March Madness Flash Fiction: PURIFICATION by Heather Wheat
TODAY’S BREW: All of it.
Today’s flash fiction piece is from the wildly and unnecessarily nervous Heather Wheat, who puts a smile on my face every day. She’s the coolest high school English teacher I know, and I know a lot of them. Go find my darling on Twitter https://twitter.com/hwheaties and https://twitter.com/bookofthemonth. Check out her blog http://t.co/iMAb6hVL6y, but first, read this story which I am obsessed with.
by Heather Wheat
I’d thought about burning down my high school a year or so before my best friend Will and I figured out how to do it. I had always hated the place, with its over-privileged students—none of them worthy of what they had—and those who had nothing, well, we weren’t worthy of anything.
I hated the way they looked at me, and the other people who they didn’t think fell into their special groups. There were the nouveau holier-than-thou skaters, the princesses who went to dance classes, the clergy kids, the bad girls and boys, and of course the so-very-not-fun geeky kids.
That wasn’t it, though; there were the teachers. They preached self-righteousness, purity, and all of the things they were supposed to, but you could see that maybe only two of them really believed their own bullshit.
The Bible teacher, a converted Jew, had the philosophy that it was his way or the highway. I argued with him on a regular basis only to find myself on the hard linoleum floor outside his room. Clearly religion class was no place for disagreements.
The French teacher and the Anatomy teacher couldn’t have truly believed, though, looking at them was always too sad. I could see in their eyes they were pining for real lives, mourning that they were getting old and spinsterish and wishing they could have had some wild sex when they were younger; instead they had somehow gotten caught up in religion. By the time they realized the hypocrisy of the shit, though, it was too late. They were trapped in fat bodies and ill-fitting pants or dresses, destined for nights in muumuus, looking longingly at young, strapping men they maybe could have made it with once.
These people—most of all the teachers and administrators, and how they were trapped in their pitiful lives–disgusted me. They swore an oath to be Christian, and to teach us to be good, Christian kids.
It was maddening.
But then there were people like Will and me. He was my best friend. We were normal. We worked hard for everything we had. We had learned very early in life what and how people really could be. Friends since the age of eleven, it never mattered to us which group we fell into, because we didn’t want to belong in any of them.
So when I decided, as a ritual of cleansing and renewal, to burn down the school from which we had both graduated, Will was there for me. I needed to purge my memories of the place, purge the damage it had done to me, purge the hate I carried for everyone and everything there. There were no security cameras, and my dad worked at the school as a sort of maintenance person, so it was simple enough to get keys.
They really made it all too easy.
Will and I walked through the school, spraying lighter fluid up and down every bank of lockers, into every doorway, every classroom, over every chair, desk, and bookshelf. We stopped in front of the doors to the gymnasium, over which someone had hung a banner that said, “Blessed are all who enter here.” I looked at Will, and he looked back at me.
“That’s where we’ll light it,” I said. “That banner. They have no right to say who is blessed and who isn’t.”
Will rolled his eyes. “Please remember that my dad is a pastor. And remember I still go to church.” He looked at me expectantly.
“Sure,” I said, pointing my bottle of lighter fluid at the banner. “The difference, Will, is that your dad isn’t a self-righteous piece of shit.”
Finally, everything was drenched, with the exception of our path to the door. I turned and looked at Will.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Of course you do. You had a choice to tell me I was fucking crazy the moment I called you and told you I wanted to do this. You had the choice not to let me stay at your house. You had lots of choices. You chose this.”
“You have a point.”
“Don’t I always?”
I took one last look around before pulling a box of matches from my pocket.
“Here we go, then.” I stopped for a second and then looked at Will and laughed—a laugh of good, true, and pure release. I lit a match from the pack, and tossed it up toward the banner over the gymnasium doors. Flames instantly covered the lettering, and the words on the vinyl sign disappeared into orange, yellow, blue, and then white-hot flames.
Will and I locked eyes as the flames started to flare up around us, the only open space our path to the door.
“Well, that’s it then,” said Will, and we turned and raced the flames to the entrance.