Everything Here Wants to Burn


I’m coming back from a job when I find her. Smoke is still clinging to my shirt, soles of my sneakers still putty from the heat. I have the windows down in my car, letting the summer-hot air slide over me. This heat is heavy, clinging. It’s nothing like the heat I get from working. There is nothing pure about it. I keep my windows open because I need the openness, I need to let my hand surf on the breeze outside, to escape the claustrophobia I feel after the completion of every job. So I take the long way home and drive with the windows down. When I come to the top of the next hill, I slow the car to a crawl.

To my left is a golf course, the green fairway sloping down to reveal a brilliant view of the city below. Even at 3:30 in the morning the city is still lit up. I’ve lived here for a while now and I’ve driven this circuit many times before, but it’s still difficult to look away from the sight. Imagine all of the people living there.

To my right is a high school, dark now, with all the tipping points inside, the computers and lights and the alarm system, all the slender, improperly insulated wires calling out to me, and there she is. Trotting along the sidewalk. I pull my car over, a little in front of her, and get out. The dog doesn’t even look at me, just brushes by me and keeps going. Thin tail bobbing.

She doesn’t have a collar and there is no one in sight to claim her. She walks with determination, like she knows where she is going will be better than where she’s from. Her coat is smooth, no cuts or injuries. I look up and down the road one more time, in case I missed something. In case her owner has fallen behind or is out looking for her. For this reason, I consider leaving her. But then I think about how quickly people drive around this corner and how fast a dog can turn to red paste.

When I pick her up, she does nothing but look up at me. Then she sighs. It’s not until we get to my apartment that I notice how ragged her pads are. How she’s left bloody footprints behind on the kitchen’s linoleum.



When the apartment gets too hot, I take the dog outside to the patch of lawn between the road and the parking lot. The heat outside is only slightly better. I tell myself we’re outside to make the dog feel better. That I feel fine. After all, I have dealt with worse heat than this during nearly every job. I don’t want to admit to myself that this heat wave is pulling something tight in me. I feel like there is only so much longer the thing in me can be pulled before it breaks. The dog splays out, bellies down onto the bare earth beneath a sunbaked, scrawny bush. The way her back legs flit out behind her is how you know she’s a purebred.

When it becomes clear that she isn’t going to move from her patch of cool earth, I sit down next to her. She just looks at me and pants. She’s a purebred, sure, but a purebred what, I don’t exactly know. There is no cohesion to her parts: legs wiry, chest boxy, face shaped like a heart. The only thing uniform about her is her coat—a layer of short hair, tawny brown.

I contemplate a cigarette as the dog naps. But I’m only half out of the sun and the heat is already choking me, don’t need the smoke to do the same. I think about panting. Even try it out for a few seconds before it leaves me light-headed and just as hot as I was when I started.

My skin prickles as sweat rolls down my back.

I tried meditating this morning; early enough that it was still dark out. The living room felt tight and claustrophobic in the heat. I closed my eyes. Felt my heart in my chest. Counted the beats until I could see my pulse, small flickers across the thin veil of my eyelids. From there I reach out to the rest of my current, following it along my veins, into muscles, across the gray matter of my brain. My own electricity beating bright white, within the whole of me. But this morning, the pressing heat was too much and when I opened my eyes and sat up, the dog was watching me from the kitchen.

“Fuck it,” I say. Outside, the heat still carries the closeness in it, trapping me. I feel like the thing in me might snap. The dog’s ears twitch, but otherwise she doesn’t move. “Let’s go to the car. How does that sound? Car?”

She looks at me like the heat has made her stupid. I stand and pat my thigh. Slowly, she gets to her feet and follows me to my ancient four-door sedan. Inside we breathe the thick heat in. The car starts on the first try. I open all the vents, the tangible heat making my motions almost frantic, and turn the fan up to high. Nothing happens. The vents stare at me, dead. No blast of air, cold or otherwise. The A/C won’t work.

“Are you kidding me?”

The dog pants harder, a thin line of drool sliding from her tongue onto the passenger seat. The heat builds up in me. I want to tear this damn car to pieces. Instead I close my eyes. I take three deep breaths. I try to focus away from the pressing heat and the sweat trailing down my back. I take myself away from myself and reach out to the electricity in the car, to anywhere that needs help to work, to the tipping points.

