Kathryn Kulpa ~ Fire Season

Kristy’s moth­er bought the super­mar­ket check­out mag­a­zines, the ones you’d pick up, maybe, if the line was mov­ing slow­ly enough. Top 10 Tips to Get Summer Skinny!, they would say, or some ancient scan­dal with Elvis or Marilyn Monroe and NOW IT CAN BE TOLD! I picked them up but always put them back, like the pack­ets of M & Ms and Reese’s they also had at the check­out; I’d imag­ine myself eat­ing them, bright pri­ma­ry col­ors of red and blue and yel­low melt­ing on my tongue, leav­ing rain­bow rem­nants, and I would tell myself that imag­i­nary can­dy was enough. That want­i­ng was bet­ter than hav­ing. What did I want that sum­mer? What did we all want? To be desired. To be a cool girl. A riot grrl, a Spice Girl. To be the girl in the char­treuse biki­ni in the issue of Sports Illustrated our school librar­i­an kept behind the counter, and you had to sign a spe­cial form to take it out.

What do you think the form says? I asked Kristy.

I solemn­ly swear that I will not beat off to this mag­a­zine, she said, and then we saw Brian Thibault go up to the counter and we half coughed, half snort­ed, try­ing so hard not to laugh out loud, and But he lies, I whis­pered, and then the laugh­ter did come and Brian stared at us and Mrs. Carmody kicked us out because You two are always try­ing to start some­thing, and that was true, we stood there spark­ing like the wheel of a cig­a­rette lighter but no one in our sleepy town ever caught the fire, and we’d just wan­der home and look at Kristy’s mother’s check­out mag­a­zines and read about slain child beau­ty queens and fad­ing-blonde sit­com stars who were learn­ing to love again, and how was that fair when we hadn’t even loved once, and then fuck fuck fuck Kristy would say, her mother’s car pulling into the dri­ve­way and the dish­es not put away and table not set and I’d try to last-minute help her, hop­ing I’d get that din­ner invi­ta­tion even though it would mean walk­ing home in the dark, because nobody cared what time I came home or if I did, I was that girl, the girl with clothes from the church jum­ble sale and no vis­i­ble father, walk­ing those emp­ty streets full of shad­ows because every oth­er street­light was out, our town try­ing to save mon­ey or “go green” or what­ev­er they called it that year of our youth, that year when I walked home in snow and rain and burned, burned for some­thing I couldn’t artic­u­late, my heels kick­ing up blue sparks on the crumbly asphalt street as I looked up at every approach­ing head­light, watched every pass­ing car think­ing Are you the one, the one who will start my life? Or end it?


Kathryn Kulpa was a win­ner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her chap­book Girls on Film. She is a flash fic­tion edi­tor at Cleaver mag­a­zine and has sto­ries in Atlas and Alice, Milk Candy Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Her work was cho­sen for Best Microfiction 2020 and 2021.