The beauty of an unstruck wooden match is in the potential. It is uncomplicated. Scratch one on any surface to achieve resolute combustion. Simple phosphorus atop sulphur, like a beautiful redhead wearing a pale beret. She will dance, unbridled, in her full yellow skirt, twirling with wide folds of fire; an impetuous flare that calms, without fail, to flame.
The shape is now fat-bottomed, almondy, tapering skyward to a round crown. The burn is so hot at the base it is colorless, transparent over charcoaled wood. Yet this tiny halo cannot see through the craving, its whole world resting on the promise of slender kindling. I may starve her by holding the head upright with the threat of immediate extinction. Without enough forage the flame gets smaller and rounder. Then she realizes who is in control, when there are no choices, no other path to existence. Except by my hand.
I tease the flame sideways for a moment. The yellow jumps briefly, then again I deny fuel. When only despair remains, I level the matchstick until the unburned wood ignites. The flame widens with uncontrollable greed, painting the length of the match; no patience or moderation, just lust to burn. Spreading quickly, back arched in heat, she clutches at anything, everything within reach.
My fingers pull away to the bare edge remaining. Fire can turn fresh flesh to blister then meat, render useless char from cooked skin. It’s the second worst pain in the world, but nothing compared to the empty agony of a spent match dropping to asphalt. Perhaps it’s her sudden absence that hurts: watching the last of the wood smolder, brightness gone, a final breath asphyxiated by lack of achievement.
She falls to the tarmac, bleak and ashen. Her sisters are there, too; some shattered, most only bent from the black.
God, I love this power: to stop the most beautiful music in the world after only a few notes, to turn from a beatific vision after just a glance at the omen. Again and again and again I can withhold unmitigated ecstasy for a momentary spark of joy.
The beauty of an unstruck wooden match is in the potential.
BIO: DL Shirey writes from Portland, Oregon, where it’s probably raining. He has been caught flashing at Café Aphra, 365 Tomorrows, ZeroFlash, Fewer Than 500 and others listed at www.dlshirey.com.