The radio calls to me first, it always does, it’s greedy for more energy, but I push beyond it, deeper into the electrical system. After a moment of searching, I find what I’m looking for. A wire is loose from a node. There is less than a millimeter between the ragged end of the wire and the metal nub of the contact, but it’s enough space to interrupt the current. The fan won’t work without that one connection. The wire itself wants so badly to tip, to find that spark of electricity again, to make itself whole.

So I let it.

The A/C blasts on, cooling the car and myself and the dog. The dog sleeps for real now, curled up on the passenger seat, and I close my eyes, too. I might not understand good art, I’ll never be a rocket scientist, and long books bore the hell out of me, but I do understand something no one else does: electricity is alive. The fan whirrs its satisfaction. Electricity might not be a thinking thing, but it is a feeling one. It reaches out. It wants to be held. It yearns to complete a circuit. Our bodies contain a small pulse of electricity. Without it, our hearts would fail. I learned a long time ago how to make my pulse listen to the ones in everything else. If the circuit is simple enough, it will listen to me. If it isn’t simple enough, I can sometimes force it. The contentment of the wires and the soft buzz of the fan are a lullaby. Mix this with the exertion of pushing the current into life, I can feel myself drifting off when I hear a tapping on the window.

A young woman is frowning at me through the glass. Her blond hair is pulled tight and away from her face by a neon green sweatband. No make-up. I guess an air-conditioned gym is more palatable than sweating at home. She just looks at me for a second and then taps the window with her index finger. I obligingly roll the window down.

The heat drops in like a brick.

I say: “Yes?”

“I hate to be ‘that person’,” she says and somehow I doubt that, “but you can’t idle here.”


“You know, sit in your car while it’s running? This is a no idling zone. Zones like this exist for a reason. It’s bad for the Earth.”

“But it’s just one car,” I say.

“Right now, yeah. But what if someone saw you idling? And decided they could get away with it? And then someone saw him? It would be a domino effect, with you doing the pushing. Plus think of all the people idling right now. You don’t want to add to it, do you?”

The heat from the window is flowing across my body. The dog is looking at me, and the girl with the sweatband just sighs.

“Well, I’m just saying,” she says. “It’s illegal to idle here and if a cop comes through you’re going to get a massive fine. Like, huge.”

I turn the car off. I could give exactly two shits about the state of the planet, but I can’t afford a fine. And maybe it would count as a traffic violation and I can’t afford one of those either.

The woman is walking away, headed to her own air-conditioned car, when I open the passenger door. The dog slowly drops out of the seat and onto the pavement like she’s melting.

“You know,” the woman with the sweatband shouts. I turn to see her all the way at the end of the long parking lot, next to a sedan with out-of-state plates. “You know,” she shouts again, like maybe I missed it the first time, “the asphalt is too hot for your dog’s feet.”

I want to shout something back to her, but she’s already ducked into her own car. Maybe I would say something like: she’s not my dog. Or: the dog wouldn’t be on the asphalt if you hadn’t bothered us. I really don’t want the woman to be right, so I’m a mix of ashamed and angry when I reach down to touch the pavement. It’s baking hot.

I scoop the dog up. She’s a decent size and fairly muscular beneath her smooth coat, so I’m surprised by the fact that she’s so light.

“Do you have bird bones?” I ask her. She blinks at me.



We eat breakfast together every morning. There’s a ritual we go through. I make an omelet, fill it with frozen peas, cubes of ham, but no cheese, and when it’s done I slip it into her bowl. I don’t have a dog bowl for her, but she doesn’t seem to mind using one of mine.

When she starts eating, I make my own omelet. I add cheese to mine. I don’t know if cheese is actually bad for dogs, but I’ve gotten it into my head that it is, so she doesn’t get any.

When we’re both settled, I start asking her what her name is.

“Lady?” I think of the Disney movie. “Tramp?”

She doesn’t look at me, just eats. Since we’ve gone through this every day since I found her, I’m reaching the end of the appropriate dog names. I have to think for a bit, before I come up with “Sam? Mindy?”

When we first started doing this it was all “Spot?” and “Rufus?”, even “Cookie?”, but now I’m at a loss.

I get through “Fred?” and “Beauty?” and “Susie?” before we are both done with breakfast and bored.



There’s work that has to get done today, so after breakfast I take the dog down to the park. While it’s still hot, the humidity has broken and the less humid it is, the better the heat is to manage. I picture the thing inside of me as a spring, slowly coiling back in on itself.

