by Jason Jackson
In the schoolyard, Toby’s shaking a matchbox, grinning.
‘Don’t,’ I say
‘It’ll be funny,’ says Toby.
I think of Shannon. How she never talks. ‘You wouldn’t like it if it was you,’ I say.
‘I’m only going to throw them at her.’
‘Just leave her alone.’
At break, Shannon’s in the corridor. ‘Don’t go outside,’ I say.
She stares from under her fringe. I’ve never spoken to her. Last year, she was off school for weeks. Toby showed me on the internet. The local father who set himself alight.
In the corridor, I say to Shannon, ‘I don’t see my dad anymore. Prison.’
But she doesn’t say a word.
The next day, Toby gives me a matchbox. ‘Keep it in your pocket. Wait until after lunch.’
In Chemistry, I sit behind Shannon. A week after she came back to school, she stood up during English and walked out. As she passed me, there were tears on her cheeks. Her face was white under the strip-lights. I could smell her, like dust.
I’m holding the matchbox in my pocket. I think of my dad’s letters, how the unopened envelopes burn blue. I think about the ashes I keep in a jar.
It’s almost the end of the lesson when I hear it: chck-chck. I look at Toby, but his head is down. Then I hear it again. It gets louder as more people shake their boxes.
Mr Watkins looks up. ‘What’s that?’
People are turning around, laughing, but Shannon is staring ahead.
As the chck-chcks get faster, I imagine holding her, telling her not to be frightened. I could take her to my house, show her the ashes in my jar. I could give her the matchbox in my pocket.
I could ask her what she would like to burn.
Jason Jackson’s prize-winning fiction has appeared in print and online. Recent publications include The Nottingham Review, New Flash Fiction Review and Splonk. Jason is also a photographer, and his prose/photography hybrid work The Unit is published by A3 Press. Jason tweets regularly @jj_fiction.