Simon’s hand, the water didn’t touch them. Tim stood up, dripping and burning, and through the flames he looked like he was starting to get upset. “Okay, this is weird.” Simon nodded. “What do we do, Si?” he asked.

“Rent you out for birthdays and bar mitzvahs?”

He stomped. “I’m serious, Si! My head is on fire!”

Simon had to stifle a giggle. “We could take you to Burning Man.”

Tim spun on his heel and went back into the living room. Simon rubbed his eyes and swore at himself. They had always been able to joke with each other, to jab at each other when they needed to. This, it seemed, was farther than Tim was willing to let it go. Simon put his hands in his pockets and walked out to the living room. “Hey,” he said.  Want to go to the emergency room?”

“Yeah.” Tim laughed. He was sitting spread-out on the sofa, staring at the turned-off  TV. His head illuminated the room in a soft orange glow, and his blurry expression looked resigned. “Sure. This’ll be one for the… for the…” Simon backed up as the sneeze built up, fearing the worst. When it came, the flames burst outward in a cold explosion. They roiled upwards and spread across the ceiling, but did no damage. When Simon looked down, Tim’s head was no longer aflame. Just damp and smoking.

They looked at each other for a full minute as the smoke diminished and stopped. “Okay,” Simon said. “What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know,” Tim said. He took a deep breath, inhaling through his nose and let it out again. “Whatever it was, I feel a lot better.” He scrubbed his wet hair with his hands, got up and walked over to the TV. He put on a Mortal Kombat game and a controller and dropped back down on the sofa.

Simon watched him for a moment, then went back into the kitchen. He looked at the stove, then out at the living room. “So,” he called out. “You gonna want this soup?”

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