There’s a carousel in this park. It looks like a broken-down UFO, quietly sinking into the grass. In the winter, snakes make nests in the hollow bellies of the horses. The summer sun brightens it up a bit. Today that’s enough to encourage a few parents to pay the dollar toll to let their kids ride.

I don’t have a leash for the dog and I don’t want to get in trouble in case the leash laws are as strict as the idling laws, so we just stay off to the side, out of sight of the parents and the lone carousel attendant.

I throw a stick a couple of times for the dog and she dutifully brings it back to me, but it’s more like she’s fetching the thing for my own benefit rather than actually enjoying the game. She brings it back a fourth time, but instead of dropping it at my feet, she flops down and starts gnawing at it. I sprawl out next to her, because what else am I supposed to do now that the dog is bored? She chews and strips the bark off the twig. I pull up grass blades, splitting each blade down the center, and then ripping them neatly into quarters.

I have a good pile going when a shadow falls over me.

It’s sweatband girl, only without the sweatband. She reaches down and scratches the dog behind the ears. The dog just smiles up at her. I think, Traitor.

“What kind of dog is she?” the woman asks. “She a mutt?”

I try not to take offense to this. “Nah,” I tell her. “Burmese Mountain Dog.”

Her hand pauses on the crown of the dog’s head. “Aren’t those usually bigger?”

“Listen, I really don’t know.” I stand and pat my leg. After a moment the dog stands and shakes. The girl stays crouched on the grass, looking up at me with these eyes. “We have to go, okay?” I tell her.

“Okay,” she says to my back.



The man is waiting on the other side of the carousel, by the dumpsters and the back alley. No one comes to this side of the park. It’s the smell, I think, and the graffiti along the brickwork of the alleyway. Even during the middle of the day, it’s empty. Except for the man and his envelope.

“Hello,” I say – friendly because that’s our cover. “Nice day, huh?” The dog is walking stiff-legged next to me. I don’t think she likes the smell of the place, which is understandable. I don’t think the dumpsters are cleared out very often.

The man frowns down at her, but only for a second. Then he’s handing me a thin envelope. I fold this envelope, once down the middle, and slip it into my back pocket.

“You making friends?” he asks. He has never said anything to me before.

I look down at the dog. She is sitting in the dust, tongue hanging out of her mouth. I think, yes. I say: “I found her a couple of weeks ago. Walking alone.”

The man’s face twists. “Not the dog,” he says. He nods with his chin beyond the carousel. The woman with the sweatband is standing on the other side of it. She could be watching the children on the painted horses. Or she could be watching us.



I wait to open the envelope until we’re back at the apartment. There are two pieces of paper inside. The first is a crude map of a bungalow, with one room on the first floor highlighted and circled. The second tells me an address, a date, and an object. The address is one town over, near the river. The object the paper tells me about is a binder, blue and labeled “Research and Development.” I should be able to find it in the top desk drawer in the room that is highlighted and circled. None of these things bother me. It’s the date that makes me pause. Two days from now.



It is dusk. The dog and I are walking along the sidewalk of a suburban neighborhood in the town near the river. We left my car in a shittier neighborhood so it won’t attract suspicion in this nicer one. My car is well below the pay grade of the families in this neighborhood. To further avoid notice, I have tied a long length of white rope around the dog’s throat. Loosely, of course, so I can lead her without getting in trouble with the leash laws.

While we walk I notice a few things. First, everyone is friendly when you have a dog. Second, the dog seems to really enjoy all the attention. We stop every once in a while to allow a child to pet her. Each one first holds their small hands under her nose and she sniffs them enthusiastically. I remember learning the same thing in kindergarten. If the dog knows your scent, they’ll think you’re a friend and not a threat. The dog’s wiry tail wags and beats against my leg every time. The third thing I’ve noticed is that no one is looking at me. Everyone is looking at the dog. I give a new name every time someone asks for it.

The sun is bleeding across the sky now and the street is empty. A cop car passes but all it sees is a person walking their dog before bed. The houses are all lit from inside. In this house there are paintings of ships navigating rough seas. In this one a family is watching an animated feature about two bears. In this one there are ceramic roosters adorning the kitchen walls.

The house that matches the address from the envelope is dark and the driveway is empty. We pass it slowly, the dog pulling at the lead a little, and I try to feel out for the currents and tipping points inside. I feel and hear them with little effort. The house is lit up; the electricity is in everything, alive and shouting for attention. The old furnace is the first thing to make itself known. In my mind, it feels like a decaying tooth with a diseased root system. It calls out for help. I ignore it. There’s a junction point of wires in the wall behind the television in the living room. It screams red at me. All they want to do is touch. It could work. I put it down as Plan B. What I really need is a point closer to the desk, closer to the binder.

