By Sarah Swenson
It was a hot, suffocating summer. There had been days and days and weeks of humidity that stuck your clothes to your skin before you’d pulled them over your head, and then, just as you thought you were going to start drowning in the water so heavy in the air, the sky opened up and sobbed. Sheets of rain painted the world more white than blue. The world dug out the rain boots they’d pushed behind bathing suits and breezy button downs weeks ago.
But after about a day of kids reveling in the puddles, and adults toting umbrellas everywhere and complaining of the lousy weather, the kids were forced inside by a blinding sun and a crackling arid heatwave that made cigarettes a public safety hazard. More so than normal. It was perfect weather for fire.
Kit always said that days like these were the days that God was feeling particularly vindictive towards trees. Practically inviting arson, she said, and who was she to turn down the invite?
It was 1:14 on the second day after the rain poured down, and Kit was sitting in the driver’s seat of a beat-up grey pickup-truck with her knees pulled to her chin. She was parked outside a hotel, and rather out of place amongst the shiny cars lined with new leather interiors that were parked about her. The doorman would have asked her to leave, except for the fact that she knew the doorman. In fact, the doorman had come over to ask her to leave so many times that she had a sign designed for the doorman. Well, a series of signs.
They read ‘I’m not leaving’, ‘I’m waiting for a cohort’, ‘No, not a friend, a cohort’, and ‘I don’t care if you would prefer me to wait on the road, I’m staying right here until my cohort is safely locked inside this car’- although the last one in all honestly read closer to ‘Piss off’. This one was usually accompanied by a slowly raised middle finger and a painfully fake smile that followed the doorman to his post, at the door.
So, as it was, the doorman stood at his post, at the door, and Kit waited in the car, slowly fitting her pocket knife under the second eye of a barbie doll. The first was resting, proudly glued amongst the crowd on her dashboard. The second eye popped out just as the doors on the hotel slid open, expelling a flow of suits. Her eyes flicked to the rearview mirror as she reached for the glue, setting a nice dot beside the first eye, and squishing the second one down slowly into it.
The passenger’s door opened, and she tossed the now eyeless barbie doll into the- sadly- suspecting hands of Toby.
“Aw, ew,” he swung down onto the bench-seat, “I don’t know if you—”
“Kit, I cannot stress enough how creepy it is that you do this.”
He stared down at the eyeless doll for a second, then looked up at Kit. She grinned, turning the key in the ignition and motioning for him to close his door, “It’s not creepy, it’s actually an effort to make the dolls less creepy.”
“Pray tell, how does carving the eyes out of barbie dolls before you give them to Goodwill make them less creepy?”
“Eyes are the windows to the soul, Tobias,” she drawled dramatically, flinging her hands in the air, before stopping abruptly and turning to Toby, “But Barbies have no soul, therefore, when I remove their eyes, I remove a window to an abyss of nothingness.”
“But you keep them all!” he protested. She did.
“I know. Someone must be the martyr to save little girls everywhere from abysses of nothingness, and I am enough of a gentleman to sacrifice myself for their collective peace of mind. Let it be known that I am never not willing to sacrifice my own well-being for that of ladies in peril.”
She reversed the car, fishtailing out of the parking lot with enough speed to leave tire marks, (let their stupid tar be stained!) and to make Toby grab for the window to steady himself.
“I’ll be sure to let everyone know,” he muttered.
It was about an hour later when Toby thought to ask where they were going, and another fifteen minutes- mostly comprised of arguing- until Kit granted him an answer: ‘To set fire to the world’
Now, if you didn’t know Kit, you could have taken this as a metaphor. A young, ambitious girl, driving with a young man that she valued more than anything in the world, out of town, and perhaps out of country to find her true purpose in life.
And if you didn’t know Toby, you could have taken his long look at her afterwards as a longing stare. A young man, in a car with his true love, who has just been asked to travel the country and take it by storm, and who is trying to restrain himself from kissing her because she is driving.
An assumption much closer to reality, and perhaps what Toby was thinking when she gave her reply, would be that she was pissed, and was driving to her home so she could suitably tell off her parents for whatever it was they had done wrong—because it would be her parents, wouldn’t it?
But if you knew Kit, you would know that her mother died years ago, tragically, in an accident in a hotel room she had rented to see Kit compete in a science fair. You would know that although the nature of the accident was quite apparent by the state of the hotel when Kit was taken away in a cab to go home to her father, she had never told her father how her mother died, nor had he asked, nor had she told the man he hired to ask her for him.
You would know that, on three separate occasions in the past two months, her dad had refilled his gas tank the day after he filled it last, as it had mysteriously emptied itself overnight. This neighborhood’s going to hell, he’d shouted down the street before pulling out his phone to dial his friend who worked at the auto shop.
You would know that Kit kept a pack of extra-large matches on her bedside table, but that the candles her father had bought her for her birthday every year as an apology for not being home (due to some business meeting or urgent call from whatever politician he was supporting at the time that had called him away from home) were left untouched, lined up on the far side of her room against the wall.
And you would know that when Kit said she wanted to set fire to the world, she was going to, at the very least, set fire to something. Based on the amount of gasoline currently stored in the trunk of her car, it would be something quite large.
Toby did know Kit. He knew her quite well. But before saying what Toby knew about Kit, and what exactly he thought—and, I suppose, more importantly, what he did— in the car that day, you must know a little bit about Toby.
Toby had a father, who had smoked his whole life away, and a mother, who wrote for an online journal—mostly editorials about how bad smoking was for you, and how men—sorry—people should better take care of their bodies.
They had both been largely neglectful to any parental duties they had due to health issues as well as a general lack of want for any children in the first place. They had kept Toby because they felt it would be immoral not to, although they apparently saw no moral flaw in completely disregarding him after he was born.
The point of this tangent is that Toby was the only child of absent, slowly dying parents. Kit was the only daughter of a dead woman and a man who spoke lies for a living, and was never, really, home. And they were as close to one another as either of them had ever learned to be with another person. Toby had never been one to believe in some grand guiding force behind everything; his lot in life was crappy and he didn’t have any reason to think that would change. But Kit was firecracker bright, a solitary brilliant spark in his otherwise dull, tiresome existence.
I said, earlier, that it was love, and he would have called it that. In reality, they were desperate teenagers, her desperate for freedom, him desperate for a friend. He was drawn to her like a moth, smacking itself over and over into a lantern in the night. Destruction had Her hand was his fate, it was always just an inevitability just waiting to play out.
So when Kit told him she was going to set fire to the world and he replied with ‘ok’, it wasn’t because he was a proponent for arson, it was because he would back any idea she had. They had to be friends. It was a fundamental aspect of life, like the sun rising or politicians hating each other. Without it, the world would stop turning on its axis.