Simon Heman 

Simon Heman

The fire glowed amid the lizard-skinned ashes, as the youth with one earring knelt to warm his hands. It had been cold out and his mother had said it would yet be half an hour before tea was high enough to be served. This was an expression of Simon Heman’s mother, and he’d even stopped worrying that he never understood exactly what she meant.

His stonewashed jeans had such gaping designer rips at the knees, the lower half of the legs seemed to be hanging merely by a thread. He crouched in a half-kneeling position, to expose the parts where the heat would not normally have reached readily.

He’d left his motorbike leaning in the alleyway alongside the otherwise terraced house: not having it long, he was still worried that it was unsafe left out there in this less than desirable precinct of the city. The ‘L’ plate shone out luminously even after the street lighting flickered off in the late evening: red on white, like the jelly and cream his mother had served on his 18th birthday in just such a design, to celebrate his coming of age.

He put his hands closer to the fire: either because they were growing even colder at the extremities despite the heat or, as he really thought, the audibly crumbling firewood was losing all its ability to hold more than an ‘appethworth of warmth. There was a low, insidious grumbling within the chimney breast...which was a wind picking up at the back of the house, he assumed.

Then he suddenly thought the embers were glowing brighter: re-erupting worncasts of fire: his hands were floating like separate autonomous entities above the rising heat, so becomingly translucent, he could even have convinced himself that he was the angel his mother told her friends he really was.. .at heart.

With growing horror, he looked down at the knees shyly poking from the gaps in the jeans: like wedges of cut glass with a three-dimensional map of blood streams inside. He tried to persuade a hand to reach up to his face, but no amount of will-power could accomplish this amazing feat. Then, after he had given up all hope, the hand, of its own volition, swept to the top of his head...and a residue of feeling in the tips of his fingers told him that they were actually grasping a soft substance...and, as they squeezed it, his own mind seemed to flip and become madder by the second...

His mother came into the parlour where she’d laid the fire earlier in the afternoon. She dropped the tray of tea things which she had been carrying at shoulder height, extended in front of her like an offering at an altar. The clatter momentarily brought what used to be Simon Heman to just an ‘appethworth of consciousness...and he wondered fleetingly why his mother looked as if she’d just seen a ghost.

The motorbike haunted the alley, a red ‘D’, instead of an ‘L’, upon a white plate glowing at its bent mudguard. Mrs Hernan had always doubted the safety of such machines. Now, she knew for certain.

(published 'Midnight in Hell' 1991)

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