Then I feel it. The flat pulsing of a gas line leading to the stove. I think about the map. In it, the highlighted and circled room is right next to the kitchen. The gas lines would be harder to push than the junction in the living room. I will need to create a spark, to pull one from thin air. It will be harder, yes, but better in the long run. No one trusts gas lines. Everyone will think it is an accident. This is important. I’m hired for my ability to keep these jobs secret. If the things I make go missing are ever noticed as missing, I would be out of a job. So the gas line it is. The spark will not be hard, I tell myself. There is electricity in everything, so long as you know where to look.

The dog pulls the line, severing me from the pulsing of the electricity. She is struggling with the lead, twisting herself around to try and bite at it. The line has tightened around her neck, digging into her skin, strangling her. I loosen it, my fingers thick and slow, speaking softly to calm her.

The binder is due the day after next.



I wake up. I make the dog and myself omelets. I let her have cheese.




She says nothing.

I sweat on the couch. She pants next to me. We watch daytime television. I make sandwiches for lunch, ham and Swiss. She eats her ham like she’s never had ham before. We watch the after-school cartoons, even the dumb ones. I make pasta for dinner. The dog eats this, licking her bowl clean of marinara. I force myself two forkfuls, drink a glass of water, spread my hands on the table like starfish. I leave a shadow of sweat behind. I feel the thing inside me uncoil, pulling taut. I tell myself it’s the heat.

The dog is sitting by the door when I go to get the rope. She smiles in that way dogs do. I tie the rope around her throat.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” I hear myself say as I open the door.



It is dark out. I park the car down the road. It’s closer than it was yesterday, but still far enough away to not attract attention to the house. I’m just someone walking the family dog before bed. As we walk I keep my eyes straight ahead. I don’t look in the windows. No one stops us. It’s later than before. There’s no one outside. Just before we pass the house, I turn up the driveway. The dog hesitates. I have to tug on the line to get her to follow.

It is very dark in the backyard. I tie the dog to the steps of the back porch and sneak up them. The screen door isn’t locked. Why would it be? This is a safe neighborhood. I try the handle of the heavy wooden door. It’s locked, but I’ve come prepared. I take my tools out. Soon I feel a release in the lock, a give that wasn’t there before. I’m about to swing the door open when the dog whines.

It’s dark out, but my eyes have adjusted enough to see her at the bottom of the stairs, leaning towards me. She looks blue in the darkness.

“Good thinking,” I croon at her. “This is a nice neighborhood. Bet they have an alarm.”

I lean against the door, mostly for support, and think out to the tipping points. I close my eyes and breathe evenly, let myself sink into the house and the wires and the electricity. Reach out with my own current to the ones within. Wiring always wants to tip. It’s the easiest thing to push. But there’s a lot of it in this house. I can feel the skeleton network of it in the walls. But there! The alarm system feels the way a bee sounds. A buzzing I can feel in my boots. Made in a factory where daily quotas lead to sloppiness. There are two exposed wires less than a pinkie’s width apart. They scream for one another. All I have to do is let them be together. And so I do.

The universe settles back into position, this time with the exposed wires gently resting against one another. The alarm system will no longer recognize doors open or doors closed. I turn the handle and go in. The dog whines again, but I ignore her as I close the door.

There’s a buzzing in my temples as I find the office. It’s a small room, tucked neatly into a corner by the kitchen. The binder is right where the paper said it would be. The headache is worse now. I should have eaten more.

Back in the kitchen there’s the flat calling of the gas lines. They want so badly to burn, it would be easy to do it even if you weren’t me. All you would need is a match and a cleaver, a way to cut into the lines themselves. I suppose I could do it that way, too. But I need this to look like an accident. I close my eyes and reach out. My head swims. There is electricity in everything, even here.

I call out to the quiet pulse of the gas, to the mostly dormant electricity within. It listens while I ask it to spark. It takes some convincing, but finally I feel the brightness in my mind. It takes almost all I have to keep it to a flame rather than an explosion. I pull myself back to myself. My legs are shaking. The headache arcs from temple to temple, a sharp metronome beating the insides of my skull. At the edge of my consciousness I hear the dog barking.

When I open my eyes the ceiling is on fire. So are the cabinets. The tiles behind the sink are cracking, popping bits of ceramic onto the floor. The heat from it is righteous, better than anything else. Fire is electricity’s wild cousin. It doesn’t want to listen to me. Maybe it just doesn’t have the ability. All it wants to do is eat. Everything here is kindling, everything here wants to burn. The fire spreads through the doorway, into the hallway outside the office where I found the binder. There is so much paper in that room. The fire rushes into it and I can hear the pop-pop-pop of light bulbs exploding as the searing heat reaches them.

The heat is incredible, almost too hot to stand. I can feel the hair on my arms shrinking away. I breathe the heat in. I can’t look away. I don’t want to. There’s a pureness to the flames that I can’t find anywhere else. The sound? Roaring.

And beneath it, barking.

I try to shake myself free of the watching. It’s mesmerizing, the shapes and patterns the flames play across the blackened wall. The fire is so beautiful, eating away at the popcorn ceiling, bright and terrifying. The sink is warping. The hallway carpet is melting at the edges and close to combustion. Something feels off. There is no more barking. I feel my stomach tighten. Two steps and I am out the back door.

I see her in the light of the fire. She is splayed out on the back porch steps, facing me, the white rope pulled taut against where I’ve tied it. With the fire at my back, I reach for her and she is still. Her tongue hangs from her mouth. I untie the rope from where it is wrapped tightly around her neck. I pick her body up. She isn’t breathing.

There are people shouting now, neighbors who can see the flames from their bedroom windows. The fire bursts out of the study’s window. It is climbing to the roof. I run. Somehow I make it to the car. She is so light that I barely miss her weight when I place her on the passenger seat. As the car jolts down the street, the binder slips off her body and to the floor with a thud.

I realize I am shouting. Names and then words and then just sounds.



I am shaking. I try not to shake. I am so tired, but I can’t rest yet. There is still work to be done. We are sitting underneath a tree in the park, my back to the trunk for support. The sun is rising and with it, the humidity and the pressing heat. I have her body on my lap. The spark in her is very dim, almost gone. Where it might have rushed along her structure, now it sits in the core of her, getting weaker all the time. I think, brain dead. I think, no. I have never tried to push such a complicated circuit before. I do it anyway.

I find the current in me, white and beating. I reach a thin line from it out from myself and into her. I re-stitch the circuit through her, finding the organic analogs of nodes and wires as I go. I am surprised by how little difference there is between us and machines. When I’m finished threading I push the point in her, using the core of my own current as a battery. The currents in her flash to life. I ignore the paleness of my own.

I open my eyes, feeling the ragged thumping of my heart in my chest. The dog jerks up from being spread across my legs. She backs away, shakes her whole body like she does after a bath. She pants, and then whines. I reach out and touch her nose. It is warm and wet. Good, I think. I want to sleep, to lean against this tree while the sun is still rising, and close my eyes. But I can’t.

There is still the binder that needs delivering. I pull myself to my feet, gripping the tree until I find my feet. I hold the binder tight against me, afraid I’ll drop it otherwise. The jumping in my chest becomes more frantic. I gasp for breath. I see the dumpsters. I start walking. One step, and then two steps, and then three. Each is a gamble. My legs are shaking badly. I expect them to give out under me, but they don’t. I’m so tired. I don’t know how I’m going to keep going, but somehow I do. The dog follows me.

“Stay,” I manage. She does. Once I’m done with the handoff we’ll go home, I think. I’ll make us omelets. I’ll give her one with cheese.

The man by the dumpster silently takes the binder. He looks back at me over his shoulder as he walks down the alley and away. The jumping is worse now. There is pain now, shooting through me with every heartbeat. I grip the edge of the dumpster. My legs give out and I sink to the rough, hot asphalt. I close my eyes. I try to reach into myself, to fix the circuit going wrong. There isn’t enough left in me to re-wire.

I feel something warm and moist pushing against my fingertips. It’s the dog. She sniffs at me. I want to scold her for not staying behind by the tree. Instead, I scratch behind her ears. My arm feels so heavy. There are spots floating across my vision. She spreads out next to me, rests her head on my knee. The pain in my chest is less pain now and more an absence. The jumping is smoothing out, slowing down. I’m dying, I think. I’m surprised when this doesn’t scare me. Everything just feels fuzzy, muted.

Christina Harrington is a recent graduate of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was Managing Editor for LUMINA, Volume XIII. She is currently a contributing editor and writer for Deadshirt.net.

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